Military deployments are emotionally draining. That’s no secret. But few people shine the light on how physically exhausting and demanding a deployment can be on the spouse who maintains the home front. Think about it, with one hug and a kiss you go from being in a two-parent household to some kind of single parent for up to 11 months at a time in some cases. You receive the pity flowers, and now you know how hard it is going to get. (Check out flower ideas here!) Couples separated by distance without children carry a heavy load while their partner is away as well. That being said, the secret to surviving deployments and coming out on the other side stronger is finding a healthy way to balance, or in some cases, juggle the responsibilities of life without putting your own life on hold.
Take time for yourself
If you’re rolling your eyes right now…stop. It may sound counterproductive to kick back and put your feet on the table, or heaven forbid – get a sitter and treat yourself to a night out on the town. After all, there are dishes to clean, laundry to fold, children to bathe, homework to check, dinners to make, lunches to pack, floors to mop and the list goes on. That, my friend, is why you need to take some time for yourself. Even the President of the United States finds time to vacation in Hawaii. If he can find the off switch, so can you. Modern moms take on most of the housework, 78% to be exact according to a recent study, and manage children and careers. The same poll found that the average mother only gets 17 minutes of “me-time” to herself each day. And those aren’t consecutive minutes. The women polled weren’t military women or spouses, so its safe to say the average military spouse gets even fewer minutes to herself. Clinical psychologist Dr. Shalini Anant said, “If you ignore yourself for a long time, it can actually take a toll on your mental as well as physical health. It can lead to lack of concentration and disorientation. A lot of negative thoughts keep troubling us, hence there should be times when we need to just be by ourselves.” There are definite things not to do during deployment…However, popular ways to wind down while carving out time for yourself include reading a book, enjoying a cup of tea, and sneaking in a snooze. For men, the most popular ways to unwind are pretty predictable: watch sports, play a videogame, or take a nap. Psychologist Dr. Malay Dave echoed Anant’s message, “Spending some alone time helps you understand and develop certain abilities. In fact, it works wonders in times of crisis since it help you come out with out-of-the-box solutions.” While you switch into “survival mode” as a spouse of deployed service member, remember to take the time to recharge or you will get worn down.
Focus on your career
Whether you are a nine-to-five businessman or woman, an independent contractor, or consultant selling products from home, use the time that your spouse is deployed to put more energy into your career. What do you want to be when you grow up? It is the perfect time to dive headfirst into new territory because you’ll have fewer distractions at home when the kids are in bed and you can focus solely on your own career goals. Plus it gives you new, exciting information to share with your spouse via emails and phone calls. Is there an online class you’ve been putting off because you couldn’t find the time? Now is the time to enroll and advance in the workforce. “Women entrepreneurs show a substantial boost in well-being as their businesses mature, demonstrating the personal return on investment that comes with venturing into entrepreneurship,” Babson College Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship Donna J. Kelley said. She was the lead author of a report that recently found 36% of women business owners wish to grow their company by more than five employees in the next five years. With the right strategy, it can be done! Maybe you aren’t going to launch a huge business while your spouse is deployed, but if you are selling jewelry, candles or personal artwork, this mindset could inspire you to do even more. Being a good mom or dad, even a spouse, doesn’t necessarily mean doing everything for your family. It also means taking care of yourself and doing things that make you happy in moderation. The happier you are, the better you’ll treat those around you, and the better example you’ll set for your children. It’s just as the old adage goes: laughter and smiles are contagious.
Don’t hit pause; fast-forward by planning ahead
Have you ever skipped ahead and read the last page of a really good book? Sometimes you just can’t help yourself from knowing how something ends. Patience is often in short supply, but he is worth the wait! There is no magic button to fast-forward to the end of a deployment, but time does seem to move faster when you’re having fun. Rather than putting your life on hold during a deployment, live each day and plan ahead. Start researching vacation spots for your post-deployment reunion. Or take some time to research and know what to expect when your spouse returns. Knowing the cycles of deployments and reintegration can significantly reduce stress levels. The brains behind TwoOfUs.org, a project of the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center (NHMRC), are focusing on teaching couples how to live a quality, balanced, healthy marriage. They suggest writing down and discussing future plans and dreams. Not only does it give you both something to look forward to, but also it reinforces the idea that you’re in this together and will be together for the long haul. “This process can forge a feeling of mutual long-term security and reduce stress brought on by the distance. Make long-term and short-term goals for yourselves and for your family,” the doctors wrote on their blog, “Having something that you are working toward is a great way to make time seem to pass faster. Goals can be practical like what kind of home you want to live in. They can also be value and principal-driven involving setting goals for a positive life for your children.” While preparing, plan something special for him that only a military spouse would romantic.
And remember where it all began. Distance may be between you, but for it to break you, you have to let it. Focus on the fond memories you have together and remember this deployment is only temporary. You won’t “get back” the days you’ve lost together, but they’ll help you build your foundation and appreciate both the days you’ve had and will have together after the reunion.