Focus on the Family

Dealing With Physical Distance in Marriage

by Erin Prater

Whoever coined the phrase "absence makes the heart grow fonder" was likely single, speaking of his pet or, if he was married, taking an afternoon jaunt to the golf range. He probably wasn't leaving his wife and kids for a three-month contract project five states away, or deploying overseas for six to 18 months.

When we marry, few of us picture spending extended amounts of time away from our mate. Then reality sets in. Be it contract or missions work, relocation, a business trip, higher education, deployment, coming to the aide of an ailing family member or similar situation, uninvited circumstances force us into a world of "temporary singleness."

During this separation, you and your spouse will need each other more than ever as you "work out" your wedding vows, just as Paul called believers to work out their salvation in Philippians 2:12.

While absence can make the heart grow fonder, long-term separation comes with a host of hurdles: less frequent communication, no physical contact and the potential for danger, to name a few. Though your upcoming time apart will be difficult, it won't last forever. And good can come of it. Consider Romans 8:28: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

Whether you're facing one long separation, or a series of frequent separations, there's light at the end of the tunnel. There is more to look forward to than the end of this trial. Expect God to use this time apart to strengthen your marriage; anticipate amazing results.

Absorbing the Initial Shock of Temporary Separation

You need to confront the what-ifs and how-tos before the separation to lessen the worry.

by Erin Prater

The news is likely unexpected. Even if you saw it coming, it's nonetheless hard to take. Your spouse will be going away for a sizeable period of time, leaving you alone and vulnerable.

Chances are, your brain is a foggy nebulous of what if's and how to's. Long term, it's wise not to dwell on these things. But if you don't address them initially, you might find your worries becoming nagging, constant companions.

Separately, you and your spouse may want to put to paper all the reservations you're having. Brainstorm scenarios you fear, feelings you're experiencing and any other words or phrases that come to mind. Nothing is too silly or absurd to write down.

Not only is this process cleansing, but it serves as a great "talking points" list for the two of you to review together. (If you'd like, write this list in your journal. Review it after the separation is over to see how God met your needs and quelled your fears.)

Be sure to let your guard down before reviewing your spouse's list. Feelings are feelings; they're neither right nor wrong. Don't take anything on your spouse's list too personally. Instead, react with understanding and compassion. Bend over backwards to put your spouse's mind at ease.

The following questions might be at the forefront of your mind:

Preparing for Your Time Apart

You might not feel like planning, but a little inconvenience now can save a lot of heartache later.

by Erin Prater

Your spouse's departure date is fast approaching -- faster than you wish it would. In the midst of your vacillating emotions, preparation might be the last thing on your mind.

If one of you is more logically-bent, now is the time for him or her to lead pre-departure planning. Your temporary separation will go much smoother if your ducks are in a row.

Your Time Apart: Making it Through and Back

Here are some tips for thriving during, and after, your spouse's absence.

by Erin Prater

The goodbye is over -- good for you! You've made it through what was most likely the toughest moment of your time apart. The next thing you have to look forward to? The reunion!

Here are some tips for making it from the moment after goodbye through the readjustment period with your health, sanity and emotions intact.

During Separation

After the Reunion

Fanning the Flame From Afar

Eight practical tips for keeping close to your spouse despite the fact you are miles apart

by Erin Prater

A kiss. A reassuring touch. A look. Expressing love to your spouse is easy when you're both under the same roof. Doing so when you're miles apart can be tricky. How can you effectively share your heart with the spouse you're temporarily separated from?

Ideas for the Spouse at Home

  1. Send a care package. When planning the package, consider your spouse's needs, goals and favorite indulgences.
  2. Pen an old-fashioned love letter. Write it solely for the purpose of conveying your love. That means leaving out details of today's board meeting, what you ate for lunch and your lengthy to-do list.
  3. Bake a cake -- for later. Does your spouse have a favorite treat, such as a cake, that's impossible to send in a care package? Bake it and take a picture of it. Send the picture along with a note letting him know that the cake will be waiting in the freezer when he gets home.
  4. Speak well of your spouse to mutual contacts. Ask your friend to pass along a compliment, or relay the fact that you miss him. It's always encouraging to hear that your spouse speaks positively of you to others.

