Frequent moves, deployments and other stress factors have the ability to cause stress on the individual, the family and relationships. However, there are ways to maintain and nurture your partnership through a military career and help keep it healthy and strong.
Planning ahead for when you are apart
Relocations and separations present challenges for both you and your family. Roles and responsibilities may change during this transition period. For example, the spouse or partner remaining at home is now responsible for managing the household, the children and activities of daily life. Normal stressors or crisis must now be managed without the face-to-face emotional support of the service member. It is also important to remember that this is difficult for the service member or the spouse who is away from the home, as he or she is missing important events within the family setting. Communication and planning for separations is key to preparing for these life events. Plan and prepare for the emotions or concerns that may arise while you are apart. This will better you and the family for the upcoming separations. Remember, although separations may present challenges, they also produce opportunities for growth and development, both personally and within the family setting.
- Create a family plan outlining how each of you will manage during your time apart. It's important to be flexible as each of you experience change in roles and responsibilities and adjust to these changes.
- Talk about emergencies and whom to turn to in the event of an emergency.
- Discuss responsibilities and staying connected as a family. Coordinate with your spouse or partner on how parenting issues will be resolved, including discipline, illness and matters involving school performance. Plan ways to help the absent parent stay connected with children - and vice versa.
- Talk about finances. This will help avoid misunderstandings or disagreements. You may want to designate one partner to manage the household expenses and then keep one another informed of large expenditures.
- Discuss how you will stay in touch. Explore options such as email, video chat, phone calls or regular mail. Remember that it's very important to discuss the process of how to get a message to the deployed service member in the event of an emergency.
- Discuss the system that each of you will use for help and support. This network may include friends, family, military spouses, co-workers and military non-medical counseling and support services.
- Keep busy and stay active. Consider taking a class or pursuing a career interest. These kinds of positive steps will help you to manage the separations. They can also lead to a more fulfilling marriage and relationship.
Trusting one another while apart
Mutual trust is one of the building blocks to a successful and loving relationship or marriage. Maintaining that trust can help you to better manage the separation. Below are some tips that you may find useful.
- Respect one another. Discuss what respect means to each of you and how each of you demonstrates or feels respected by your partner. Talking about these issues and about how the other person feels will help you better understand the other perspective. Provide specific examples of ways that your spouse or partner has made you feel respected and supported.
- Be honest. Sidestepping questions or being less than truthful is likely to raise suspicions or concerns. Open and honest communication helps build trusting relationships.
- Remind your partner of your love. Don't take one another for granted. Share with your spouse or partner the qualities you admire. This will help him or her feel more secure and trusting in your relationship. If expressing these kinds of feelings is difficult for you, you might do so in other ways such as writing a letter or sending a card and adding some personal thoughts.
- Examine your own behavior. Are you spending lots of time with individuals that are not positive for your relationship or engaging in activities that may cause future problems in the relationship? Even if your actions are innocent, they may still cause harm to the relationship.
Communicating with one another
Open and frequent communication is one of the key building blocks for a strong and loving relationship. Communication isn't always easy, especially while one is separated from the family. The following tips will keep communication lines open and reinforce your love for one another:
- Share daily happenings. Sharing little details about each day can help you feel close and connected.
- Be honest about your feelings. Let your spouse or partner know how much you miss him or her. Use positive language and stress that you will be OK until the two of you are together again.
- Try to keep letters or emails lighthearted. Although we want to focus on positive communication, the reality is that sometimes issues arise that must be discussed while your spouse or partner is away. Talk about the situation, ask for his or her recommendation(s) and follow up after resolution of the issue/problem. This will help with staying connected while apart.
- Express yourself clearly and seek clarification during the conversation if necessary. If your letter or email is vague, your spouse or partner may be confused about something when there is no need to be. Be open to seeking and accepting clarification. This is a normal part of communication but is especially important during separations.
- Acknowledge that personal growth and change may occur when you are apart. Through your individual experiences during the deployment, you may both come to discover that you have become more self-reliant. Discuss these positive changes and how they impact the roles and responsibilities within the relationship or with the family. Understand there maybe a period of adjustment as each of you becomes more comfortable with these changes.
- Send care packages. Your spouse or partner will be happy to receive care packages. Include items that have special meaning. If you have children, ask them to draw pictures or write notes.
- Be realistic about communication. There may be times when it is difficult for you to connect via phone, email or mail. It is important to understand that while frustrating, it may be unpreventable and that neither of you is to blame.
Tips for couples who are newly married
It is normal for new couples to experience challenges as they begin to share their lives. However, this new marriage may face some extra adjustments if one individual is in the military, has high-demand career responsibilities or if there is a period of separation.
- Be realistic. Expect that there will be rocky times in your relationship. These are normal and can be opportunities to grow in your relationship with one another.
- Try to put difficult times in perspective. If you feel that the high demands or duties of your spouse or partner's career are impacting the relationship negatively, talk it over with him or her or someone you trust. Seasoned military spouses are a valuable resource for those new to the military.
- Learn from your arguments. When you have a difference of opinion, try to see your spouse's point of view. Putting yourselves in each other's shoes may bring you closer.
- Talk about your marriage. Remember that each of you comes from different families, so it is natural to have different ideas and opinions. Communicating openly about your thoughts and opinions on an issue is a way to help resolve the issue together and decide what works best for you and your family. Remember it is OK to compromise during the discussion.
- Find a support network. Find an activity, job or volunteer opportunity where you'll meet people. There are clubs for spouses, organizations like the Key Volunteer Network (for Marine Corps families and spouses), online support groups and support groups that meet in person.
- Remember why you got married in the first place. When things get rough, think about the qualities that first attracted you to one another.
If the stress becomes too much
Whether or not one partner is deployed or has a stressful career, military life has both its challenges and opportunities for growth and personal development. Being away from extended family may bring feelings of loneliness. Fears for a spouse's safety may become overwhelming. If you are having trouble coping or feel overwhelmed, you may benefit from speaking with a professional counselor. You can find a counselor through your Military and Family Support Center or through Military OneSource (800-342-9647).