WASHINGTON - I spoke to a spouse last year about dealing with deployments and keeping military marriages strong. Her husband had just returned from a yearlong deployment in Iraq.
She cited an example of the types of issues that can arise when communication falls to the wayside. As the primary disciplinarian while her husband was gone, she adopted a "three strikes and you're out" rule for their 3-year-old son. Her husband, however, was more of a "one strike" kind of guy, and reinstituted his stricter ways upon his return.
Upset at losing her disciplinarian role so quickly, his wife got angry.
"At first I yelled at him a lot," she said. "I'd correct him more than I'd correct my child."
In time, she learned to bite her tongue and to discuss the situation with her husband behind closed doors.
Marriage is tough enough without tossing in the additional stressors of military life - frequent deployments, reintegrating, separations and moves - to name a few. But even the toughest military challenges can be weathered with some advance planning and healthy communication skills. And in the process, marriages can grow even stronger.
Military OneSource has some tips for keeping military marriages strong. Here are just a few:
Planning ahead for when you're apart
- Before your spouse leaves, sit down together to discuss your upcoming separation and how it makes you feel.
- Create a family plan outlining how each of you will manage during your time apart. It's important to be flexible about your roles since the at-home spouse may be handling chores that have always been the other spouse's responsibility.
- Talk about emergencies and who to turn to in the event of an emergency.
- Discuss responsibilities and staying connected as a family. Work out with your spouse how parenting issues will be resolved, including discipline, illness, and matters involving school performance. Plan ways to help the parent who is away stay connected with children and vice versa. For example, you might record dad reading a bedtime story for your child to listen to at night. Agree to keep a journal or blog and take pictures and videos of your child's milestones so that the spouse who is away doesn't miss out on these cherished family times.
- Talk about finances. This will help you avoid misunderstandings or disagreements about money. Designate one spouse to manage the household expenses. Consider keeping two checking accounts, one for each of you, to avoid confusion. Keep one another informed of large expenditures.
- Discuss how you will stay in touch. It's comforting to know beforehand how often you will be in contact. This also helps you to factor the cost of telephone calls into your budget. Discuss ways you will communicate with one another and how frequently you will be in touch. Explore options that may be available to the service member, such as email, video teleconferencing, phone calls or regular mail.
- Keep in mind that service members may not know in advance how often they will be able to be in touch, or by what means. Discuss this before the deployment so you'll worry less during periods when communication is limited by factors neither of you can control. Learn about the options available for sending and receiving care packages as well. It's also very important to discuss how the at-home spouse can get a message to the deployed service member in the event of an emergency at home.
- Discuss whom the at-home spouse can rely on for help and support - for everything from emergencies to child care to emotional support. This network may include friends, family, military spouses, and military counseling and support services.
- Keep busy and stay active if you are the at-home spouse. Consider taking a class or pursuing a career interest or activity that gives you an identity outside of being a military spouse. The more fulfilled you feel, the better you will handle separations and difficult times, and the more you will enjoy your marriage.
Communicating with one another
- Share daily happenings from home. Describe the events of your day even if they seem boring to you. Hearing about your life will help your spouse feel closer to you.
- Be honest about your feelings. Let your spouse know how much you miss him, but try to do this in a way that reassures your spouse that you are handling things well despite his absence. Talk about feelings of frustration you may have, such as not being able to control where your family goes or when you will next be together as a family.
- Try to keep letters and emails positive. If you write about something unpleasant, let your spouse know how you dealt with the situation. Otherwise, he may feel helpless to support you from so many miles away.
- Express yourself clearly. If your letter or email is vague, your spouse may be confused and wonder what it is you're not saying.
- Acknowledge that you may change when you are apart. The spouse at home may become more self-reliant. The service member may discover inner resources that had been hidden to him. These are positive changes that probably will add to your relationship. Reassure one another that regardless of any changes to you individually, your marriage will stay as strong as ever.
- Send care packages. Your spouse will be happy to receive care packages in the mail. 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. Consider sending an audio or video recording of you and your family if your spouse is likely to be able to listen to or view them.
If the stress becomes too much
If you are having trouble coping or starting to feel overwhelmed, you may benefit from speaking with a professional counselor.
Each branch of the military has its own spouse and family support organizations where you can turn for practical and emotional support. Additionally, installations have chaplains available for support and assistance. Most also have counseling services as well as on-site support groups where you can meet others who share your circumstances.
For additional information: Military OneSource