Having gone through one deployment with my husband, and gearing up for our second deployment together, I thought I’d write up a post to help other families/spouses get ready for your first deployment.
1. Brace Yourself for the Support/Sympathy/Empathy
When you start talking about your spouse deploying (but not in too much detail, remember OPSEC), people may start offering their support unsolicited, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They may also start to treat you a little differently; like a delicate piece of china or a fragile flower. Try not to take offense to any of this – know that it most likely comes from a good place. If you’re not constantly on the verge of breaking, joke back and let them know that you’re not a frail porcelain doll. After all, Military Wives are a fierce, strong crew.
2. Allow Yourself Moments of Vulnerability
Although you may not be in a continual mental plummet of despair, know that you will have bad days, and forgive yourself for them. Allow yourself to confront any negative feelings you may have upcoming or during your spouse’s deployment. Miss your significant other and just can’t get past it one day? That’s OK. Cry if you need to. Call on your family or friends to help get you out of the rut. Do NOT be everything for everyone 100% of the time if you need some time for you.
I made the mistake the first time around of thinking that I had to be strong all of the time, for myself and for both of our families. I knew they were both worried enough about him, and worrying about me, that I did not want to add to their sense of worry by letting them know that I had a few rough days here and there. This stress and strain came out negatively towards my husband and towards my parents with whom I was living. It’s impossible to be strong and be 100% for everyone every day of the deployment; accept this, do as much as you can when you can, but leave room for your vulnerability. Your family and the people closest to you will worry about you, regardless of how strong or vulnerable you are, so you are only fooling yourself if you put up a front of indestructibility and trick yourself into thinking that this means they will not worry about you. You are, after all, only human.
3. If Your Relationship is Happy, Deployment and Reunion Won’t Seem So Bad/Long/Hard/Awkward
If your relationship with your significant other is in a good place, and stable, deployment will be a little easier. And your reunion will be less awkward. Speaking from experience, my husband and I weren’t at a good place with each other when he deployed. As time went on when he was out of country, those issues surfaced. All issues are difficult to deal with when you have a spouse who is in country and cannot communicate anytime it’s convenient for you, and your conversations cannot last hours or you just can’t have the deep conversations that you need to have. Not that you can plan when the big things happen leading up to deployment, but in short, get your shit together. Sorry to be blunt, but if you want your relationship to remain strong, you are better off at resolving as much as you can before your spouse leaves, than letting those issues stew and fester in his or her absence.
I am being honest when I tell you that my husband’s homecoming was not the joyful, happy one that I would have wanted for us. By the time he was coming home, I thought that we were on the road to divorce. This was because we did not discuss or resolve any issues before he left, and just when he figured out how to make our relationship work and be happy, I was ready to give up and walk away. Fortunately, we worked everything out after he returned home, and our relationship is stronger and happier for it.
4. Know Where and How to Direct Your Anger and Frustrations
The situation will make you frustrated and angry at times; some more, some less. If you are like me, especially how I was, try not to take that out on your spouse while he or she is deployed. I was very quick to anger, and if I was upset because I had not heard from my husband in a few days, or that our conversations were too short, or because I missed him and our normal routines and everything that goes with being in a relationship, I eventually took that frustration out on him, and when we did talk on the phone, our conversations were less and less pleasant. Try, try, try not to do this. Your spouse is most likely in a less-than-ideal place, and may or may not succumb to IED’s, suicide bombers, attacks, be part of a dangerous convoy, or be a part of an infantry or combat unit. They just want to make it home, and the easier that you can make that time way for them, the happier they will be and hopefully that time away isn’t as bad.
5. Send Care Packages That Care
Every soldier LOVES to receive care packages. Care packages are a piece of home in a box, that show you love, care, and miss him or her. There are plenty of ideas for putting together care packes on Pinterest and through Google searching, but without a doubt the most favorite item for a soldier to receive is something home-made and edible. Cookies do not last long once the box has been opened. Your soldier will also love and treasure photographs. Send useful things, send things that will comfort and remind your spouse of home. Send delicious things that will make it and survive the shipment. It is ideal to send chocolate and things that melt during the winter months as opposed to the summer months. When sending perishable items, be sure that they will not spoil within 4 or 5 weeks.
6. Write Letters To Each Other
Sure, you have email, skype, and phone calls. But one thing that I know we both personally enjoy is receiving letters from each other during deployment. Last deployment, I wrote a letter every day, and would send bundles out weekly to every other week. My husband would also write letters to me periodically. Even during our troubling last few months, I still took the time to sit down and write a letter. Everybody likes to receive something in the mail, right? I guess with the exception of junk mail. And, to me, it’s more personal to receive and read a hand-written letter. Even if you can’t or don’t commit to writing a letter a day, at least hand-write to each other periodically.
