Once you’ve been a spouse long enough, you will experience that moment where your service member comes home with a date. A date you would like to forget, or at least never get to…the date of the next deployment. I always felt that once we had a date, it was a big cloud hanging over our heads, everywhere we went, and over everything we planned.
From that point forward, life was colored with the tint of it, whether it was buying a car, landscaping the yard, or finding a new activity for the kids to participate in based on the season. We had to consider how everything would change once he left. Could I manage a change in schedule without him? Would the aging vehicle we had be adequate to evacuate the whole family without him if a major hurricane came?
Early in our marriage, relatives remarked we never seemed to enjoy what we had right now. It was difficult to enjoy the “now” when we couldn’t depend on being in the same place for more than a month or two at a time. We made it through ten deployments and countless stateside separations. It was a high operational tempo, and no matter how many times we said goodbye, it didn’t get easier, because we never knew when, or if, he would be back.
Over 11 years we saw crew members lose children, remaining spouses hospitalized with no authorized care for their children, and lost members of our community to suicide and disaster. Pessimistic as it may seem, we knew to plan for the worst and hope for the best.
We did develop some routines that created a sense of security and control, to the extent possible. Everyone is different, and with children involved the dynamics were always changing, so flexibility was critical. I learned to expect the natural inclination to push each other away as the date of departure approached, but always tried to focus on making the most of the last few weeks.
Additionally, there are some rules that I think everyone can mold to their circumstance or dynamic (with a few non-negotiables):
- Get your affairs in order (i.e. prepare for the worst). You MUST have a copy of your service member’s orders and a general and specific power of attorney, and an updated copy of wills. There aren’t any paper police who will arrest you if you don’t, but you will come to regret not having them if you ever need them. You SHOULD make sure that you understand how your roles and responsibilities will change during the deployment. You will have to fill in for your spouse in many ways. What day does the garbage come? Where are the tax documents if tax time comes? How does the sprinkler system work? This is not just an issue between spouses, but may involve children, as well. Include them, if it is age appropriate, in defining and learning how to fill in for each other with one less person in the house.
- Spend time doing what you do best as a family. Whatever things make your family happy together, do them. Watch movies together. Play board games together. Go hiking together. Cheer each other on at sports events together. Do you see a pattern? Together. It’s pretty simple.
- Adjust your expectations. This is required for everyone involved. Deployment is difficult for everyone and everyone has to be as flexible as possible (yes, show this to your service member because it applies to them, too). The first few deployments, I wanted emails and letters, but I got phone calls. I was terrified of something happening to my spouse and not having some tangible recollection of his last words to me. It wasn’t realistic for him to sit down and pen something. He needed to hear a voice, so I got over it and looked forward to hearing his voice. In later deployments, he wanted to call at 10:30 PM when I had to get myself ready for work and walk out the door with a fed and dressed two year-old by 6:00 AM. He didn’t get the loving positive wife, with anecdotes of toddler cuteness. Instead, he got the overly tired frustrated wife with anecdotes of failing potty-training. He had to learn to accept my fatigue as part of the new status quo and not take it personally. Marriage is work on both ends, whether you are together or apart.
Deployments are never easy or simple, but you can try and make your preparation predictable and routine, which can help ease stress and facilitate bonding. There is no one-size-fits-all way of communicating or preparing, and you have to find what works for your family dynamic. Life happens and the world keeps turning during deployments. Don’t focus on failures and successes; focus on maintaining your connection and remembering why you and your spouse chose to make a life together.
What does your family do to prepare for deployments? Are there any must do’s? Check out our app, MyMilitaryLife for our other tips!