Do you have resources for a military spouse who's struggling desperately with feelings of loneliness? I honestly believe that loneliness is the source of most other issues military families experience: alcoholism, addiction, divorce, even suicide. I knew I'd be lonely during a deployment, but now I know it happens other times, too; for the past month my husband has been working 16-hour days! The military offers some support programs, but it would be nice to find help that isn't affiliated. Can you suggest something?
Before saying anything else, we want you to know our hearts go out to you. It's difficult for the average citizen to appreciate the sacrifices our military families make, not only on the battlefield but also in the context of everyday life. Sometimes the pressures are too great to handle without some kind of release valve. You've taken a step in the right direction by asking for help!
You're well aware of the problems of military life, but for the sake of others who may be reading, it might be a good idea to note some of them here. Loneliness is a huge issue, as you say. And then there are other burdens: moving often, boredom (especially in non-combat situations), reintegration after deployment, and a sense of uncertainty and powerlessness, to name a few.
To make matters worse, problems multiply when folks attempt to self-medicate in unhealthy ways: social isolation, substance abuse, night-clubbing, and hopping from one extra-marital relationship to another. All this explains why so many of our service members return home from deployment only to find themselves on the verge of divorce.
The good news is that help is available. It all begins with adopting a proactive attitude. Once you've made up your mind to do something about the problem, there are a lot of resources and strategies you can use to keep your marriage and life from going off the rails during stressful situations.
Where can I find help?
You mentioned wanting to find assistance that isn't formally connected with the military. But we hope you'll be encouraged to know that many of the family-support resources offered on base (even some of those sponsored by the Department of Defense) maintain a healthy organizational distance from military hierarchy – and they're some of the best we know.
- The Military Family Life Counseling program (MFLC) maintains a presence at every U.S. military installation. They keep all consultations strictly confidential and off the record. And if the issues you're dealing with require more intensive clinical diagnosis and treatment, MFLC can refer you to qualified practitioners.
- Mount Carmel Center for Excellence is another good source of support for veterans, active-duty military personnel, and their families.
- Military OneSource is the "central hub and go-to-place for the military community." They can direct you to a wide variety of activities and resources.
- AeroNova is a Christian outreach and discipleship organization that sponsors the Gather Women's Conference for military wives. Mrs. Sarah Gorsuch, a presenter who spoke at a Gather Conference here at Focus on the Family, would be happy to answer any questions you have about the ministry. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) support groups could provide you with many opportunities to create community with other moms.
What can I try on my own?
- Educate yourself. At the most fundamental level, the best thing you can do is adopt a positive approach. Instead of operating in crisis mode, learn about healthy relationships and healthy coping skills.
Find mentors who can teach you what it means to build a solid marriage and a stable family. Listen to Focus on the Family's daily broadcast, and read everything you can find from trusted sources about marriage and parenting.
- Take care of yourself. When the pressure's on, one of the most important things you can do for your spouse and children is take time for yourself. Recognize your limitations. You're not Superwoman, and no one is expecting you to carry this heavy load alone.
Look for positive ways to fill your own cup so you don't come up empty when it's time to love your family. Stay connected with friends and mentors, build a strong support network, and have the courage to ask for trusted help.
- Communicate with your spouse. When it comes to deployment in particular, many military couples live in such dread of separation that they simply avoid talking about it. This isn't the best way to go. Lack of communication is deadly to any relationship. Instead of ignoring the problem, sit down together and have a serious conversation before deployment.
Talk about issues such as loneliness, marital fidelity, sexual purity, and other practical challenges you're likely to face when you're separated. Take turns expressing your feelings openly. Listen carefully to the other person.
Encourage your spouse to put his thoughts about what's most important to him into a "life letter" to you and the children before he goes away. That letter can be revised and renewed with each successive deployment.
- Stay in touch. We no longer live in the days when going off to war meant that a soldier wouldn't have any contact with folks at home for months or even years at a time. Modern technology makes it possible for you and your spouse to touch base on a regular basis. You can Skype, text, or email from just about anywhere in the world. But it doesn't mean anything if you aren't intentionally using these tools.
Establish a regular routine of contact with your deployed spouse. Include the kids in your Skype sessions. To make the best use of your time, write down the things you want to talk about before signing on. And be selective and as sensitive as possible about the subjects you choose to discuss. There's an art to connecting with a spouse who is in harm's way or other difficult circumstances. You'll probably want to keep the conversation as upbeat as possible.
- Stay involved and accountable. There are both good and bad ways to cope with the depression and loneliness that deployment brings. The best plan is to maintain positive social connections with wise and good people who can come alongside you with practical support.
One way to do this is through involvement in a local church. The deployed spouse can take a similar tack by developing a close relationship with his unit chaplain and attending chaplain-led Bible studies and worship services. But he should also be aware that he's likely to face some serious peer pressure to participate in unhealthy coping outlets.
And both of you should realize that there's a strong component of spiritual warfare inherent in the struggles you'll face during a military separation. The prayers, counsel, and fellowship of committed Christian brothers and sisters will help you "put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil" (Ephesians 6:11).
Know that we're here whenever you feel alone or need a shoulder to cry on. If you want to talk, we hope you'll call our Counseling department for a free consultation. Our trained counselors will be happy to help in any way they can.
Christian Military Fellowship
Grief, Goodbyes and God