Myself and other MILSO’s in my husband’s unit are X days into this deployment, and things are starting to really sink in as we find our routines and get into the swing of things. But it’s also about the time that we start thinking, over thinking, and risk becoming our own worst enemy.
As we find our routines, we do not want to get stuck in bad habits that destroy ourselves, our relationships, or just ruin what could have been a great day. In this post, I will compose a list of habits to avoid, to hopefully make this deployment a little bit better to endure.
1. Try Not to Get Mad At Your Loved On For Things Beyond Their Control
During deployment, there are things we and our soldiers, want and expect that often don’t go to plan. Aside from being unable to be with each other physically – whether it be just falling asleep or waking up next to each other, watching your favorite shows or a new movie together, or just downright getting physical together – there are intangible things that we both will crave, that won’t always happen the way you want them to. “The best-laid schemes Of Mice and Men often go awry.” [Steinbeck, from Robert Burns’ poem “To a Mouse”] You wanted your spouse to call during your downtime, when it was super-convenient for you, but they couldn’t call until you were cooking dinner, or in the middle of getting the kids ready for bed after arguing with them about bedtime for the past 15 minutes, or while you were driving, in the shower and in a hurry, or sleeping… Unfortunately, with the time difference, and the lives each of us lead and the duties that we have, those phone calls don’t always come when we want them to, and they can be damn near impossible to plan. And, for many of us, they don’t come often enough. I know I’d be on the phone with my husband just about every second of every day if it were feasible.
But if, and when, a phone call comes at an inconvenient time, try not to get angry at each other for it. Remember that they didn’t call you to intentionally catch you in the middle of something, or everything else in your life that you are now responsible for in their absence. He or she called you when they could, in the middle of their responsibilities. Do your best, both of you, to not spend that time arguing. You never know when that phone rings how long you will be able to be on the phone with them for…make it the best you can, every time. You owe each other that effort. If the conversations are arguments all of the time, he or she may call you less and less just to avoid it.
Yes, we will have our frustrations about the situation, but try not to take it out on your loved one. Try not to get angry with them because you miss them, or because they can’t be with you to experience something that you enjoyed but would have enjoyed more if they were with you or because you have to celebrate a Birthday, Holiday, Birth, Graduation, etc. without them. They wish just as much as you do, that they were home to experience all of this with you, too.
2. Do Not Isolate Yourself
Every now and then, I need a day just for me. I miss him, I’m sad or morose, and emotionally I just can’t handle the company of others. On those days, I enjoy my solitude, without distraction or with just enough to keep me focused on something else. But only every now and then. Do not isolate yourself from the world for too long. I don’t just mean to make sure that you log onto your Facebook, etc. I mean get out there, interact with people face to face. Go out with the girls. Or, if you’re a military husband, with the guys. See your friends and family. Do something fun. Even if you feel like you have to throw yourself into it to get out of the funk, you’ll find your rhythm and have a great time. At least, go with that intention, and it will happen.
Give yourself permission to have a day every now and then when you need it to separate yourself from everything and everyone else; give yourself a chance to regroup, then get out there again. I’m tempting to bring in quotes like that about “idle hands” and all that, but in short, isolation leads to negative thoughts and emotions; it’s difficult to stay positive, active, and forward-thinking when you are lonely. And remember, there is a difference between being lonely and being alone… You are not in this alone. If you think you are, reach out to a friend, family member, other MILSO, or even myself if you are a MILSO and need an unbiased contact. And as always for anyone who knows me personally, I’m always available for a text, phone call, or get together when needed.
3. Don’t Use Deployment As An Excuse To Live Like You Are Single
This is a touchy one, and a loaded topic, so let me break it down as much as I can.
