Focus on the Family

Coping With Deployment

by Erin Prater

A military marriage may seem appealing to newlywed service members and their spouses: a ticket to see the world on Uncle Sam's dime, be stationed in exotic places and experience rapturous homecomings akin to the infamous LIFE photograph "Kissing the War Goodbye," taken on V-Day, 1945, in Times Square.

While some or all of these benefits may materialize, many couples don't anticipate the heartache and pain that can accompany them. The military experience can vary widely depending on branch of service, duty station, rank and MOS. At the very least, couples can expect to find themselves stressed by the service member's long and irregular work hours, job frustrations and the easy tendency to "bring work home." At the very worst, couples may find themselves divided by oceans, deserts and years apart, entrenched in unfamiliar surroundings, lonely nights and dangerous events. Military life may be exotic, but not always in an appealing way.

These difficult, external marriage stressors can produce a wealth of internal stressors such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), compassion fatigue, pornography addiction, infidelity, and communication difficulties.

As a military couple, you and your spouse need each other (and God!) more than ever. God has an amazing plan for the marriages of His warriors and their equally brave spouses. He holds the two of you close during the heart-wrenching anguish of deployment goodbyes, and He rejoices over you at your exhilarating reunion. He gives strength and endurance in the face of fear and uncertainty. He'll never leave or forsake either of you, and He asks — and enables — you to show the same love and commitment to each other, perhaps not perfectly, but really.


The Deployment Cycle

Those who know what to expect in each stage of the deployment process are more likely to maintain their mental health.

by Erin Prater

Taken most literally, the term "deployment cycle" refers to the stages surrounding and including a unit’s deployment. It consists of the following phases: preparation, mobilization, deployment, employment, redeployment, post deployment and reconstruction.

Military families faced with an extended deployment (six months or longer) are thrown into a "deployment cycle" of their own – driven not by tactics but by emotions. A quick Internet search for the phrase will reveal several different models based on both personal opinion and professional observation.

Unparalleled in the civilian world, this circuit of upheaval is painful to think about. But those who know what to expect in each stage of the deployment process are more likely to maintain their mental health.

The following model of the family’s deployment cycle is most widely accepted. Included are explanations of the timeframes and hallmarks of each stage.

Pre-Deployment

Timeframe: From warning of deployment through departure

Hallmarks: During this time, spouses often find themselves in denial and grieving the impending loss of time together; many struggle with fear of never seeing their service member again. Most service members withdraw emotionally and/or physically as they prepare for battle, though bonding with comrades increases. Some wives also detach, but many more become emotionally needy.

Couples aim to make the most of their time together. If a holiday or special occasion occurs during this cycle, couples tend to go "all-out," making the event memorable and recording it with photos and video. Due to high stress levels, couples tend to be more argumentative, and one serious argument is common during this phase. Newlyweds may see this argument as dangerously abnormal and "catastrophic," and may subsequently worry about the stability of their relationship.

Deployment

Timeframe: Departure through entire first month of deployment

Hallmarks: Spouses left at home feel helplessly trapped on an emotional rollercoaster. Feelings vary widely, ranging from relief that the tense, painful moment of goodbye is over; fear for personal safety and the safety of their service member; excitement at the thought of conquering personal goals during deployment; anger at their spouse for leaving; and hopelessness when looking at the daunting, lonely days ahead.

Sustainment

Timeframe: Second month through second-to-the-last month of deployment

Hallmarks: Spouses left at home find stability and confidence as they tackle difficult tasks alone and discover new hobbies and support groups. Spouses become more comfortable in their "temporary independence" and accustomed to the nuances of living alone.

Redeployment

Timeframe: Final month of deployment through homecoming

Hallmarks: Spouses left at home once again find themselves on an emotional rollercoaster, especially as return dates fluctuate. Though the spectrum of emotions tends to be more positive, anxieties such as "Will we still get along?" or "How will we make up for lost time?" are to be anticipated. Spouses rush to complete projects they began during deployment, plan details of the homecoming and clean house.

Post-Deployment

Timeframe: Homecoming through a period that may last as long as one day for each day deployed

Hallmarks: At long last, the homecoming reunion occurs. This experience usually creates a fantastically romantic, lifelong memory followed by a honeymoon phase in the marriage. But even during this honeymoon phase, it's common for spouses to deal with awkwardness in their conversation, sex life and general relationship. Spouses will need to renegotiate logistical matters such as budgeting, routines and chores. They'll also need to reacquaint with one another.

New Model

In 2007, the Department of Defense reexamined this cycle in light of the unprecedented rate of deployment resulting from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. They developed a new model which includes seven stages: anticipation of departure; detachment and withdraw; emotional disorganization; anticipation of return; return adjustment and renegotiation; and reintegration and stabilization. The new model features titles which more accurately describe the challenges of each stage. It also provides service members and their families with a concrete, hopeful seventh stage: stabilization.


