Deployments can be scary, especially when you’ve never dealt with one before. As a spouse, you’re sending your significant other off for what feels like forever, trying to carry on at home like things are normal, and put on a brave front to the world. If you’ve never done it before, here’s what’s worked for me:
1. Accept that this is the new normal. There’s going to be a few days—even a couple of weeks—where you will need time to realize your spouse won’t be coming home for a while. It’s okay to be upset. It’s okay to miss them. If you need to cry, that’s okay, too.
2. Know your resources. Before your spouse leaves, have them show you where the Airmen & Family Resources office is on base (or your service equivalent). Go to the Military OneSource website and look around. Make sure your spouse leaves you a phone number to reach the in-garrison First Sergeant and commander.
3. Establish a support network. Start by joining your squadron spouses’ group, since this will be full of people going through the same deployment at the same time with you. Make friends in the community, and don’t forget your friends at home or abroad. When my husband is gone, my mom or my sister make it a point to make contact with me every day.
In addition to my friends in the local area, due to my previous Air Force career and our previous postings, I have girlfriends scattered throughout the world. Some of them are currently dealing with deployed spouses, some of them have spouses about to leave and some of them have spouses just returning home — we stay in touch and support each other through Facebook, text messages or phone calls. One way or the other, when I’m having a bad day, I know I have a shoulder to cry on (physically or virtually!) and that someone will be there to let me vent, pray with me, and promise me that this is temporary.
4. Give yourself a break. When my husband leaves town, my daily list becomes to shower, feed the kids, ensure they’re bathed, and that diapers are changed. Period. If the house isn’t immaculate, we stay in our pajamas all day and dinner is frozen pizza, so be it.
Find a dependable babysitter to give yourself a night out once or twice a month. Anything that can take a little bit of stress off of you is helpful!
5. Murphy’s Law, Deployment Corollary is in effect. If it can go wrong, it will — particularly during a deployment. If you know this going into the deployment, it makes it a lot easier to deal with. When something DOES go wrong (because it will), try to stay calm, realize that five years from now it will make a great story, vent to a friend, and try not to take it out on your deployed spouse. I, of course, would know nothing about this, because I would never get snippy or yell at my husband while he’s downrange. Of course.
6. Find a way to keep track of time without staring at the calendar. Usually, the day my husband leaves on any trip over a month, I go to my favorite beauty supply store and buy a cheap facial packet for every week I expect him to be gone, plus three to four more to pad the time. On Friday nights, after the kids are in bed, I treat myself to a facial. This way, I can watch the stack of facials under my bathroom cabinet decrease and know the time is getting closer for him to come home.
I know girlfriends who keep track of how long their husbands have been gone by haircuts, and I have had friends keep track by the weight they’ve lost.
7. Work on your marriage. This sounds silly, doesn’t it? How in the world are you supposed to work on your marriage when one of you is thousands of miles away? Well, you can do a marriage workbook together via Skype. You can write long emails to each other. Because your relationship takes place in snippets via Skype, it becomes much more about verbal communication, so you actually have to work on communicating. By the same token, because communications can be limited, you learn to talk about what’s important, and ignore the petty grievances.
8. Realize this is an opportunity. This is the time some of my friends use to catch up on their crafting. One of my girlfriends used deployments as an opportunity to explore a new hobby. During her husband’s last one, she trained for (and ran) a half-marathon. When my husband’s gone, I take back the remote control and find all the shows on Netflix that I’ve wanted to watch but he didn’t want to watch. Either way, use this time to do something you want to do.
9. Plan a vacation. We start planning a vacation the day he leaves. If all your budget stretches to is a night or a weekend in a hotel without the kids, so be it. You will need time to reestablish your relationship, and the time alone will be great for you.
10. Know when to ask for help. Don’t let things get so bad that you are a danger to yourself or (most importantly) your kids. If you feel that you are losing control of the situation, call someone.
11. Remember this is all temporary, but your family is permanent.
Image: YOKOSUKA, Japan (Nov. 3, 2011) A member of the Fleet Family Support Center at Fleet Activities Yokosuka helps service members and their families with information about the resources available to them during a Military Family Month open house. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Devon Dow/Released); public domain.