When your spouse embarks on his or her new assignment, you must tackle a mission of your own: holding down the fort and keeping your routine at home. Though these times prove to be challenging ones, there are many ways to gain strength and support for you, your spouse, and your family. Here are five tips for staying strong and keeping your relationship flourishing during a deployment or temporary duty.
1. Communication is key
You won’t always be able to call your spouse when you want to during a deployment. When my spouse was on missions, I wasn’t able to speak with him for weeks, sometimes even a couple of months on end. It was incredibly frustrating not to hear anything from him. It helped to understand that my spouse had an important job to carry out and that he was helping to keep others safe.
If you are able to call or text, do so. If not, snail mail is always a good way to give your spouse a look into your life back home. Let your spouse know how things are going. Tell them of your accomplishments and adventures, whether it be starting a new job or taking your first trip out on post on your own. Remember, every soldier’s operational tempo is different and their availability with telephone and Internet communication may be more limited than others. If you are able, try playing an online game with them, whether that be “Uno” or a multiplayer console game. Start a book with them and share your thoughts and insights as you read together. It helps to do something interactive with them, especially if you both need to unwind and have fun.
Something I love to do when my spouse is away is send him things. I enjoy putting together care packages for him filled with notes, letters, jokes, drawings, photos and homemade treats. It is a nice distraction for me and it’s heartwarming to imagine his expression when he opens it. He has told me that this simple act has gotten him through many hard times of being away and how special it was that I took the time to think of him and place all of his favorite things in a box.
2. Let yourself feel
Here comes the inevitable: Being lonely and sad when you are apart. And that’s okay. You are a strong, capable person and emotions can help you to understand the situation and how to cope. If you’re sad, give yourself a good cry. If you’re mad, vent frustrations to a friend or someone you trust. If you’re anxious, take your mind off things with a movie, a walk or attending an event. You will feel better and will deal with the time in a more positive way with your emotions as an indicator for what you need, not bottling them up or burying them down.
I’ve talked with my spouse about how much it frightens me when he does have to leave and, while he acknowledged the same fear of being away from me, he couldn’t help but have some excitement about being deployed or going temporary duty. It confused me, even hurt me at first, but when I realized that this has been what he has trained for during his entire career with the Army, it gave me clarity. This was his time to be able to use his skills to protect and save lives and, knowing that, I couldn’t be prouder of him as a soldier and as a person.
3. Remember that you are a team
Though these times greatly test your independence as an individual, it’s important to be mindful of the struggle that your spouse faces away from you and that, together, you are a unit. Trust each other and keep one another informed. Whenever my spouse is called to serve, I reassure him that while he immerses himself in his mission abroad, I am just as dedicated to my mission at home. I know it is a great comfort to him that I am able to handle the time on my own and that what we’re both going through is not a negative thing.
4. Keep a routine
It may be strange at first to live without your spouse, but having a routine and sticking to it will help you to set and achieve goals as well as keep yourself in a practical, positive mindset. Know what tasks are more difficult and tackle them first. If it’s meal preparation, take a more relaxed day, like Saturday or Sunday, to cook and get your meals for the week ready. Have set bedtimes and wake-up calls. Making lists and crossing off each job may also help you put your week into perspective.
Try new things. Craft your life apart from your spouse. Discover what you like, pick up a new hobby or activity, join organizations that resonate with you, find something that makes you happy and excited to do. In finding yourself and the things you love, you will keep yourself busy and will gain more strength within.
5. Take care of yourself
One of my spouse’s friends and co-workers gave me the best piece of advice during the first time of living on my own:
“All you have to do is make it through 24 hours.”
When you break up the seemingly endless time into tiny, manageable steps, everything makes a lot more sense. Give yourself small goals each day, even if they seem like mundane things. On the second day of being alone, I realized my spouse had not gone grocery shopping so I thought, what better quest than taking a trip to the commissary?
Even though it was a necessary and pretty ordinary task, when I got home with my armful of groceries, I gave myself a congratulatory pat on the back. Celebrate each bit, each day you get through. This period is temporary, more temporary than you think.
In the meantime, do what you need to do. If you need time alone, take it. If you need to be around people, get involved, especially with other military spouses. You will be able to share your own unique experience, but still have others know exactly what you are going through. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are many resources available for military spouses during deployments. Get to know these resources and get connected with your family readiness group. It provides mobility and deployment assistance to help you and your family get settled during a deployment. To access your services, visit any installation-based military and family support center. Centers are open to all service members and their families, regardless of your branch.
Kayla Bouchard is a Herald correspondent and Army spouse living on Fort Hood.