Military Marriage-Killers and -Stressors

Every positive aspect of military life is matched by at least one negative, especially for married service members and their families.

by Erin Prater

The military eases the lives of service members and their families in some very significant ways. Paychecks are regular. Benefits, such as healthcare and legal assistance, are unparalleled in the civilian world. And, in a time of economic uncertainty, the job security provided by the armed forces is a true blessing.

But every positive aspect of military life is matched by at least one negative, especially for married service members and their families. Military and civilian marriages face the same marriage-stressors and marriage-killers, but the challenges faced by military marriages are both compounded and additional.

Stressors

Stressor: Frequent separation

Fight Back: Military life often means a substantial amount of time apart, especially during the early years of a career. Make the most of the time you do have by completing chores, running errands and studying together. Balance "couple time" with a healthy amount of "me time" and you've got a recipe for a realistically smooth relationship while you're together and a foundation for a solid relationship while you're apart.

Stressor: Difficulty communicating

Fight Back: The task of keeping in touch while deployed can be extremely daunting. When you can't communicate via computer or phone, write letters to your spouse. The steady flow of mail alone is very reassuring. Be sure to pray, asking God to let your spouse know he or she is loved and cared about when you can't communicate the message personally.

Stressor: Frequent moves

Fight Back: If this is your first move (or if your last move didn't go so smoothly) find a moving mentor, perhaps a couple from the chapel at your military installation who's "been there, done that" several times. Over desserts or at a BBQ, discuss the best way to approach the move and how to troubleshoot stressful situations. Search the Internet for tourist sites, local attractions and shops you'd like to explore as a couple during your first free weekend in your new location.

Stressor: Long work hours

Fight Back: Service members are often required to work late, train in the field during odd/extended hours or take work home – all of which hinder family time. When possible, build flexibility into your personal plans. If your husband returns from work early, reschedule your shopping trip in favor of time together. Or, take him with you. If he's pulling late-night duty and visitors are allowed, stop by with his favorite snack or soda and a quick kiss.

Killers

Killer: Dishonesty

Fight Back: Being honest with your spouse in the little matters makes honesty in major matters easier. "Fudging" or telling "white lies" only builds a foundation of dishonesty. Did you slightly overspend your monthly budget or ding your husband's truck while he's away? Fess up; you might find his reaction to be better than anticipated. Regardless, you're investing in your relationship by building trust.

Killer: Infidelity

Fight Back: Both spouses will be tempted during time apart, be it with an emotional affair, physical affair or pornography. Have a plan of action: Memorize a temptation-fighting Bible verse, recruit a readily available accountability partner and install filtering software on your computer. Shy away from excessively sensual movies and romance novels that will only tease you with what you can't have at the moment. Entertaining romantic thoughts is extremely healthy for a marriage as long as those thoughts are about your spouse.

Killer: Excessive emotional spending

Fight Back: It's easy to use spending as an emotional band-aide, especially while your service member is away. Budgeting for a reasonably priced "splurge" now and then will prevent you from blowing your budget with impulse buys. If you're planning to order new checks, customize them with pictures of your spouse or family as a reminder to keep their financial well-being in mind. Emotional spending is the source of temporary warm and fuzzy feelings, but money is one of the top causes of marital discord.


Tips for Facing Deployment

Helpful ideas for facing the pre- mid- and post-deployment stages as a couple.

by Erin Prater

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.

Pre-Deployment

During Deployment

Post-Deployment


God’s Promises to Service Members and Spouses

God's promises are solid and surprisingly applicable to military life.

by Erin Prater

You may have seen a summarized list of God's promises — perhaps on a picturesque poster in a Christian bookstore or inside a sympathy card. But how often do remember these promises, much less take them to heart? You'd be surprised at the promises God makes to all of His children — and how applicable they are to military life. Aim to memorize these verses for comfort and confidence during the tough times.

God works all things together for good.
"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." Romans 8:28

God has wonderful plans for His children.
"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" Jeremiah 29:11

God gives wisdom to those who ask.
"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." James 1:5

God continually guides us.
"I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." Genesis 28:15

God will not allow you to be tempted beyond your limits.
"No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." 1 Corinthians 10:13

God will grant us whatever we ask of Him according to His will.
"This is the confidence we have in approaching God: That if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him." 1 John 5:14-15

God provides rest for the weary.
"'Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.'"Matthew 11:28

God will finish the good work He's started in you and your spouse.
" … being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:6

God will supply all of your needs.
"And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:19

God's grace is sufficient for us.
"But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." 2 Corinthians 12:9


Grief, Goodbyes and God

The author describes her personal story of triumph over the pain of a military deployment.

by Erin Prater

When my husband, Travis, deployed for Baghdad, we had been married 10 months to the day. As an active-duty Army infantryman, he'd spent several of those 10 months in the field or at out-of-state training camps preparing for war. It was his second deployment to "the sandbox" and third overseas, but as a newly-married couple this deployment was new territory for both of us.

