When it comes to distance, it doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder…sometimes distance can make the heart blind.
As a Navy veteran and a spouse to the same, I know a thing or two about separation. After 17 years of marriage, my husband and I decided to add up the time we were apart, counting all the deployments, detachments, work ups, 24 hour duty days, TDYs, all of it.
We were shocked to see the hours/days totaled a whopping 7+ years (and I’m sure we missed some of the early stuff)! We looked at each other and asked “how the heck did we make it thru that”?!
What we quickly realized was this, those early days of our marriage was VERY difficult, even with us both being active duty and fully understanding the mission. We realized that during each deployment many things are changing and shifting, including maturity, personal development, and life in general doesn’t stop for either person.
The person you left 6 months ago is likely NOT going to be the exact same person when you return. We struggled our way through this process early in our marriage. We made the unconscious decisions to “not waste time” fighting when we are together, because we always knew separation was coming.
While this may be a great model for keeping the peace, it’s not a good model for how to grow and nurture a healthy relationship when separations are frequent. Choosing to avoid the difficult conversation, ignore the drifting connections and intimacy, made our hearts blind.
Our hearts became blind to the reality that we were in trouble, and the long and frequent deployments gave us the perfect cover to hide behind. By the time we WOKE UP and realized what was going on, our marriage was fragile and growing weaker with every separation.
One day we decided to open our eyes, and stop ignoring the problems in our relationship. As a marriage and family therapist intern at the time, I knew we needed to get help. We hired a therapist that came highly recommended for military couples, and we started doing OUR work. We decided to figure out a way to really make distance work FOR us and not against us … we BOTH committed to the process of growing through the many more separations we knew were ahead of us.
I want to share with you the 3 most impactful things we did in my family to grow through separation; they may work for you and your partner as well.
1) Share The Struggle.
During our early separations, we were so happy to speak to each other that we only wanted to talk about the roses and skip the thorns! We tried to spare the other person from feeling guilty or being burdened by the realities that were going on by simply not sharing them. We gave cookie cutter responses to the inevitable question “how are things going there?”
I never wanted to sound like a nagging wife, and him not wanting to sound like a complaining husband, we both replied “Things are great here”… LIES! Now there were times when things were manageable and nothing worth reporting happened, but there were other times when the bottom was falling out and I was doing all I could to keep my head above water (especially after our son was born).
Once we realized we really weren’t doing each other a favor at all, we decided to come up with a way to keep each other informed and in the loop, without “vomiting” all over the other person every time we talked. We recorded little short messages for the other to listen to at their leisure.
These little short audio files would be sent to each other via email, and we always ended each one with a call to action. We had to say if this was a “venting” message or if this was a “take for action” message. We had to make it CLEAR and not assume the other person knows what’s being asked or requested in the message.
2) Chart Your Personal Growth.
Growth happens every single minute of the day. I’m sure there are some things you did yesterday that taught you lessons for today. It’s my personal opinion this is doubled sometimes tripled during times of stress such as separation. One way I suggest to my clients to stay connected to their spouses while separated is to keep a journal of personal growth.
This journal is different from your average “Dear diary, this is what I did today.” This journal goes more like, “Today was really hard and it sucked, but here’s what I learned.” This allows each partner to chart their progress, while letting the other know how they have changed and grown (or not) as a result of the adversity. It doesn’t have to be all trauma; victories as well as defeats go into this journal. This can be sent daily or weekly, but I don’t recommend any more than weekly.
3) Talk About What’s Current First.
Sometimes calls can be cut short, even with the advances in technology allowing for access to telephones 24/7 with an internet connection. Picking up where you left off can serve a purpose, but starting with what’s current can be a better use of limited time. My husband and I would always ask from the start of the conversation, “What’s current?” This allowed us to talk about any pressing concerns before going into what happened last week or where we left off the last time we talked.
None of these things are easy to do amidst the changes and shifts in schedules associated with deployments. That’s why I suggest having reminders on your phones, a note pad on the refrigerator, or use one of the note taking tools like Evernote that allows for text and voice recording within a message.
Here are some other helpful ideas that could support you in growing and sharing through separation:
- Pray specific times of the day for each other.
- Read the same book on designated days.
- Sends each other inspirational audio recordings (YouTube or iTunes).
- Leave little notes around the house (to be found later).
Have fun with this, but remember … it’s your family and it will make reintegration that much easier. Try to come up with some of your own that works for your family and their needs. Remember, any new behavior takes discipline and intentional action. Don’t be afraid to set reminders for yourself if necessary, and don’t make it a chore … make it an adventure!
Contributor: Develda Edgington, Content Marketing Strategist, DLE Enterprises
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