Firstly, I do agree, that this is a time to take advantage of all of the things that you might enjoy that your soldier, etc., may not [for example healthy cuisines or certain styles of cooking, movies and binge-worthy TV shows, bedding (my husband HATES the mattress warmer in the winter months, and you bet I’m cranking that thing up while he’s gone), quiet time for reading books (admittedly I do need to start reading again), day-trips to locations he or she may not care for -if you love the beach but your significant other can’t stand the sand (as I type that I realize the irony here), or, if you’re like me, your trips to Target just got a little more fascinating, and expensive, without your “chaperone” who demands that you stick just to your list which better only be of items you NEED.] HOWEVER, while I fully agree with taking advantage in this way, still remember that YOU ARE MARRIED, or in a committed relationship. YOU ARE NOT SINGLE. This is not a time to be used for going out to the bars/clubs/etc. alone or with your single friends with the intentions of “hooking up” or finding a boy-toy to have during the deployment. (If you’re a military husband and your wife is deployed, the same goes for you, no going out with the intention of hooking up or finding a girl-toy, or what have you).
Yes, you will miss your significant other in ways you never could have imagined missing them before. This may be your first deployment and have never before been apart for so long. Or you are seasoned with the deployment lifestyle, but love and miss your spouse all the same. You will miss the intimacy. You will miss the flirting. You will miss absolutely everything about being in a relationship, even if you and your spouse do the best that you can do while you are thousands of miles apart. You will miss everything about that attention, attraction, and interaction. And others will flirt with you. It will feel nice, whether you want it or not, to feel pretty/beautiful/wanted/desirable/etc. again. But don’t let that confuse you or obscure what you’ve been holding onto and holding out on for so long – homecoming. Don’t find comfort with another person to fill the void that you will feel from the absence of your loved one. Even the most faithful of spouses that I’ve known have their weaknesses – whether it happened, or almost happened. And I’m talking both sides here, enlisted spouses and their civilian spouses. We are, in fact, all only human. You may know or meet someone who seems to fill the emotional void you feel while your spouse is gone. Avoid these people if you want your marriage to survive.
I think this is a subject that is not often broached among the military spouse community. But the soldiers, etc. are talking about it. They talk about how long they think it will be before their spouses cheat, if they will cheat…or they talk about each other. Who’s cheating, who will cheat. A lot of
soldiers people, soldiers and civilians alike, have the belief that “everyone does it.” We think in terms of absolutes – you either cheat or you don’t, and those who do are terrible, and we may even call them names. And there are those who habitually cheat while their spouses are deployed, or even away at training, any chance they can. Or the service member cheats while on deployment, etc. Those spouses, regardless of whether your relationship is military or civilian, are terrible. No, not everybody cheats. But it is a stereotype that has gotten out of control, and therefore a concern that every military couples has. You may even be asked, carelessly, by people you know, if you or your spouse are cheating yet. Who needs that kind of extra reminder to worry?
4. Don’t Spend Time With Bad Influences
I think this is a blanket statement for everyone. Avoid the people who are bad influences on your life, who bring you down, who use you… Ain’t no one got time for that. It can be difficult, and it is psychologically challenging to cut out a friend, but if that person’s impact on your life is constantly negative, and you reap nothing positive from knowing that person, let them go. You already have nothing to lose.
From a military perspective, there are a lot of people you will want to avoid being friends with. The spouses who marry military for the benefits, the cheaters (usually the same who marry for benefits), the ones who call you when they need something (money, childcare, carpools, etc.) but are never available to return the favor. You will also want to avoid people who only seem to want to make you worry more – by asking if you all of the time if you think your spouse is cheating, or talk negatively about the war effort and throw your spouse and other soldiers under the bus because they can’t separate the good people who enlist from the dirty game of politics. Avoid people who only want to talk about your soldier, etc., dying, like he or she won’t make it home. That’s already a concern in the back of our minds all of the time, please do not constantly bring it to the forefront. Simply, avoid people or making strong bonds or spending a lot of time with people who just don’t make you feel good, about yourself, or your life choice to marry military. Life is too short.
5. Don’t Spread Gossip
Yes, I get it, people are always going to talk. And some people are always going to talk about other people. But just try to make an effort to not spread gossip – about other wives or husbands, about the unit, about who’s cheating on who… the lists goes on. You think that gossip is something that only happens in the halls of Junior High and High Schools…but you’re wrong. Gossip happens well into adulthood. I’m not sure if men do it as often as women do, I’m sure there are some male gossipers…but gossip happens in many workplaces, and especially among circles of military wives.
