While there are many other reasons relationships in the military fail, there is a lot that happens with the absence of a spouse that effects our relationships. And no, I’m not talking about cheating.
When a spouse is deployed for a length of time, the spouse left behind must find their rhythm. Things that used to be done by the other spouse, or as a couple, are now up to the wife or husband who is left behind to make sure that these things are done. Grocery shopping, cooking, running errands, bringing the kids to or picking them up from school or practice or other activities…making sure that the vehicles are routinely maintained, insured, and registered…laundry, dishes, the cleaning, the yard work… When you are used to doing everything as a couple, all of a sudden having to do everything as one person can seem overwhelming. But, we find our rhythm. And there is a fine line in finding your rhythm and becoming independent and learning how to live life alone, without a spouse.
I’ll post on transitioning to living together again after deployment in a few months, but for now we’ll focus on deployment. From the civilian wife’s perspective, with your new-found independence, you should not push your spouse away. You are, after all, still married. And your spouse will be coming back home, and resuming their responsibilities. You should be proud of your accomplishments that your spouse would have otherwise done, but remember that your spouse is still fully capable of doing those things. Don’t hold a grudge against him or her for their absence – it’s part of their job, they can’t just come home and go back. As much as we would really, really, really like that sometimes. Or, all of the time. Like, every day.
The truth is, that the two of you will go through a lot of personal growth and changes over the months or year that your spouse is deployed. You will both discover that you are each capable of being and doing so much more than you thought possible. You’ll make it through some challenges that you never imagined either of you would have to endure. The best way to make it through this together is to communicate.
I don’t mean that you have to talk to each other every day. That’s not always possible, or practical. But make the time you have to communicate important. Pay attention to what each other is saying, really listen to one another. Talk about what needs to be talked about, say what you mean and mean what you say. It helps if you already communicated clearly with each other before deployment. If you struggled with how the two of you communicated, try working on it so that you both improve. Poor communication is often a downfall to all relationships. Talk about what each of you are going through. Keep in mind that depending on your deployed spouse’s job, he or she may not be able to tell you all of the details, but if they need to talk about how they are doing or coping with something, let them. It will mean a lot to know that you are there for them, if you can’t be physically there for them; this goes both ways.
If you are the deployed spouse, as much as those of us left home love to hear from you any chance we can, also be aware of your moods. My husband won’t call me if he’s in a bad mood; he’ll just get mad about something and end up arguing with me. And after going through this the first time, we’ve learned that it’s not the QUANTITY of communication, but the QUALITY. Be honest with each other (like I said before, as much as you can be if you’re deployed and parts of your job are classified). Support each other. You may be separated by miles, but you are still married, still in love, and still partners. We each have to take the reigns of our own lives for a while, but before you know it, you’ll be doing couple things together again.
Newfound independence, whether military or not, in one or both spouses can be the downfall of an otherwise strong marriage, or it can be the final straw in an otherwise doomed relationship. Either way, military couples with spouses who (frequently) deploy are among those who are at a higher risk of new independence pulling you apart. Whether your spouse deploys so often that you don’t have the experience or know how to be a couple together once those deployments slow down or he or she leaves the military, or your relationship is so new prior to deployment that being apart is all that you know, or you go through a quarter- or mid-life crisis while your significant other is away, try to make the conscious decision to grow together as much as you can, instead of allowing yourselves to grow apart.
I still stand by using your time apart for doing or learning things that your significant other might otherwise not enjoy (such as road trips, trying a new hobby, cooking meals he or she wouldn’t like -does your SO hate tofu, kale, quinoa, sushi, seafood, meat? Indulge while you can!, taking personal enrichment classes (local adult ed’s and community colleges often offer some great opportunities!), learn a new language, try entrepreneurship. Don’t forget to LIVE, but also, don’t forget that you are one part of a couple as well. It’s a difficult balance to find, rely on each other as well as your support group when you need them. And don’t forget to always strive for quality communication with each other; through whatever life throws at you, try to remember that you always have each other, and will get through any and everything together.