It doesn’t matter if you’re approaching your first or your 15th deployment — every time your spouse is called to serve away from home, relationships change. Challenges arise and physical and emotional distance makes it hard to remain close with your military spouse. Thankfully, there are many ways to cultivate family bonding and for your relationship with your military spouse to stay strong, no matter the amount of distance put between you.

1. Do All of the Obvious Things

Never underestimate the effect that a loving letter and a care package can do. Even if it feels unnecessary, trivial, or if it seems like it doesn’t matter… it matters. An act of kindness always makes an impact, and it means so much more when you’re offering it to someone you love. Every single letter, care package, or email that you send strengthens your family bonding and helps keep your loved one close.

2. Talk About the Distance

When you know a deployment is around the corner or you know it’s going to be a while before the separation with your loved one is over, a lot of emotions can surface. To preserve family bonding and prevent resentment, it’s important to set time aside to talk about that distance as well as all the feelings it’s triggering. This might mean spending a few hours in honest conversation with your spouse before their deployment, or being lovingly honest in any conversation you get while they’re away.

3. Plan Things to Do “Together”

Even though you aren’t side by side, there are many creative ways to do things “together.” You can decide on a book, movie, or TV series to go through together and keep each other updated on your progress.

During a time where there might not seem to be much you have in common, engaging in shared activities can help minimize the feeling of distance.

4. Confide in Friends

Deployments are hard — the distance between you and your loved one will take a toll eventually. Remind yourself that it’s okay to phone a friend, be honest about your struggle, and really let the emotions out around someone you trust. By taking care of yourself in this way and allowing your friends to build you up, you’ll be less likely to build up resentment, and whatever opportunities you get to speak with your loved one will be sweeter.

5. Live Your Own Life

It can be so tempting to sit on the couch and wait for the phone to ring, but putting your life on hold until all of your family is together again will only end up creating an unhealthy environment for you. You’ll be happier and your military spouse will be happier if you hold space for when they call while also pursuing your own dreams, having adventures, and living. Save space for their call, but don’t put your life on hold.

6. Listen to Music That Reminds You of Them

Music can be a great mood booster, so if you’re feeling sad or lonely, turn on something that will help you nurture your relationship rather than your bad mood.

Listening to music that brings back happy memories or creating a shared playlist for yourself and your military spouse helps is a wonderful means of family bonding.

7. Share Photo Albums

Keep a photo album with you at home and let your military spouse take one on their deployment. Sharing pictures of memories and moments you’ve experienced together will help you stay close even when you’re apart.

8. Be Realistic

Having unrealistic expectations, especially when it comes to communication, can tear you apart. Understand that your military spouse won’t always be able to respond to you as quickly as you’d like, but overcoming these types of challenges throughout your relationship can help you stay stronger in the long run.

9. Trust

Just because there’s distance and sporadic communication doesn’t mean family bonding can’t happen. Trust that your military spouse will connect with you when they can, love you endlessly, and that they’re coming home soon.

10. Never Give Up

No matter how many deployments you get through or how great a distance you’ve overcome, some days are going to be harder than any of the others. Always remember that you’re stronger for it and your commitment to your family and your military spouse can overcome anything.

Take full advantage of modern means of communication to keep you and your family close, despite the distance. If it ever feels like it’s getting to be more than you can take, lean on someone, confide in your loved ones, and never be afraid to ask for help.

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