Gossip is a form of bullying, and as military spouses, we should be empowering one another, not beating others down. (Yes, I know, I mentioned that there are
wives spouses who aren’t really good wives spouses/good military wives spouses, because they marry for benefits and/or cheat on their spouses, and there should be some recourse, but gossip and bullying are not the way to go.) Gossip also is tied to depression. [http://bullying.about.com/od/Effects/a/Understanding-The-Impact-Of-Rumors-And-Gossip.htm] Military wives endure so many emotions during deployment, we don’t need to add depression, or another reason to be depressed, too. Whether we are the pot, the spoon, or the lid in the gossip kitchen, gossip is emotionally draining and impacts us deeply. Avoid being a part of it, to avoid being your worst enemy. If you spread gossip, people will learn not to trust you, and when you want to be a part of a community of spouses, trust is important.
6. Understand That You’re Human
As a spouse of a deployed service member, we are the bearer of everything in their absence. If you have children, you take on the role of both parent, and think you have to be strong for your kiddos when they are crying because they miss Mommy or Daddy. My husband and I do not have children, but I put pressure on myself all the same that I needed to be strong for everyone else in the family, all of the time, and didn’t give myself an emotional reprieve. By the time month 9 of a 12 month deployment rolled around, I was emotionally drained. I literally didn’t feel much of anything.
I went to the beach by myself one day, after Hurricane Irene rolled through, so the surf was aggressive. Me, being numbed out, walked into the ocean (“Walk on the ocean. Step on the stones. Flesh becomes water. Wood becomes bone” -Toad the Wet Sprocket, Walk on the Ocean; sorry, I couldn’t help myself), and tried to catch a wave. The wave pulled me under, and I tumbled under the water, constantly being pushed below the surface. It didn’t really feel like an eternity, but when your breath gets taken away from you, and you inhale salt water while being pushed down a a few times, unable to break the surface of the water, you start to wonder if “this is it.” At least, I did. I think when I was finally able to stand up, I did see a couple walking along the shore. But otherwise, the beach was quiet that day (I remember it being cloudy, and since Irene happened at the end of August, students were back in school and the bulk of the tourists were gone.) I unintentionally, or at least, subconsciously, faced my mortality that day. I felt something again. It wasn’t this great epiphany that people talk about, but it was enough. Before that, once I had emotionally numbed out, I didn’t care what happened to me; I was completely unfeeling.
This is where I tell you that you need to allow yourself to feel everything, don’t numb yourself out like I did. The effects can be devastating. There are times that you will need to be strong, for yourself or your family. But, also, let those tears flow when you feel the urge. If you have children, it’s OK for them to see you sad and missing their other parent from time to time. They also need to see you function, but show them that it is OK to feel anything they are feeling, too. At least, that’s the role model I would want to be if we had children…confront your emotions, deal with them as needed, then pick yourself up and move on to another day. (Wow, that sounds kind of callous, but that’s not at all how I mean it.)
A lot of negative emotions turn to anger for some people, I’m not sure why (well, I know why, but I don’t know why they let themselves do that)…but try not to let that happen. Sadness is OK. It’s OK to miss someone so deeply because they are your soul mate, and it really does feel like half of yourself is missing, too.
I have a problem with anxiety; I have anxiety. This past Sunday, I woke up and my anxiety was running higher than normal. If you’ve never had anxiety, I’m jealous of you. For me, I can’t stop my mind from racing, and everything bothers me. I want to close off, shut down, and isolate myself from the world. (Which, as mentioned, is OK from time to time). But, this time, I had plans with family. I couldn’t isolate myself. And for the first time, do you know what I did? I told my parents that my anxiety was high. That communication was probably the best thing for me that day. I rode out my wave, and my family let me. I was given that extra space that I needed, and by the time the afternoon came around, we were all having a wonderful time together. I wasn’t a sour-puss any longer. Sometimes, just that little bit of communication about how you’re doing, to own every negative emotion you’ll experience, is all that you need to work through it, and turn things around.
So, please, if you have other things to list of what not to do, what to avoid, or even what TO do, to help other military spouses get through deployment a little easier, please leave your advice in the comment section. I would love to read about some other experiences and thoughts and suggestions.
Slow down, take a breath, and we will all get through this together. I promise, keep looking forward to homecoming, and you’ll look back on all of this and be amazed that you made it through together.