Hopelessness in the face of deployment or TDY (especially when it involves danger or a lengthy period of time) is a common feeling. It's also a feeling you can "do something about." Following are several helpful hints for facing the pre-, during- and post- deployment stages as a couple.
- Embrace the tension. When preparing for war, it's common for men to become emotionally detached. It's a mission-essential battlefield coping mechanism that allows them to operate and endure under extreme pressure and loss. On the other hand, it's common for wives of deploying military men to become emotionally needy as they prepare to face a long, lonely period of time without their husbands. Mutually and verbally realize your opposite tendencies as you see them manifest themselves. Laugh about them if you can. Compromise and understanding are key.
- Be present in the moment. It's all too easy to succumb to the grief of your upcoming separation, to lose yourself in the fears and tears. As important as it is to acknowledge and experience these negative feelings, it's equally important to acknowledge the positive feelings and moments. Take in the beautiful scenery while the two of you drive to the store for milk. Chuckle together when the spaghetti boils over. Tell your spouse how head-over-heels you are for him or her. Live life together to its fullest, purposefully conquering the despair with which Satan hopes to overtake you.
- Make time for "couple" time. This is especially key as deployment nears. Depending on your schedules and the advance notice you are given, this may mean devoting as much as a week of evenings or as little as the last evening together. Say goodbyes to family, friends and coworkers in advance. You may find that making love the second-to-the-last evening together allows for a more-memorable, less-hurried/stressed experience. Allow the final evening together and the final goodbye to be something sacred between the two of you, void of outside interference. Remind your partner of important promises you've made to one another. Reaffirm your love and commitment. Set personal and mutual goals for the time apart. Discuss expectations for the final goodbye.
- Envelop yourself in community. After the initial goodbye, you may feel as if you've been socked in the stomach. You'll find yourself grieving the loss of time together and possibly fearing you'll never see your spouse again. Allow yourself important moments alone to collect yourself, but be sure to find and spend time with others who understand and support you. This isn't the time to become "super-spouse" and go it alone!
- Communicate lovingly. Take advantage of every opportunity and avenue to communicate, be it phone, Internet or postal mail. Never end a conversation, email or letter angrily. A small amount of anger combined with an immense distance and time span can eat the two of you up inside. Don't be afraid to be open about your day-to-day struggles and fears. Don't try to resolve a large problem over long distance in a limited amount of time if you don't absolutely have to. When sending letters and packages, consider your spouse's nature. If he isn't a big fan of reading but is looking forward to buying a house, send him letters with pictures cut out of a home-decorating catalog, along with real estate magazines. If he's easily embarrassed, don't decorate the outside of a care package with cutesy heart stickers and mortifying personal nicknames.
- Note: Women, it's easy to let insecurities about your appearance bubble to the surface, especially during deployment when you're not receiving regular affirmation from your husbands. Pray that God would show you how precious and beautiful you are to your husband, who, likely, is very visual. Take those truths to heart, and don't be shy! Send him photos of you, professional or otherwise. You may see personal flaws in a photo, but he'll just see the woman he dearly misses!
- Continue building your life together. Some days will be tougher than others to persevere. Despite what others tell you, you don't need to "move on without him" and you aren't "temporarily single." There is much you can do to continue building and bettering your life together while your spouse is away. If the two of you are in debt, look for ways to earn and save to rid yourselves of the financial burden. Learn to bake his favorite childhood foods. Read up on being a mom if you plan to have kids some day. Do something that makes you happy and let him know you did so. (You deserve it, and he'll be glad to know you're taking care of yourself.) Similarly, maintain your health by exercising regularly, taking a daily vitamin, getting enough sleep and eating well.
- Accept the change. When the two of you first married, it probably took awhile to merge your belongings, past experiences and ideals. You were coming from two different perspectives and worlds. Prepare to be newlyweds all over again — in both exciting and frustrating ways. War changes the lives and values of those it touches, including spouses and children of service members. Experts recommend one day of reintegration for each day of deployment.
- Pray often, and together. It's normal to be nervous about "doing life" together again. In your personal quiet times, pray that God would make you a gracious, selfless, understanding spouse. Ask that He would enable both of you to enjoy the journey. While it may be hard to directly tell your spouse that you're finding it hard to cope with the ways he's changed or getting used to him leaving the toilet seat up again, you may find it easier to communicate in mutual prayer. Pray aloud and together, pouring out your frustrations and joys. But check your motivations: Don't ask for conviction or consequences for your spouse's behavior; rather, ask for patience for yourself and blessings in your spouse's life. It will do wonders for your marriage.
- Look to the future. Pat yourselves on the back and praise God! You've made it through an amazing hurdle that many couples will never experience. In an effort to bring closure, sit down with your spouse and pinpoint a couple of positive things in your individual lives and marriage that happened as a result of the deployment: You single-handedly held down the fort while he was away; he, with your loving support, helped bring democracy to a country in turmoil; the communication in your marriage bettered ten-fold. Compile a scrapbook of letters and mementos from the deployment, or frame a homecoming picture. While the two of you will never fully be able to put this experience in the past, you can do your best to view it in a positive light.