Deployments and training took a major toll on our early marriage.
We are no strangers to figuring out how to deal with distance in our marriage. Like many other members of the military and first responders, I (Jeff) admit I have missed numerous birthdays, Christmases, and other special days. I was even absent for a major part of our first pregnancy. Deployments and training took a major toll on our early marriage.
Over those first three years, we only spent seven months under the same roof. Any amount of distance or separation will affect a marriage, and that was certainly true with ours. Over time, we have learned a variety of ways to reduce the impact and close the distance in our marriage, even when we can’t be physically together. How did we get to the point where distance does not cause major problems for our relationship? We will share six tips we have discovered that will lessen the strain on your marriage when you have to be away for an extended period.
Balancing Military Work Life
Get a support system.
Establish a support system for the spouse who will stay home. Based on your comfort level, communicate details aboutyour deployment to your family members, friends, and pastor. While we preferred not to “shout it from the rooftops” when there was only going to be one person at home, you will know whom you can trust with your information and who will provide a good support system for you.
Make a visiting schedule.
Encourage your family members and friends to visit for a short period as a way to help out the parent who is staying home. These visits will prevent you from feeling like a single parent, as well as give you a much-deserved break. When weeks seemed to drag on forever, I (Joanne) always looked forward to a visit from Grandma. She would stay over aweekend and help out with the house and the kids. During particularly rough days, I could call a trusted friend to watch the kids for a few hours so I could grocery shop kid-free, grab a coffee, or do something as simple as taking an uninterrupted shower.
The most surprising question I (Joanne) received when I told a neighbor about Jeff’s deployment was, “Who’s coming to stay with you while Jeff’s gone?” It caught me off guard, and I thought to myself, No one! I don’t have anyone in my life who can take that much time off!
If you don’t have family or friends nearby or you have no kids and don’t feel like you will need much help, then we recommend getting involved in a support group or small group on your base, at your church, or in your community. Your investment in a group will be a great way to break up the time and an even better way to receive encouragement from others. Honor your spouse by only surrounding yourself with people of the same gender and those who value protecting marriages. Remember, it does not mean you are weak if you ask for help. You will find many others who feel the same way you do.
How to Fight for Your Marriage
Prepare for missed events.
When you know you will be absent for special events, preemptively plan to stay involved with your family. As much as possible, pre-buy cards and gifts for any birthdays or holidays you will miss. Your thoughtfulness will surprise those you love and express your feelings even while you are away. In our family, we also buy gifts and hide them until the day of a special event so Joanne isn’t left to handle it all on her own. Especially remember your spouse’s birthday and your anniversary. With a little creativity, you can wrap something small, hide it strategically and then let your spouse in on the surprise when the time is right. A little pre-planning will go a long way.
Leave hidden notes.
Leave behind special messages for your spouse. Never forget that they are serving right along with you by managing your family back home. Each time Jeff left, I (Joanne) always enjoyed finding love notes and cards he hid in my makeup bag or Bible. I would re-read them on days I needed extra encouragement.
It’s too easy to let your schedules take over your relationship, especially while you’re apart.
Grow together while apart.
With the help of technology, it’s never been easier to spend time together while apart. We didn’t want to postpone the growth of our marriage simply because we weren’t in the same house and wanted to come out of deployment with astronger relationship in the end. What worked for us was to choose a book to read together. Then we would arrange“date calls” to chat and discuss the book on a regular schedule. When time became a concern, I (Jeff) could still purchase a digital copy of a book or an audiobook, even if it were at the last minute. During my last deployment to Afghanistan in 2019, we read Jimmy Evans’ Marriage on the Rock: The Comprehensive Guide to a Solid, Healthy, and Lasting Marriage, which was a wonderful tool for our marriage. By specifically scheduling those “date calls” to discuss the book, we showed each other we were vested in our marriage. It allowed us to connect and continue to grow while we were apart.
Communicate, communicate, communicate.
Your time apart is an excellent opportunity to verbally express your feelings even more than you might when you are together. It’s too easy to let your schedules take over your relationship, especially while you’re apart. Communicate as much as you can through phone or video calls, text messages, emails, or even with good old fashion cards, letters, orcare packages. For the spouse who remains at home, one of the most important lifelines for your deployed soldier or first responder is your ongoing communication. Besides, it’s always exciting to receive something in the mail. Don’t underestimate how much it means to receive pictures and words sent from home. Also, remember the mail works both ways and it is equally important for the deployed spouse to send home letters and cards. What better time to brush up on your love letter writing skills?
These are just a few of the ways we have learned to stay connected during those challenging times when we were separated by distance. Keep these friendly reminders of how important it is to plan ahead and do your best to stay connected, not only for each other but also for your marriage.