And don’t forget to send your soldier greeting cards as well, for important celebrations, or even a “just because,” “I miss you,” or an “I love you” card every now and then. Include these in your care packages from time to time.
7. Stay Busy
Whether you have children to look after and their schedules that occupy your time, work full-time or a couple of different jobs, or are a stay-at-home parent, be sure to keep yourself busy. Pick up a (new) hobby or just commit more time to one you already have. One spouse I know plans to learn a new language while her soldier is away. Start a work out routine – whether you want to lose weight or just stay in shape and be healthy. The exercise will not only occupy your time, but also is a great way to physically work out your frustrations. Plan mini road trips. Get together with friends and do something fun. Try something new. Read. Volunteer. Paint. Knit. Take some local courses. By giving yourself something to do, and a plan, you are less likely to sit around all of the time doing nothing but think and worry about your soldier.
8. Take This Time As An Opportunity For You
Just because your significant other is away, does not mean that you have to stop living. Take this time for yourself and allow yourself to be a little selfish. Sleep so that you take up the entire bed, and allow yourself to hog the blankets. (Sure, this might make adjusting to sleeping together again a little more difficult, but if you find yourself moving to the middle of the bed, go for it!) Watch the movies and catch up on the TV shows that your spouse won’t watch with you. Sleep in when/if you can. Cook and eat the foods that he/she doesn’t care for, so you do not cook or have it often. We may be married and not “tweenagers” anymore, but have slumber parties with your gal pals or other military spouses that you have connected with. (The best thing about adult slumber parties? Wine.)
As much as I will miss the routine that my husband and I have together, and I know I will have those days that I just miss him so much, I am looking forward to having some “me time.” Doing things on my schedule for a while, and getting to do some things that he does not care to do.
9. Before Your Spouse Deploys, Do Something Nice Together
Plan some time to do something nice together before deployment. Take a trip somewhere just the two of you, or with your children if you do have any. Make it something special as a family. You don’t have to go far, you can make a special long weekend out of someplace local if you prefer or are only able to. Pick someplace that you both enjoy, or someplace new to experience together.
We were unable to take a long vacation anywhere far, but we have set aside weekends that are just for us, and weekends that are just for the family. We have had more date nights, just the two of us, in the past couple of months, as my husband works through his list of places he wants to go out to eat at before he leaves. It will be a year before he is able to enjoy the delicious local restaurants and Maine-fare of dining options, so I let him direct our dining out choices, as well as the options that I cook during the week for our meals.
10. Do Not Treat Your Soldier Like Deployment Is Their Death Sentence
I am guilty of doing this the first time my husband deployed. It was my biggest fear that he would not come home, and that I would become a widow. And, unfortunately, I acted on this and treated him like our goodbye would be forever. This does not make his leaving any easier, and only makes it harder on him. Nobody wants to go and die, and nobody wants to be treated like they are going to go to die. As civilians without the same training that our soldiers receive, we cannot fathom their commitment to going to war or deploying to combat areas. We immediately want to detach, take our soldier to Canada and gladly accept the consequences of going AWOL if it means that our spouse will be safe with us. A soldier’s training is altogether different. They are trained to deploy, whatever that may mean for each unit. Deployment goes with their job’s responsibilities, and if we, their family, do not support them, they will find deployment much more difficult.
Please, try to keep the negative commentary to yourself, or at least to a minimum, and not berate your soldier on your left-wing ideals. And do not treat your soldier as though he or she is certain to be killed. While we, as the civilian spouse, may internally hope for the best and expect the worst, try not to live as though your soldier has a death sentence. Do not let your fears consume you.
Overall, love each other. Deployment is difficult and puts a strain on any relationship; for newlyweds and marriages that are more seasoned. Going into our second deployment, I feel like it will be slightly easier, because we both have some level of understanding of what to expect. This doesn’t mean that I don’t worry, I certainly do. It’s different from the first time, because you have no idea what to expect. You only have the stories from other spouses who have been through this before, and somehow seem a little more calm than you might be, and the experiences shared on TV shows like Army Wives. [Yes, even though this show is dramatized and not an accurate depiction of military life, I do love the show]. The time should go by a little easier so long as your relationship is stable, you both have your support, and you recognize when you need some time for you and how to cope with that.
Do you have other advice for spouses regarding deployment? Have any questions? Please post them in the comments!