If you quickly open a soda,there is some chance the contents will foam up and spill over the top. Shake that bottle for thirty seconds before removing the top and you’ll have a much more intense experience. Talking with people about relationships with loved ones in the military is like opening a bottle that has been violently shaken. The pressure inside is so great that the questions and experiences come out fast and strong, and they spew in every direction.
The Dreaded Deployment
Here are some of the comments I have received about deployment and its impact on relationships.
Anonymous wrote: Guys usually don’t communicate the way women do. I know my husband loves me and missed me on deployments. Did he ever write that in a letter? No. The best I would get was a “miss you Babe” on a phone call.
Fadeintoyou82 wrote: My boyfriend is deployed. We had been together for 7 months before he left. Everything was going great the first half of the deployment, then out of nowhere he starts to become distant and disconnected. Then he tells me that he doesn’t know if he has the same feelings for me anymore.
HappyLittleGirl wrote: I am experiencing my first deployment away from the most fantastic man I’ve ever met besides my father. We’ve been dating for 8 months and love each other. He’s in the Navy and deployed somewhere in the Middle East… I love him dearly and I know he loves me… but I worry that he doesn’t miss me.
nicolem28 wrote: I’m engaged to an AF guy and he’s been gone 50% of our relationship. This trip he’s on now has been awful since he has minimal communication opportunities, so I understand how the doubt can creep in.
Lyndsey wrote: Military relationships are special. if they make it through the training and first deployment they can make it through anything.
I’ve asked one of our partners, Mike Jones, to talk about loved ones on deployment. Mike is a former US Army Captain with two tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lack of Communication
Dawson: It seems that with a lot of our callers the lack of communication with a deployed spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend is what puts a lot of pressure on relationships.
Mike: Communication with those back home is difficult for several reasons. A lot of time soldiers are in isolated situations with limited or command-only communications. If you’re front line like infantry soldiers, you are busy 24-7-365-360 (every hour, every day of the year, all around you). You’re either on patrol, on guard duty, or crashing. There’s very little down time, but even then, the enemy may decide it’s time to lob a few mortars or attack the compound. A lot of that down time is focused on getting ready to go again.
Dawson: Perhaps it’s more than just the number of emails or the amount of talk-time. If couples really don’t understand or feel what the other is going through, they’ll still have a disconnect whether they communicate a lot or a little.
Importance of Situational Awareness
Mike: It’s really important for those at home to try to gain some situational awareness regarding their deployed soldier. Talking to other experienced military spouses helps. One of the things to understand is that a soldier needs to stay completely focused on the assignment at hand… not home, not family, not kids, not you… their assignment. If their heads are not intensely focused and in the game, someone can get hurt. Even when a unit is just walking down a road everyone is looking in a prescribed direction for particular things. If one soldier loses intense mental focus and is not looking the right way, you have a sector uncovered. Soldiers are trained to switch off everything else when the mission is on.
Struggles in Switching Modes
Mike: Also, there are times when soldiers don’t seem to have much to say. Spouses need to understand that it’s hard sometimes to switch back from being warrior to being relational. And sometimes they can’t talk about what’s going on because it’s either too hard on them or they fear it will be too hard on you.
Dawson: Do deployed soldiers typically feel guilty about being away from home and family?
Mike: Mostly they are so engaged with what they’re doing that they don’t have time for that. But in some cases; yes. If you’ve got a deployed soldier feeling guilty about being away, the last thing they need to hear is complaining about problems at home.
A Suggested Conversation with a Deployed Loved One
Dawson: Do you have suggestions for how loved ones should approach those rare, unscheduled, middle-of-the-night phone calls?
Mike: Maybe something along these lines: Honey, we’re okay here. We’ve had a problem with _____, but we’ve got it under control. Mom and dad are helping, and so is my brother. The FRG (Family Resource Group) is there when I need to talk about Army stuff. We’re all good. I love you (i.e. don’t be concerned about me being unfaithful). Be safe, stay focused, we’re all going to get through this!
(NOTE: TheHopeLine® partners with Courage Beyond for additional resources for military personnel and their families.)
Focusing on Home is Difficult
Dawson: While it’s difficult for loved ones to understand what their deployed soldier is going through, by comparison is it much easier for soldiers to understand what it is like at home?
Mike: No, not true at all. Some soldiers have no clue about how difficult it is for those at home. Like I said before, some soldiers have a harder time flipping the mental switch from combat focus to home-life focus. Their life in a combat zone is so intense, fear mixed with exhilaration, a sense of mission accomplishment mixed with the pain of losing a comrade. Problems at home that are huge to their loved ones may seem trivial compared to the combat zone. Again, the more loved ones can gain some situation awareness about these things, the easier deployments will become, particularly combat deployments.
Strong Spouses and Loved Ones
Dawson: It sounds like the soldiers and their loved ones all have their individual battles to fight.
Mike: Very true.Spouses, parents, children, girlfriends or boyfriends all have different types of battles to fight, but you all go to war together as a team. If you can hang onto that kind of perspective, things are going to be a lot easier. The worst thing is fighting the battle of deployment and fighting one another at the same time.
Check out Nicole’s 7 Great Ideas for making it through the dreaded deployment:
“I am in a relationship with a man who his spending the next six months deployed. This is our first deployment as a couple. It is also his last deployment, as he will be retiring following this trip. He has been very open with me about the fact that this will be hard, but we are a strong couple, and not getting through this was never even mentioned as an option. I am very sad, because I hate that we are separated, and I worry about his safety. However, I have been keeping myself busy with ways to cope and it is helping. Some of the things I did are:”
- I wrote him thirty letters to take with him, made myself a copy of each, and I open one a day also so I remember what I wrote to him.
- I started a journal. It is a great place to vent and talk about/work through my fears.
- I made an awesome Deployment countdown poster and I am crossing off the days.
- I made a list of things I want to do while he is gone.
- I am planning/researching the trip we want to take when he gets home.
- I am keeping a mason jar and popsicle sticks, and every time I think of something I want us to do together, I write it on a popsicle stick and pop it into the jar.
- I plan out care packages with themes, and I will send them over the course of the upcoming months.
“Soooooo, I guess I am hoping this will help those of you who are struggling like me. This sucks, but six or seven months of sadness is a small price to pay for a lifetime of wonderful.
Strength to all!”
Thanks, Nicole, for sharing your ideas!