Erin Whitehead

War-time communication.  We certainly have it better than spouses in years past.  In fact, we have it better now than spouses did when the war in Iraq first began.  I remember the days of waiting for that one phone call in months, or stalking the mailman every day to see if a letter had arrived.  We are all very grateful that during most deployments today, we have the ability to communicate more frequently by phone, email and even Skype.   Many times a couple can communicate on a daily, sometimes several times daily, basis.  How wonderful that even though they are thousands of miles away, we can still see their face, hear their voice, or share thoughts with our spouse so frequently.   Certainly technology has helped to make deployments and separations easier for service members and their families.

Or has it?

Is it too much?  Do we communicate TOO much during deployments, adding to the already stressful environment for both the spouse and the service member?

This is a question that is not easily asked or answered in our community.  Having this discussion can cause a lot of heated debate, many times between spouses who have grown up with constant access to technology and communication… and those of us who actually remember a time when phones only existed on a wall in the kitchen… complete with a 20 foot cord.

On one side of the aisle are spouses who believe that being able to communicate constantly only strengthens a marriage.  They will argue that their service member insists on being told every detail of life while they are gone, no matter how upsetting.  They are glad that their service member tells them every single detail possible… even if it means causing them more sleepless nights of worry.  They believe that by omitting details, they are being dishonest in their marriage.  They believe that even in the face of a deployment their marriage can, and should, continue to be the main source of strength for each of them.  Constantly being in communication with their loved one gives them strength and eases the pain of separation.  In my experience the majority of spouses who feel this way have grown up being very comfortable with many different forms of technology.  But I have heard from a few “seasoned” spouses (we don’t like to say “older” around here) who have embraced technology and now communicate with their service members frequently during deployments and separations.

On the other side (and in the interest of full disclosure I will tell you that I join this side) are spouses who cling to the “old school” mentality that less is more when dealing with deployment communication.  We will argue that service members don’t need to be told things that are upsetting because then they are not able to “focus on the mission”.  We are grateful that our service members spare us the details of their deployment because we sleep better not knowing.  We believe that omitting details comes from a place of love (maybe a little bit of martyrdom) and that our marriages are equally as honest as the ones who divulge every detail.  We believe that in the face of a deployment, we need to rely on our friends, family and other spouses to be our main source of strength.  Limiting communication with our loved ones may be hard, but can also ease the pain of separation.  Not all spouses who subscribe to this way of thinking grew up in an era where cell phones barely existed and dial-up was the norm… but in my experience the majority of us are of the “seasoned” variety.

Even though I am on one side of the aisle… I am not sure that either group is 100% correct in their line of thinking.   And, as with every issue, there are variables that make each individual situation unique.  Not every deployment is the same… sometimes the service member is deployed but in more of a non-combat support role and may be able to handle unpleasant news from the home front without it affecting their ability to do their job.  Every marriage is not the same…. some marriages thrive on a “less-is-more” mentality because both people are comfortable communicating in that fashion.   People come from all different walks of life, communicate in a variety of ways, and have different ways of handling their individual relationships.

However, I don’t think that the fact that there are so many differences between us should preclude us from having this discussion.  We are fast-approaching the 12 year anniversary of 9/11.  12 years.  That almost doesn’t seem real to me.  But we all know that the consequences of such a lengthy war are very real.  According to one NBC article, military suicide rates reached an all time high in 2012.  A simple google search will lead you to an overwhelming wealth of statistical information on the rates of PTSD in service members who are veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Numbers that suggest the problem is a growing one.  And without looking at a single statistic many of us see and feel the problem in our communities, and sometimes right in our own homes, every single day.  War is never easy on our country, our troops, or their families.

Am I suggesting that our abundant use, or refusal to use, frequent and easily accessible communication could be, in some way, contributing to a growing mental health problem in the military community?

Not exactly.  But it does get me thinking.  It does raise some questions:

Does knowledge of potentially stressful situations at home increase the stress on a service member who is deployed?  Does withholding information of those situations at home create an environment of distrust in a military marriage?

Can you rely on your spouse for support during a deployment, despite the distance and vast differences in your everyday lives?  Is it healthier to rely on support from other spouses and to encourage our service members to rely on support from fellow comrades who understand what they are going through?

Does deployment communication have a direct effect on how we re-integrate during homecoming?  Is constant communication helpful or hindering to the process?

Are there ways to balance our use of communication during a deployment?  Can we have our cake and eat it too?

All of these questions will have many different answers, depending on which side of the aisle the person answering them may fall on.  It is my opinion that more communication during deployment has more negatives than positives, and the trend toward more frequent access and a “tell-all” mentality has me concerned.  I worry about what the extra stress of knowing everything could be doing… both to our troops and to those of us who remain at home.  But I also realize that my view could be influenced a bit by the way my marriage works and my experience with limited technology early on in my military spouse adventure. 

Which side of the aisle are you on?  Do you fall somewhere in between?  How would you answer these questions?

I hope you will join in this discussion with me.  I hope we can have an open, honest conversation about this topic… because I do think it is an important one to have.




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