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.
A sampling of Comments about Loved Ones on Deployment
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 again asked one of our special 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. He is also the co-founder of Not Alone, a non-profit organization serving military personnel, veterans, and their families. Note: I use the term “soldier(s)” referring to personnel in all branches of military service.|
Lack of Communication and Empty Discussions
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 frontline 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 that 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 spouses at home to try to gain some situational awareness regarding their deployed soldier. Talking to other experienced military wives helps. One of those 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, every one is looking in a prescribed direction for particular things. If one guy 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
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 guy” to “relationship guy.”
And sometimes he just can’t talk about what’s going on because it’s either too hard on him or he fears it will be too hard on you. So, he give you small talk about trivial things. If a spouse doesn’t understand this, she can take it personally and begin to doubt his feelings, which leads to more awkward conversations… It can snowball on you if you’re not careful.
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, 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 he needs to hear is complaining about problems at home.
That’s like pouring salt into an open wound. He might even begin avoiding the phone calls.
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!”
Focusing on Home is hard for those that are deployed
Dawson: While it’s difficult for spouses and girlfriends/boyfriends to understand what their deployed soldier is going through, by comparison it’s much easier for soldiers to understand what it is like at home. True?
Mike: No, not true at all. A lot guys have no clue about how difficult it is for wives and girlfriends at home. Part of that is because some of them don’t have much emotional intelligence to begin with. So, they’re not big on empathy for their loved ones, even when they are home. So, it’s not a deployment thing, it just their thing.
Like I said before, some guys 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. At times problems at home that are huge to their spouses, seem trivial to them by comparison.
Again, the more spouses and love 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 own 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.
Dustin wrote: I would like to say that it takes a stronger spouse to have the other spouse in the military.
For podcast by military wives, forums by military personnel and their families dealing with deployments and combat-related issues, or more information on Not Alone, go to www.NotAlone.com.