Successful relationships take plenty of work from both partners. This is especially true when one of you is in the military. Frequent moves, deployments, and other stress factors can strain even the strongest relationship. However, there are ways you and your spouse can nurture your partnership through the ups and downs of a military career and help keep it healthy and strong for years to come.
Planning ahead for when you are apart
Being separated from your spouse during a deployment or assignment is difficult for both of you. The spouse remaining at home is suddenly responsible for managing the household, and if there are children, doing the work of both parents. It can also be difficult without the daily emotional support that the service member normally provides when home. The spouse who is away may feel he or she is missing out on important events at home and may regret not being with the family to help keep things running smoothly.
If you and your spouse anticipate and prepare for the emotions and concerns that will arise while you are apart, you will better weather your separation and may even find that your relationship becomes stronger.
- Create a family plan outlining how each of you will manage during your time apart. It's important to be flexible as each of you experience change in roles and responsibilities and adjust to these changes.
- Talk about emergencies and whom 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.
- Talk about finances. This will help you avoid misunderstandings or disagreements about money. You may want to designate one partner to manage the household expenses and then keep one another informed of large expenditures.
- Discuss how you will stay in touch. Explore options that may be available to the service member, such as email, video-chat, phone calls, or regular mail. Remember that it's very important to discuss the process of how to get a message to the deployed service member in the event of an emergency at home.
- Discuss the system that each of you will use for help and support. This network may include friends, family, military spouses, coworkers, and military non-medical counseling and support services.
- Keep busy and stay active. Consider taking a class or pursuing a career interest. These kinds of positive steps can help you to better manage the separations and difficult times. They can also lead to a more fulfilling marriage and relationship.
Trusting one another while apart
Mutual trust is fundamental to a loving relationship. Maintaining that trust can help you to better manage the separation. Here are some ways to maintain trust while apart:
- Respect one another. As a couple discuss what respect means to each of you. In what ways does your partner make you feel respected? Talking about these issues and about how the other person feels will help you better understand one another. Provide specific examples of ways that he or she has made you feel respected and supported.
- Be honest. Sidestepping questions or being less than truthful to your spouse is likely to raise suspicions. Demonstrate how important honesty is by remaining honest and open while apart.
- Remind your partner of your love. Don't take one another for granted. Share with your spouse the qualities you admire in him or her. This will help your spouse feel more secure and trusting in your relationship. If expressing these kinds of feelings is difficult for you, you might do so in other ways such as writing letter or sending a card and adding some personal thoughts.
- Examine your own behavior. Are you spending lots of time with individuals that are not positive for the relationship or doing activities that may cause problems in the relationship? Even if your actions are innocent they may still cause harm to the relationship.
Communicating with one another
Open and frequent communication will keep your relationship strong. Of course, communication isn't always easy when one of you is away. The following tips will keep communication lines open and reinforce your love for one another:
- Share daily happenings. Sharing little details about each day can help you feel close and connected.
- Be honest about your feelings. Let your spouse know how much you miss him or her. Use positive language and also stress that you will be OK until the two of you are together again.
- Try to keep letters or emails lighthearted. If you write about something unpleasant follow up and let your service member know how you dealt with the situation. Be open to any advice that your service member might offer. It may be his or her way of trying to stay involved and help out.
- Express yourself clearly and seek clarification if necessary. If your letter or email is vague, your spouse may be confused and wonder what it is you're not saying. Also, try to seek and accept clarification if a misunderstanding occurs while recognizing that this may happen during a deployment and is normal.
- Acknowledge that personal growth and change may occur when you are apart. Through your individual experiences during the deployment, you may both come to discover that you have become more self-reliant. These can be positive changes and may just require that you work together to figure out how they will impact your roles within the relationship.
- 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.
- Be realistic about communication. There may be times when it is difficult or impossible for you to connect via phone, email, or mail. It is important to understand that while frustrating, it may be unpreventable and that neither of you are to blame.
Tips for couples who are newly married
Rough spots are inevitable in any new marriage as couples learn to share their lives with one another. Having one partner in the military or in a stressful, high demand career, may present an additional and significant challenge to a new marriage.
- Be realistic. No marriage is perfect. Expect that there will be rocky times in your relationship. These are normal and can be opportunities to grow in your relationship with one another.
- Try to put difficult times in perspective. If you feel that the high demands or duties of your spouse's career are impacting you and your relationship negatively, talk it over with someone you trust. Other military spouses can be valuable resources, since they may very well have experienced similar issues.
- Learn from your arguments. When you have a difference of opinion, try to see your spouse's point of view. Putting yourselves in each other's shoes may bring you closer.
- Talk about your marriage. Since you both come from different families, it's natural for you to have different ideas about what to expect. Getting both of your thoughts out into the open can help you work together to figure out what will be best for your relationship and family.
- Find a support network. Find an activity, job, or volunteer opportunity where you'll meet people. There are clubs for spouses, organizations like the Key Volunteer Network (for Marine Corps families and spouses), online support groups, and support groups that meet in person.
- Remember why you got married in the first place. When things get rough, think about the qualities that first attracted you to one another.
If the stress becomes too much
Whether or not one partner is deployed or has a stressful career, military life can put pressure on a marriage. Being away from extended family may bring feelings of loneliness. Fears for a spouse's safety may become overwhelming. If you are having trouble coping or feel overwhelmed, you may benefit from speaking with a professional counselor. You can find a counselor through your installation's Family Support Center or through Military OneSource.