By: Joy Draper – MSAN Deployment & Resilience Coordinator
There’s lots of time spent amongst military spouses talking about how we can each persevere through deployments. It can be really challenging to face the day to day grind while your spouse is away, but what about the big picture items. What do you do when your spouse is deployed and you make major life changes? How do you continue to try to make your service member part of your life when your entire life shifts while they’re gone?
I’ve recently watched a few of my peers go through PCSing while their spouse is deployed … Talk about big changes! New town, new home, new school, new life. I haven’t personally lived through that particular scenario, but my husband’s most rent deployment has been right in the middle of some major life changes. I was downsized from my job the day before he deployed which left a lot up in the air. The first week he was gone, we made some pretty huge changes which include school for me and an entire career shift. Kids the kids have to go into a before and after school care as I return to working in an office for the first time in 10 years. We’ve changed our entire short and long term plan for our future. Then, to just heap more coals on the fire, we made the decision to change churches (being a family very involved in church, this obviously calls for quite a few adjustments too).
While figuring out all these changes and adjustments within the first 2 weeks my spouse was gone, one of my dear friends informed me “hey, you’ve literally changed everything in your life. Your hubby is going to come home and be totally lost with no part of life resembling what it was when he left.” Oh! I sort of wanted to smack her when I realized she was so right! The problem, too, is that I know how it can stress him out to return and feel like he doesn’t have a place or that he has missed so much. I usually try so hard to just maintain the status quo while he’s gone, but it couldn’t be helped this time.
While we didn’t do a solo PCS, we’ve changed as much as possible without actually moving. So it’s got me thinking about how all these changes during a deployment might affect each of us as individuals and the family as a whole. Looking forward, I can imagine that it will make reintegration a bit more difficult because we’ll all be figuring out how to live together again while also introducing Hubby to the new normal.
So, with that in mind, here are a couple suggestions for staying close as a family through all the changes that happen during deployments
Talk it Out
And if you can’t talk about it, write to each other. Many deployments, I have taken time at the end of each day to tell my husband about everything that happened in our day via email. In the past, I’ve sometimes felt like I was writing a high school journal entry to turn into a teacher because I would go over our day in detail, but he really appreciated the fact that he got to know some of the little things that happened even though he was gone. If you’re limited to email communication, try to make the best of it. Sometimes I’ve found that we actually are able to share more with each other when we’re just writing emails back and forth because then we’re not worrying about Skype cutting out or bandwidth problems and losing bits and pieces of conversations in the process. Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the details, but make sure you’re sharing the changes that are going on at home so your service member won’t be totally shocked when they return home and find things different. It’s also helpful to have someone to bounce ideas off of when you’re making changes with your life, so if you can hold off on some of the final decisions until you can communicate with your service member, it might make it a little easier. I’m lucky because we usually can talk with my husband while he’s deployed (or at the very least we can email) so I try to not make too many big decisions without first running it by him. It’s a little thing, but at least he feels like he’s still part of our family life back at home even when he’s deployed.
Now, on the flip side, make sure that you’re not insisting that your service member continue to play a part in every decision you make while they’re deployed. Make sure you’re not overwhelming them with too much information when they should be focusing on their mission. It’s a fine line that military spouses have to walk to figure out how we can best support our service members while they’re gone. Use good judgment and make sure that you’re not overwhelming them with decisions like “do I call the plumber when the toilet is so backed up I can’t fix it.” Take care of the crises you can without overwhelming them (because they can’t fix any of that stuff while they’re gone anyway), but for long term life decisions – try to stay involved as a couple when/if you can.
It’s not easy, but it’s part of the military way of life. I understand that it’s very easy to grow tired and weary of the strain that deployments and changes can put on a family and on individuals, but one way to combat this issue is to no overthink it and not dwell on the negatives. I had a conversation with my kids yesterday about a situation at home where one of them was taking a pessimistic approach and the other was extremely optimistic. We talked over and around the issue for weeks leading up to it, and finally when the day came and they each faced the new challenge, the one who had decided it was going to be difficult and troublesome unsurprisingly had a tough day. The one who had decided it was going to be a fun, new adventure truly enjoyed the new change in life. Being intentionally positive is sometimes hard to do, but it will be extremely beneficial in the long run if you can decide ahead of time to enjoy all the changes and create new adventures from the upheaval.
I know that most of my suggestions come with an entire paragraph devoted to proper communication, but I truly feel that’s so important for keeping a strong family unit even through deployment. Phone calls, FaceTime, instant messenger, email, or snail mail will all go a long way in maintaining that emotional intimacy that is important when trying to keep a marriage deployment strong!
About the Author
Joy Draper has been an Air Force wife for the last seven years. She serves as a Key Spouse with her squadron and has been actively involved in the development of the Spouses Resilience Program at Offutt AFB. She has been married eleven years and has a ten year old daughter and five year old son.
Joy’s family has been through nine deployments ranging from 60-220 days. She is actively involved with the Military Spouse Advocacy Network as the Deployment & Reintegration Coordinator. She blogs about parenting, deployment and reintegration issues, and the reality of what life is as an Air Force family. You can check her blog out at throughitallandthensome.blogspot.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.