All marriages require work but military marriages seem to require a little more than most. Sure, we spend a lot of time apart but our unique marital difficulties go much deeper than simply missing each other often. I have lovely civilian friends who, while my husband is away, say “you must miss him so much! I can’t imagine.” Yes, I miss him dearly but there is so much more to our time apart.
I’ve never wondered if my husband and I would still love each other after several stressful months apart but it has concerned me that we may not like each other anymore. Everyone changes significantly within a year’s time and that’s not accounting for any major incidents to accelerate those changes. Most married couples change together, gradually, over time but in a military marriage you are both faced with all the changes each spouse has made on the day he returns home.
Everyone loves to romanticize redeployment, including us; spotting each other in the crowd, running towards one another, the first hug and kiss, the ride home as a family; that moment is what we live for during deployments and an absolutely beautiful moment, it is. What movies would have you believe, however, is that the fairytale continues until your husband is stop-lossed (because he wouldn’t possibly choose to deploy again, right? …right?) and you once again bid your tearful goodbyes.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say that the joy of having your family together again is short lived but the awkwardness that is getting reacquainted with your own spouse creeps up pretty quickly. It doesn’t take long before you notice your husband’s laugh is different or he doesn’t know that your “usual” breakfast has changed. These are small, insignificant details in and of themselves but they highlight the new unfamiliarity you have with each other.
We are in touch with our spouses during deployments, schools, and sometimes training but, at least for my husband and me, it is few, far-between, and with inconsistent internet. Our main form of communication is messaging and email, making it difficult to interpret tone and easy to misinterpret sarcasm. Military spouses get snippets of each other’s lives instead of the play by play making it difficult to feel like you’re on the same team.
Being honest about your fears, stress, and anxiety isn’t as easy as it sounds when your spouse is deployed, either. No one wants to sound like it’s too hard or unmanageable on the home front. A bad day is a bad day but when you only speak to your spouse for a few minutes a couple times a week or less, the last thing you want to leave them with is concern. Often the stress felt on either side is left unsaid or talked through with a friend.
We experience life changing events separately; we lose friends and family members, we put our family pets down, make financial decisions, and embark on new careers all without each other and often times with other people. We mourn losses and celebrate holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries with our friends and extended family instead of together. Life events tend to be a catalyst for growth so one can’t help but wonder if you are growing in the same direction as these events play out.
No two deployments are the same, either. Different aspects affect you and your spouse’s experience. Location, duration, rank, leadership, family size; these are all things that change from year to year making time apart something you can never fully adjust to or prepare for.
Military marriages are in a constant state of adjustment. Re-learning how to be your husband’s wife and adjusting to co-parenting are not simple tasks. The line between micro-managing your husband with your kids and feeling like you’re letting him flounder is a delicate one; knowing when to step in and point out the new favorite toy or bedtime books and when to allow your spouse to feel his way through it is not something you can plan out.
The changes in your family dynamic are felt by all members, young and old. My husband came home from his last deployment to a child who was no longer in diapers, a crib, or a high chair; our child was essentially completely different and required completely different parenting. I wondered how I could ease the transition without completely butting in but the answer never came; as with most things in a military family, you deal with changes as they arise.
How, then, do military marriages survive these challenges? Everyone seems to experience similar difficulties but the strong marriages work through them. A lasting military marriage requires open communication when little communication is possible and a lot of independent growth.
Experiencing difficult times, individually, can be a source of strength or a source or resentment. What’s most important when working through something marital is that you both end up in the same place; how you get there, whether it be by working together through the entire process or individually is irrelevant. When you are working on yourself for another, for your marriage, you can both find strength in that, even if you are apart. After all, you are both going through ups and downs within your marriage, just from different angles and that alone can be a point at which you bond.
Military marriage is going without the comfort or reassurance of waking up next to each other each morning; it’s not speaking regularly and it is saying goodbye not knowing if it will be the last time. Military marriages have an intimacy and a bond that is unparalleled because our marriages are tested more than most and with great struggle comes great strength.
You may have noticed that I did not offer concrete solutions to the problems I identifed in this article. This is because every military marriage is unique, and there are no cookie-cutter solutions for the complex problems that we all face. It is important to realize what the pitfalls are, or what they might be, and then work together with your spouse to find the solution that works best for you.
© 2014 The Havok Journal