How to survive the deployment cycle
Deployments are never easy, no matter if it is your first, or if you and your spouse have weathered a few assignments together. However, there are steps that you can take that will help you and your family prepare for and survive the deployment cycle: The transition from a spouse’s departure, to separation and return home.
Planning for departure
Issues that surface after a deployment notification can be as stressful as those that develop during the deployment. The person who is staying behind may feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of dealing with household, parental or financial issues without spousal support. The deploying person may feel sad or alienated for fear of missing important family events or milestones, and guilty about leaving his or her spouse to deal with all of the home responsibilities. Therefore, it is important that couples voice any concerns or fears prior to the departure to help anticipate issues and create a plan for dealing with them. Here are seven things you should do before the spouse departs:
- Make a family plan that covers specific responsibilities. Many couples run on auto-pilot, where each spouse takes care of specific bills, home repairs or shopping, with little discussion. It is important to make a list of all responsibilities so nothing falls through the cracks. However, be flexible. If a responsibility is not necessary, it may be amended, delayed or cancelled as roles change during deployments.
- Discuss financial and legal issues. Have an open understanding of the family income. Update wills, and ensure that they, power-of-attorney agreements and important accounts (with their passwords and account numbers) are easily accessible. Communicate about these responsibilities so your credit isn’t damaged by neglected accounts.
- Talk about emergencies and who to contact if one arises. Make a phone list of important people on and off base to include the deploying spouse’s commander, first sergeant, direct supervisor and chaplain. The list should also include stateside family members and close friends, as well as local neighbors and friends.
- Plan how you will stay connected. There may be several options available to the deployed spouse, depending on his or her location. Whether it is through email, video chatting, physical letters or phone calls, figure out what works best and be sure your devices at home are ready to connect. Also, ensure the best way to contact the deployed spouse in case of an emergency.
- Talk about the children and any parenting issues, such as discipline, childcare options, school performance or activities, and plan ways to keep the children connected with the deployed parent, such as through weekly calls, daily emails or what may work with both parents’ new schedules.
- Discuss a network of support. Who can you turn to if you need emotional support in dealing with the separation? This network can include friends or family, coworkers, on-base support services and military spouses.
- Make a list of goals of what you’d like to achieve while apart; go back to school, learn the local language, get into shape, start a new career. Share this list with one another for accountability and togetherness.
During the deployment
For the spouse at home, taking care of yourself emotionally and physically is important, especially if you have children. Stay active and keep your mind busy. Remember that list of goals? Here are a few ideas.
- Find a hobby. Love to paint? What about photography? Scrapbooking? Crafting? Check out our “Get Crafty” article for ways to transform your travel photos into keepsakes.
- Make time for yourself. Get a massage. Treat yourself to monthly manicures, a new hairstyle, or mini makeover.
nHit the gym. Make a promise to lose around 10 percent of your weight; it’ll actually improve your health. Better yet, find a friend or another spouse to join you.
- Further your education. Need suggestions on where to start? See our “Making the Grade” article.
- See a movie or download some new tunes. You can escape for a while in a new flick, or lose yourself to music as you drive to and from work, while you work out, or just make dinner.
- Spend time with positive people. People with negative attitudes about relationships, the military or related issues will impact your emotions. Steer clear if you can.
- Volunteer with a service organization. Giving your time and gifts to others in need will positively affect you and enrich your life. Get involved with the kids’ school or chaplain’s office.
- Sign up for a USO day trip. These inexpensive trips will whet your appetite for a larger vacation after your spouse returns.
Communication between you
Maintaining consistent communication based on trust, honesty, openness and love is key to keeping any relationship strong — although not easy. Compound that with couples separated by geography, time zones, technical difficulties and a service mission, and it becomes exponentially harder. There will be times during the deployment when it is impossible to get in touch. Be realistic about it, and thankful when the lines of communication are once again open. Here are tips to help keep the communication flowing.
- Talk about the day. Little details about regular, daily routines help each other feel included.
- Say you love and miss each other, every time. Also reassure that you will be OK until you are reunited. If the words are hard to say, send it in an email, mail a card, or best yet, send a care package with things that are special between the two of you.
- Be honest. If something has gone wrong at home, don’t hide it or sidestep questions. Talk about it positively, and be open to advice from the deployed spouse, as this keeps him or her included and involved. Be sure to relay information when the situation is resolved.
- Check inflection in your emails. Ask for clarification if you need to, and understand that it is easy to misunderstand someone’s meaning when you are stressed.
- Recognize and be open to change and personal growth. A deployment has the power to change both of you in different ways. These changes can affect your relationship.
The homecoming and beyond
While it is a joyous time to be reunited, there is still a physical and emotional process of returning home, especially from a war zone. Here are things to remember:
- Plan a special homecoming, but have a back-up plan. Make a banner and special dinner, but but delay the giant party until a later date. Your spouse may be exhausted and just want to spend time with you and the kids.
- Be flexible about intimacy. You have both changed due to the stresses of life and separation. Spend time one-on-one, take walks, talk a lot to help you to reconnect and regain your emotional and physical closeness.
- Be patient. You, your spouse and children have gone through a stressful, life-changing experience. There are bound to be confusing moments, short tempers and a test of boundaries as you all learn to communicate and be close.
- Explore. Be inspired by the “Bucket List” and other travel stories; start scheduling activities your family will enjoy.
- Seek help when you need it. Contact your installation’s Family Support Center (FSC) for information about relationship enrichment programs for couples. Also, seek expert help as soon as you can through your FSC, Veteran’s Vet Center at (877) 927-8387 or counselors through Military OneSource at (800) 342-9647 if you, your spouse or other family members are having difficulty managing physical or emotional stress. For more resources, visit www.militaryonesource.mil.