As the clock slowly winds down on the ever-so-misleadingly named “short tour”— I can attest to the fact that there is nothing short about a year. Maintaining a relationship across the miles, be it a traditional long-distance relationship or a long-distance relationship brought to you by Uncle Sam, isn’t easy.
As military spouses, being separated from our significant others is just-borrowing a line from one of my favorite pieces of Cine Americana, American Pie- “a natural, normal part of life.”
What isn’t nearly as natural or normal is keeping your lines of communication open during a separation or deployment. Even if you talk, email, Skype or FaceTime regularly (or rarely), it doesn’t guarantee that you’re really communicating effectively and honestly.
Whether you’re apart for a week, a month, a year or on-and-off for more than a decade (H/T to my friend and geo-batching maven, Reda Hicks), keeping your relationship on track isn’t easy but it isn’t impossible either. Now, I’m not going to give you textbook advice on love and relationships. There’s no virtual holding of hands and deeply staring into your lover’s eyes via Skype because, even after 10 years of marriage, I’m pretty sure my husband and I would immaturely laugh all the way through that brand of relationship exercise.
What I am going to do is share a few lessons I’ve learned about how to keep it real and keep lines of communication open and honest with your significant other across the miles no matter why the military has you living apart.
Get a Handle on Your Expectations Concerning Frequency and Type of Communication During the Separation
I know, I know. The cruel stretch of time before our loved ones leave, if you have notice, is painful and often full of unfinished sentences punctuated with hidden tears and lumps in our throats. At the same time we’re trying to pump ourselves up to our internal anthem while thinking about the ways we’re going to rock this deployment.
Even though it’s hard, even though you’re sad, and even if it’s awkward, you should definitely talk about your expectations concerning the type and frequency of communication during the separation.
- Do you expect a daily email?
- Does she want a monthly care package?
- Is sexy Skyping on the table?
- How much calling is too much calling?
Communication is hard enough when you live in the same house, so if you’re apart you’ve gotta up your A game. If you have this conversation ahead of time, it’ll save you a lot of heartache. Promise.
Our first long-term separation was five thousand times harder because we didn’t have this conversation. I got bitter about the lack of communication and he never told me how challenging it was for him to open up about his feelings of loneliness while he was away. When he got back we had a lot of crap to work though that could’ve been avoided had we just talked about how we were going to communicate. True story.
Set Aside Time for Kid-Free Communication
Have you ever Skyped with a toddler? Enough said. I get it. Kids need face time with mom or dad. And so do you, but without the kids. We’re Saturday morning Skype-rs and the girls know that they get their time and then I get my time (or vice versa). Sometimes we need to talk about grown-up stuff like the bills and that crazy part in House of Cards.
Don’t Compare Your Long Distance Love-Style to Another Couple
In normal life we’re a high-fiving-fist-bumping-blowing-it-up kind of couple, so I can’t expect that we’re going to transform into star-crossed lovers who wax poetic about the trials and tribulations of our love across the miles.
He doesn’t send me monthly packages and we call it a win if we talk on the phone once a week. He’s never going to arrange for flowers to show up on my birthday (watch…he’ll do it this time and I’ll feel like a schmuck) or write me a love letter. We’re a one-liner email kind of couple and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Even though I KNOW we’re not that type of couple, it never fails that, when I witness the saccharine sweet exchanges of my couple-friends on social media I feel a pang of jealousy. I have to remind myself not to compare and measure our love-style with anyone else’s. It’s not our thing and that’s OK.
Don’t Be Afraid to Say What You’re Feeling…It’s All in the Delivery
There’s a time, a place and a way to say what you’re feeling and you shouldn’t bottle it up during a deployment or separation. If you’re having a shit time, say it and say it before you lose your cool or keep it inside that it comes back as resentment.
Here’s an example from our personal experiences:
Me in 2008: <silently seething> Everything is fine here!
Me in 2015: Hey, Dude. I have to get something off my chest and I want you to know that I know it’s not your fault and I’m not mad at you and I love you. I’m really frustrated with the fact that you’re not here and I have a lot on my plate. It’s making me feel really bitter toward you.
So often we want our significant others to feel OK knowing that we’re OK—even when we’re not. We want them to concentrate on the mission knowing we have everything under control, but the truth is, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes it’s hard being left behind.
As much as we know, in our hearts, that we are proud and supportive of our service member halfway around the world upholding liberty and justice for all, it doesn’t change the fact that life goes on—good and bad— even when they’re not around.
Commit to Talking About Talking in your Military Relationship
I cannot stress how important open and honest communication is in any relationship and even more so in committed relationships with a military service members who are constantly traveling across the globe. Whatever you do, make sure that you and your love are talking about talking before you find yourselves on opposite shores of a communication gap that’s harder to close than geography.