As autumn arrives, one of the realities that many military couples face is spending time apart. Between deployments, courses, training, exercises, and IR, there are a lot of options for why one member of the family is away. Living apart can be tricky to manage as a couple. Supporting each other while apart can be a challenge.
Take it One Day at a Time
Whether it is an exercise, course, deployment, or IR breaking down the time we are apart, taking each day as it comes seems to cause me less stress than looking at the whole period of time my spouse will be away. Looking at the entire block of time you will be apart can be daunting. I like to see results. I cross each day off on the calendar. What can I say? It gives me satisfaction.
Yes, I am old-fashioned and use a paper one that hangs in my kitchen. When I think about my spouse being away for three weeks, four months, six months or even longer all at once, I get overwhelmed. But taking it day by day and drawing a line through the day on the calendar gives me satisfaction. I also number the days, counting down until the end of the tour. If I don’t have a set date that the deployment will end, I count down till the break when will see each other. By marking the calendar, I can see how far I have come, and it reminds me – I have got this – because there are those days I do not feel like I have it.
Historically autumn and spring, are the times when my husband is away. While there is a ton of technology available to stay connected these days, we don’t spend a lot of time on the phone or FaceTime when he is on course or exercise. Typically, and gratefully, it is a quick text here and short text there and maybe the odd phone call. If one of us has had a tough day, we will usually make an effort to chat. However, while deployed on his last tour, we used FaceTime.
Often it was before he went to bed, which was around 3 p.m. my time. This worked for us. There are different options for military couples to communicate. For some couples, chatting every day might work. And for some communicating less might work. Each couple is unique, so you need to find what works for both of you.
Learn to Enjoy Spending Time With Yourself
Being alone was a tough one for me. I remember the first time my husband went away. I was four months pregnant, and I pined for him. Nothing in my world was right because he was away. I don’t know when it changed. We have spent a lot of time apart over the years. I remember during that time I came to accept living life on life’s terms. In short, I accepted reality. The hurdle for myself when it came to spending time alone was actually enjoying being alone.
At the beginning being alone felt like there was a massive void in my life. When there is just you and no one else, there is a lot of time and space that can be filled. The choice is what are you going to fill it with: positive or negative energy. For example, at the beginning of our relationship, when my husband was away, I used to look around the house and notice all the projects I wanted him to do which he had not started. I would then spin myself up. I somehow equated his love for me with the projects that were or were not completed. Remember that void of time and space.
For quite a few years, I chose to fill it with negative thoughts. Today, when he is away like he is right now, I try to fill my time with activities I enjoy. And if I have a project that needs doing, well, I give it a go! This approach seems to be working. Rather than pining for my husband and feeling sorry for myself, finding projects, classes, and volunteer positions, just to name a few things while he is away, works for me, rather than spending my time complaining and feeling sorry for myself.
Be Gentle with yourself on “Those Days”
Then there are “those days.” When I am flying solo, and my husband is away, “those days” come and go. I had one the other day. I drove to the local drugstore, checked my mailbox, bought what I needed, went to the car, tried to start it. Yes, tried. It was not starting. I realized I had two options: number one, freak out, get upset, believe there was a force working against me, call my husband and tell him he didn’t love me because if he did the car would work.
Or option two: push my car across the parking lot, explain the situation to the manager at the drugstore, assure her I would return later that day to retrieve the car, text my friend and coworker to ask if he could pick me up so we could work, which he did. When we were done for the day, another friend and co-worker drove me back to the drugstore, where two people offered to help me. We figured out it was the battery. I drove the car home and parked in the driveway, where it rested until my husband came home to fix it. Fortunately, we have two cars. So, I shared our other vehicle with our teen driver. We survived.
Supporting Each Other
When it comes to being apart, supporting each other makes a difference. There have been many times over the years where my husband and I have used anger in dealing with difficult situations. That stuff can poison a relationship. These days we try to use humour, empathy, and gratitude. When I have a terrible day, I have learned not to need my husband to come and fix it.
I am not saying that it would not be my first option, but it is not realistic when he is away. When he expresses empathy for me and what I am enduring, it goes a long way. So does his gratitude. Sharing with me that he is thankful for all that I do is also helpful. I am sure it is vice versa for him. When I can listen to him, share the details about his lousy day and not judge, but offer empathy, it adds value to our relationship. Again, this comes back to every couple is different. My husband has sent flowers in the past. I still remember when he sent me flowers after Princess Diana was killed.
I was devastated by her death. Our two older children were ages three and one, and we were posted to Edmonton, where I had no family. The gesture of sending flowers brightened my day. Care packages are a way to support your spouse while deployed. Booking a snow removal service or lawn maintenance service is another means of support. There are numerous ways to help each other. As a couple, you need to figure out what works for you.
USE Available Resources
I cannot stress enough to use the resources available to you. I know it sounds like a cliché, but you are not alone. Military Family Resource Centres were created to support us. To support us: military families. Check out what resources your local MFRC has. I took advantage of the preschool, drop-in daycare, parenting courses, and day trips when they were offered.
It was helpful for our family. If you are feeling overwhelmed and need to talk to someone, you can reach out to your local MFRC. You can also call the Member Assistance Program at 1-800-268-7708 and the Family Information Line at 1-800-866 4546. Both lines are confidential and available 24 hours a day.