Ideas for the Spouse Away

  1. Have a pizza or takeout delivered to your spouse. Some grocery stores' Web sites also allow you to have items delivered to a residence for a small fee. Save her a weekend trip to the store by ordering essential items and having them delivered to her.
  2. Call your spouse when you know she'll be unavailable and leave a sweet voicemail. She'll be able to play it over and over when she misses you.
  3. Clean. Before you leave, pay a neighborhood kid or member of your church's youth group to do a bit of cleaning or babysitting for her on weekends. This will provide your spouse with some much-needed relaxation.
  4. Write. A note of appreciation, no matter how short, will do wonders to lift your spouse's spirits.

Fifteen Months Apart

When my husband deployed, my world fell apart. But God pieced me – and us – back together, stronger than ever.

by Erin Prater

Military wives know: The minute your husband deploys, everything goes wrong. My husband left for Baghdad on October 13, 2006, our 10-month wedding anniversary. After our last kiss goodbye, I peeled myself out of his arms and forced my legs to carry my body towards the truck I was to drive home away from my other half. It was a gigantic feat. For all I knew, I would never see my husband alive again.

Within 24 hours I'd found my mother-in-law unconscious; they almost lost her twice in the emergency room. Within 48 hours I'd accidentally backed my husband's truck into a parked vehicle. Within 72 hours I was stranded in the parking lot with a flat tire and a dead battery. If the first three days away from my husband were any indication of the next 362, I wasn't sure how I'd make it through the year.

The First Call

Though I eagerly awaited my husband's first call from "the sandbox," a knot was forming in my stomach. He'd already learned of his mother's near-death experience seconds before he boarded the plane to Kuwait. Now I'd have to tell him about the damage I'd done to the truck, his most prized possession. He's going to kill me, I thought. It would be best not to tell him, but I can't keep a secret.

Surprisingly, my husband reacted calmly. He made sure I'd contacted our insurance company, then reassured me of his love. I fell asleep that night feeling a bit more at ease. It was the first in a series of God-ordained growth opportunities in our marriage that occurred during our time apart.

To keep myself busy and sane while my husband was gone, I enrolled in a few online college courses. I also took on several freelance writing projects. Between the extra combat pay my husband was receiving, and the extra money my writing was bringing in, we paid off a sizeable debt consolidation loan. After we'd conquered the loan, we saved up for a down payment on a house.

Buying a House Alone

Purchasing a house without my husband by my side was stressful, but it gave us a goal to work toward together. My husband spent much of his free time searching local MLS listings online. He'd call me with the numbers and I'd visit the houses with a realtor, often talking with him on his Iraqi cell phone at the same time. Eventually, we found the perfect house. My husband did what he could to complete his portion of the paperwork from halfway around the world; the rest I completed with my power of attorney.

But the stress from purchasing a house was often the least of our worries. Many times our phone conversations would end abruptly. I'd have to trust that my husband wouldn't hang up on me without saying goodbye; he must have lost the connection. I'd also have to trust that God was taking care of my husband, carrying him through until the next time we were able to speak.

Fear of Drifting Apart

Before he left for Iraq, our relationship had its share of tension. Scared of losing my husband, I cried constantly. In preparation for war, he was shutting down emotionally and having a hard time handling my deluge of emotions. Because we didn't understand where the other was coming from, we did a great job of fueling each other's misery. I was sure we would drift apart during his time away.

But God did great things in our marriage through the deployment, which, after an extension, ended up amounting to 15 months. He used our first few months apart, during which we rarely were able to communicate, to deepen our love and commitment to each other. And as the deployment progressed, we were able to communicate more often–at one point, almost daily. Thanks to his cell phone, I was able to talk to my husband while he was out on supply missions and during detainee guards. It helped me understand what he was going through a little better. Though we longed to see each other face-to-face, the time we spent "just talking" was priceless.

My husband is transitioning out of the Army. He will soon spend several months away at a law enforcement academy, home only on the weekends. While we're not looking forward to the time apart, we know we can accomplish anything after enduring a deployment to Iraq. And we know the God that brought us closer together through a miserable separation will also bless us through this shorter time apart.

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