Confronting the Big “D”

And this time we don’t mean “deployment”

My husband and I are the king and queen of goodbyes. We’ve said dramatic, teary-eyed farewells in airports from Alaska to Singapore, lamented over phone calls from Ohio to Iraq. Of the nine years we’ve been together as a couple, we’ve only lived in the same state for a little more than three years – and that’s counting every three-day weekend, R&R and spring break visit we’ve enjoyed over the last decade.

Welcome to the military’s Big D. It’s not Deployment; it’s Distance.

Fort Lewis Army chaplain David Curlin, who organizes bi-annual marriage conferences for couples in his unit, said confronting long-distance relationships is one of the most important challenges for any military couple. Because distance happens not just during deployment, but during TDY, training, schooling and every other event the military throws at its married members, it’s crucial that couples develop methods for not just surviving, but thriving during separations, Curlin says.

Five ways you can thrive during the Big D this year:

1. Focus on appreciation, not deprivation.
“People in successful long-distance relationships tend to focus more on the positive rather than focusing on how their needs are being met or unmet,” Curlin says. “Couples that focus on their own deprivations tend to be more miserable than the ones who say, ‘Wow, I really appreciate what you do for the kids,’ or ‘I know how hard it must have been for you to be away from the kids today.'”

And do it often.

“Always tell him how proud you are of him,” says Army wife Dawn Gaylord, who has been married to her man for 17 years and separated from him for four. “Men love to know we respect them and are proud of them.”

Army wife Tracy Dougherty, who teaches marriage seminars on Fort Lewis, says affirmation is key.

“For every complaint [my husband] heard, I said at least 25 positive things to him,” Dougherty said.

2. Go through the discipline of staying in touch.
“People who have good long-distance relationships work hard to regularly communicate. They do it when they are bored, they do it when they don’t feel like it, they do it when they have nothing to say-they pick up the phone and say ‘How are you, what are you doing,’ and they make it work.”

3. Write letters-the old fashioned way.

“There is something different about pulling out a piece of paper and writing in your own handwriting. Email traffic gets so high that it tends to feel impersonal,” Curlin says. Curlin writes his wife and four children one hand-written letter a week during deployments. Today, each child has a collection of almost 100 letters each.

Don’t forget to include pictures.
“Send your man pictures even if you hate having your picture taken,” Gaylord says. “Your man thinks you are gorgeous, regardless of what you think.”

4. Do something together.
Army wife Lea Hartman and her husband, who have been separated 21 of the last 31 months, read the same book.

“It’s hard to carry on a conversation when he’s in a room full of other guys and doesn’t want to discuss personal things, but having this common topic keeps the communication flowing,” Hartman says.

Air Force wife Andrea Dozier and her husband watched the same television shows and movies on the same day.

“It gave us something to talk about and more importantly, laugh about,” she says.

5. Share a sense of calling.
“So the wife says, ‘Hey, I feel like I am sharing in the mission by supporting you and being at home.’ And the husband, while he is serving, is trying to be a solid example of being a person of character,” Curlin said. “They see their relationship in the context of something bigger than themselves. People who don’t do that focus on what they are missing out in the relationship and they just feel deprived all the time.”


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