A happy and healthy relationship takes work. When your spouse is in the Guard or reserve, you may face challenges that you don't expect. Even if your spouse isn't activated, the possibility of deployment can create feelings of stress and uncertainty. There are ways to strengthen your relationship and grow closer as a couple by preparing for challenging times and understanding the unique dynamics that accompany deployment and military life.
Preparing for possible deployment
Deployment is a challenge for even the most experienced military couples. For Guard and reserve families who aren't familiar with separations and military life, deployment requires rethinking and readjustment.
- Discuss how each of you will handle a call to active duty. Discussing the possibility openly will help you work out your concerns and establish a successful plan. Discuss how you will handle certain situations that are known to occur when one of you is not available and ways to manage day to day responsibilities.
- Put your legal affairs in order. Preparing a will may alleviate the stress of uncertainty during the time of a deployment for both the deployed and the family. Other types of legal matters may include obtaining a power of attorney, which will give a spouse or a designated individual the ability to handle certain responsibilities while deployed.
- Prepare a budget. Household finances are a common cause of stress for many couples. As a Guard or reserve couple, you may have special concerns about money because your income will likely change. If possible, put money aside while your spouse is still home to use in the event of an emergency or an unexpected expense.
- Determine what benefits will change. The transition to deployment will be less disruptive if you understand what benefits may change before, during and after a deployment.
- Set up a support system to call on in the event of deployment. Knowing there is a system of support available to help during stressful times will be reassuring to both of you as you navigate the challenges of deployment.
Anticipating being apart
You and your spouse are likely to experience a range of emotions when the activation or mobilization orders arrive. Here are some ways to help manage those feelings:
- Allow one another to feel and express emotions. If you have children, keeping a positive attitude may alleviate some of their concerns and help them cope better with these changes. There are also resources that can assist with this adjustment for children, as well as for you and your spouse, if you are struggling with the challenges of deploying.
- Acknowledge that each of you may change when you are apart. Change can be difficult to accept but reassuring one another that regardless of any changes to you individually, your marriage will stay as strong as ever and may grow as a result.
- Plan time alone together. Before the deployment, schedule an afternoon or evening doing something you both enjoy, such as eating at your favorite restaurant or going for a hike. Take pictures and acknowledge this as an important and special time together.
- Attend pre-deployment events. When military units are preparing to deploy, spouses, children, parents and other family members usually have an opportunity to attend yellow ribbon events designed to inform them about the deployment and mission of the service member's unit. They include information on the following topics:
- How the unit supports families during the deployment
- How to manage the emotional cycle of deployment
- Benefits that the service member's family may be entitled to receive
- Practical concerns during separation, such as money management, household support, child care and other deployment-related issues
Managing while your spouse is away
As a Guard or reserve couple, you probably have a settled routine and life outside the military, with a network of friends and possibly family nearby who will be willing to lend a hand. However, you may live miles from the nearest military installation, which can leave you feeling very much alone in your situation. These tips can help:
- Look for families in your situation. The unit's family readiness staff may run support groups. Try to participate if possible.
- Stick to your usual routine. Your life may feel very different with your spouse away. Keeping your routine intact may be helpful as you get used to the newness of the deployment.
- Keep active. If you find yourself with extra time while your spouse is away, take up a hobby or return to doing something you love, but haven't had time for, such as taking a class. Volunteering is also a great way to get out and be with people.
- Take time for yourself. Handling the household, your career or the children, if you are a parent, without the help of your partner can be difficult. Schedule time for yourself to relax or do something you enjoy. Even small things like listening to music or watching a movie can break the stress and help rejuvenate you.
- Postpone making major decisions until you are reunited, if possible.
- Plan to be flexible when your spouse returns. There is a natural adjustment period for everybody when a service member comes home. Being flexible will help both of you with readjusting after deployment.
Finding ways to stay close
A successful relationship requires open communication, trust, mutual respect and a commitment to each other.
- Keep lines of communication open and flexible. Letters, emails, phone calls, video recordings and personal web pages are all ways for you to feel part of each other's' lives.
- Share current and future plans. Hearing about your life and planning for the future can help you both feel closer.
- Focus on the positive. Try not to dwell on what's wrong, but focus on what's right. Reassure your spouse that even though you miss him or her, there are many positive aspects of life that can still be enjoyed and celebrated as a family despite being apart.
- Trust each other. There may be times when you or your spouse feels insecure about your relationship. This is normal. Be honest about your feelings and try to keep perspective that these may be challenging times for your relationship. Talking with someone to discuss your concerns may be helpful and help mitigate undue stress on the relationship.
- Remind your spouse of your love. Tell your spouse about those qualities you admire in him or her. Let each other know about times when you are thinking of each other. It's reassuring to hear that you are in each other's thoughts.
- Learn about the area of the world where your partner is stationed. Even if he or she is in the United States, reading up on the region will help you feel closer to your partner. If you have children, turn the learning into a family project.
- Communicate your respect for each other. Express gratitude for how your spouse has managed during the separation. Remember, you are both doing your part for the country, whether you are on active duty or taking care of the family and household.
- Express yourself clearly. If your letter or email is vague, your spouse may be confused and wonder what it is you're not saying. If the conversation is complicated, it may be best to wait until a time that the issue can be discussed openly.
- Send care packages. Include items that have special meaning to the two of you. If you have children, ask them to draw pictures or write notes to tuck into the package.
- Be realistic about communication. There may be times when a deployed spouse is unreachable. Other times, a service member may call home and be disappointed to get the answering machine. Recognizing that it is normal that there may be times that one of you is unreachable can help, and staying focused on when you will be able to communicate again may alleviate some of the disappointment.