The moments before, during, and after deployments are strange.
They can make you feel light as air and fill you with bliss; yet they can also crush you as you carry the heavy weight of deployment guilt, anxiety, and stress. Even the healthiest of couples find deployments to be difficult at times. So what does one do if he or she feels like they’re growing apart from their spouse?
If there were a clear-cut answer, no one would struggle with the dilemma. There are answers, but oftentimes those answers can be complex and come with gray areas. So, in an effort to simplify your quest for peace as you may feel you are drifting apart from your loved one, here are some steps that are sure to get you back on the right track and figure out how to cope after deployment.
1. Spend quality time together
There is a difference between being under the same roof hours on end each day and spending real quality time with one another. Sitting on the same couch – make that the same cushion – cozied up together isn’t necessarily quality time together either.
Fill the silence with meaningful conversation and fill the time with meaningful activities. If your husband loves to golf, ask if you can tag along and ride in the cart to spend some time together. If your wife loves to try recipes, ask her if you can go grocery shopping together and help in the kitchen. Working together and talking while you work will bridge the gap that may have formed during a deployment.
During extreme lengths of separation, it isn’t uncommon feel far apart, more independent, and even stubborn. Make a point to spend quality time with your partner and make an effort to make that person feel valued.
2. Make your relationship top priority
One of the most common problems spouses admit to having with each other is this: they don’t feel like a priority. It is easy for people to let work, children, or social activities take over their calendars, especially when it comes to the military. It is so easy for service members to let the stress of their jobs take over their lives; the tough battle is fighting to keep your spouse a priority.
Put the laundry on hold. Call a babysitter. Use a vacation day. Do whatever it takes to make sure you put your relationship first. The most difficult part of the deployment cycle often comes immediately after the redeployment. When the spouse returns home, tensions can be high and it can be awkward. FOCUS on the Family writer Erin Prater suggested getting reacquainted by dating.
“Both of you have changed, if only in small ways, since the commencement of deployment. Have fun relearning each other’s favorite food, movie, and date-night activity. Does he still like sleeping on the cold side of the pillow? Does she still love ketchup on her eggs? Pick a book of “if” questions or a board game that will facilitate the process of getting reacquainted.” This will help you avoid distance AFTER distance.
3. Take a trip down memory lane
“It’s incredibly easy for couples to grow apart because we have such busy lives,” Ashley Davis Bush, LCSW, said. Ashley is a psychotherapist who specializes in couple’s therapy. Unless you consciously try to stay committed to one another, the everyday activities you call life can pull you apart.
If you find yourself sitting at the table, staring at your spouse, wondering what it is that attracted you to him or her in the first place, search for the answer. Discuss the moment you first met or talk about your first kiss. Or take it a step further and dig out some old photos and create a timeline of your favorite memories together. Was it your first dance? Your wedding day? The birth of a child? Discussing these memories and revisiting the moments you were happiest together can rekindle the spark between both of you.
4. Time your arguments
Ask yourself this: “Is now really the right time to tell him I can’t stand the fact that he leaves his shoes scattered throughout the house?” If your spouse is under a lot of stress or having a bad day, do you really need to bring up whatever is bothering you at that exact moment?
Likewise, if you and your spouse are currently separated by distance, time your arguments. If you have limited time to talk, you shouldn’t dive into a heavy subject when you know you won’t have time to resolve the issue. There are few things worse than sleepless nights in a combat zone. If your spouse is deployed and already feeling alone, you don’t need to isolate him or her further. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be honest about your feelings, it just means you need to find the right time to discuss problems.
So, when is the right time? The right time is a moment you’re both calm and have the time needed to resolve issues. That means after your children are in bed or while you’re out together. And never when alcohol is involved. Consider the possible outcomes of your discussion, present your arguments in a clear manner, and stay calm. Take a deep breath and let the conversation begin. If the argument at hand becomes too emotional, agree to take a timeout and revisit the issue later.
5. Ask the tough questions & give honest answers
Modern Love columnist and editor Daniel Jones wrote, “…marriage can also get boring, punctuated with deadening routines, cyclical arguments, and repetitive conversations.” Been there, done that. We all recognize the potential to turn our marriage into this type of experience.
That’s something many can relate too, but few are brave enough to admit. Having a healthy, solid relationship means having tough conversations and being honest. It can be scary to ask, but sometimes one just needs to come out and say, “Why don’t you look at me like you love me anymore?”
Waiting for the answer can fill your stomach with knots, but getting an answer is the best step toward fixing the problem. Oftentimes, arguments and hurt feelings come down to miscommunication and misguided anger. The stress of a deployment can cause a spouse to lash out at his or her spouse, when in reality that stress would be better aimed at a counselor, physical exercise, or positive social events.
Take time to discover the questions you want to ask your spouse and actually ask them. And if you’re the one facing tough questions – you owe it to your spouse and yourself to provide honest answers. If your husband looks you in the eye and asks, “Do you still love me?” If the answer isn’t 100% yes, be honest. Explain why your feelings have evolved and how the two of you can get back on track.
6. Don’t be afraid to call in a third party
Asking for help is never a sign of weakness; it is truly a sign of strength. Having the ability to admit you cannot fix a problem on your own shows you’re willing to fight to keep what you have. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have to talk with a counselor, as many service members still think seeking help from a counselor has a stigma.
Finding a third party you both trust can be as simple as calling a friend to help mediate a conversation, reaching out to a Family Readiness Officer or calling on a priest or other spiritual leader. If your spouse refuses to seek help, consider writing your feelings down in separate rooms, exchanging the letters, and taking a day to think about what the other had to say. After letting your feeling soak in, you may be able to calmly revisit the issues at hand. But remember, if you aren’t honest about your emotion, you’ll only bury the feelings that should be dealt with now and risk having larger problems in the future.
If you liked this, check out A New Wife’s Plea