Most civilians expect a couple facing deployment to simply "make the most" of their time together, but it's not that simple. As my husband prepared for war, he emotionally detached himself, a skill essential to survival and wellbeing in a war zone. I grieved our impending time apart. I needed more of him. It seemed he needed less of me. We argued some. I cried a lot. This made the task of enjoying our last few months together even more difficult.

Deployment is a painful dichotomy. I dreaded my husband's deployment and wished he didn't have to leave. Yet he had to, and the anticipation was painful. Part of me wanted to just get it over with — to say goodbye and have the pain disappear. But I knew that goodbye would only intensify the pain and leave me alone. And I didn't want to be alone. Looking back, I expected my husband to fill my every emotional need and heal my heart's every wound. Only God could do that.

Sleepless Last Night, Long Goodbye

My husband is never able to sleep the night before a departure; it was no different the night before he left for Iraq. I returned from work that evening, eyes red from crying at work that day — in the bathroom, at lunch and during the car ride home. Travis returned from work with a handful of comedy DVDs he'd rented for us. We ate dinner, then snuggled while watching movies. "You need your rest if you're going to have a chance of holding up tomorrow," he said after the last movie went to credits well after midnight. We needed to be out the door and headed to post by 5 a.m. He patted his lap and placed a pillow on top of it. I laid my head down and fell asleep for the last night I would have with my husband in 15 months. For the next several hours he reached over my head to his laptop, ripping CDs and readying himself for the mission ahead.

What we'd expected to be a painfully-quick goodbye turned into a six-hour wait. I relished every second with Travis, but the wait was visibly painful for many of the wives who'd gathered at company headquarters. During the last two hours we were funneled into a gym, emotionally and physically exhausted. Families clung to each other; never before had I seen so much pain in one room. When the time for goodbye finally arrived we formed a lengthy, fast-moving line. Seconds later, we were steps away from the bus that would take my husband away. He firmly grasped my shoulders, kissed me deeply, then walked into the bus.

It was what he'd been trained to do. He had no option to linger, even if I collapsed to the ground in tears. Though I had no formal training in coping with these situations, I found my body taking over in ways I hadn't expected. My body turned about-face and began walking back toward our truck, taking my screaming mind and heart with it. I looked blankly, yet empathetically at the other wives. Dazed and confused, we walked back to our vehicles as if we'd just left the scene of a tragedy. We had. Never again would we all be in the same room together alive.

Everything Goes Wrong When Your Husband Deploys

They say everything goes wrong when your husband deploys. Still sniffling, I chuckled to myself as I experienced minor computer problems at home the day Travis left. It was a Friday. Little did I know that by the end of the weekend I'd find my mother-in-law barely clinging to life, or that I'd leave my Kuwait-bound husband a voicemail telling him I was making decisions for his unconscious mom. She pulled through, thank God. But within three days of his departure I'd hit someone else's vehicle with my husband's truck (his "baby") and been stranded twice by a dead battery and flat tires.

No Way to Make a Year Go by Quickly

Just a few days before the half-way point of my husband's year-long deployment, the Army informed us of three-month extensions for most active-duty soldiers. Coming home from work, I literally threw my bags down and sobbed. We had been so close to the home stretch. Considering that it can be a battle to get through each day, three months was a big setback mentally. That evening, I pulled out the birthday presents I'd bought to give my husband in October, the month of his homecoming and 24th birthday. I ripped off the birthday wrapping paper and pulled out the Christmas wrapping paper, knowing full-well that this year's Christmas would be late, too.

Though this deployment is, by far, the hardest thing my husband and I have been through both in our marriage and in our personal lives, it's also had its benefits. We enjoy every precious second together, even if it's "just" on the phone or online. Our communication is amazing. We openly talk about our nightmares and the stress the deployment has imposed on both of us. We try our hardest to make each other laugh. We've thrown ourselves into eliminating all of our debt and looking at houses together online. We've become a true team, even better friends and a more loving couple.

I've tacked a piece of paper to our bedroom wall, next to letters and cards from my husband. It lists five important truths God has taught me through this deployment. Though the learning is sometimes painful, I know He's molding me through this deployment into the wife my husband needs me to be.

  1. Today isn't forever. Sometimes it seems like it, but in a few hours this day will be done. Even if it's a day apart from my husband, it's worth living.
  2. God won't give us more than we can handle. Sometimes I find it hard to believe, but I'm still alive and kicking, aren't I?
  3. To Him, a day is like a thousand years. (See 2 Peter 3:8.) Boy, I know the feeling! But the verse also says a thousand years are like a day to the Lord. I often pray the time away from my husband to pass that quickly!
  4. We're given grace for one day at a time. Matthew 6:34 says, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." No wonder I'm so often overwhelmed when I attempt to fathom how I'll make it through the rest of this deployment and readjustment phase. He'll give me grace for today and new mercies tomorrow morning — even more encouragement to take things one day at a time.
  5. God is always in control. Evil men, with their guns, suicide bombs and IEDs, can scheme and plot and feign control. But at the end of the day, every day, God is victorious. Victory is ours through Him. We should live like it.

Next Steps and Related Information

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