It’s no secret that military life is tough on relationships. While we all love a good homecoming video, the fact is that the high-stress work atmosphere and frequent separations alone can wreck havoc on a marriage; add any other stressor on top of that (a high-needs child, a dose of extended family stress, an unexpected illness) and you could be watching the friendship you once shared with your spouse slip away before you can say “for worse.” LTJG Husband and I have been through the ringer since he swore in, so I’m no stranger to worrying about my military marriage, but I am so thankful to be able to say that even after nine months apart last year, our marriage has (seriously!) never been better.
Here’s 8 things we do to keep our love alive during the many deployments/separations the military throws our way.
1. We plan ahead.
When you are separated from your other half, it doesn’t take long for you to realize how much they do for you on a daily basis. If you plan some ‘acts of service’ out before the separation begins, it can fill the gaps and make the other person feel the love from afar.
When LTJG Husband found out he was deploying, he sneakily planned an elaborate gift that he hoped would patch over some of the holes he would be leaving behind in our day to day interactions. A few days before he left, he handed me a bundle of tiny envelopes that had different prompts on them like, “When you are lonely” or “When you need an adventure.” Each one of these well-thought-out treasures had a note and a gift inside that fit each scenario. For example, the one that said “When you need relaxation” had a gift certificate for a pedicure inside (to make up for all the foot rubs I would normally get from him). The “tiny adventure” envelope ended up having the first prompt for a scavenger hunt in our apartment that eventually led me to a bottle of wine and chocolate bar that he had pre-hidden before leaving.
It’s hard to express in words how much this gift meant to me. I was able to spread out opening the envelopes throughout the deployment so that I always had one to look forward to. Nothing said “I know you” quite as much as these tiny envelopes and the notes/gifts they contained, so each time I opened one I felt 10x closer to my hubby all over again.
2. We write each other even when we don’t feel like it.
E-mails, postcards, and handwritten letters were constantly exchanged between us throughout Jake’s deployment. It seems obvious, but this one actually took the most effort. After a long and exhausting day with our high-needs baby, I often didn’t feel like rehashing the whole day over in an e-mail. However, it was those very e-mails that kept him aware of everything going on in our lives, which made him feel just a little bit closer to home. I always made sure to include as many pictures as I could so Jake could see Kai growing, and Jake always included snapshots of the exotic ports he got to explore.
He also figured out a way to “text” me from his e-mail even while at sea, and it felt strangely ‘normal’ in a sense to get his one-line messages on my phone throughout the day. Jake’s ship is actually underway now, but today I got five “text-messages” from him and they each really encouraged me in the midst of a tough day with the boys. Take the time to write your spouse the small details of your day; it matters more to them than you think.
3. We talk past and future, not present.
First off, I’ll say that if you do this all the time, you’re creating a recipe for dissatisfaction with your present life. That being said, it works really well during deployment when we can’t be spending time together like we want to. Some of the sweetest messages I have read were written by Jake remembering our first year of marriage together, and some of the best times we had talking were when we would dream up new vacations or experiences we wanted to do together “one day.” Use this time to remember and to dream rather than dwell on the separation.
4. We spoil each other with gifts.
When LTJG Husband is home, we don’t generally like to spend our money on expensive gifts. We both prefer to go on dates together or save the money for our next trip. When he is gone, however, all bets are off. With so few ways available to love on each other during a separation, we don’t underestimate how uplifting it can feel to get something amazing in the mail.
During separations I’ve gotten everything from a new Michael Kors watch to a seriously gorgeous custom-designed morganite ring from him, and for Christmas I sent Jake a printed picture of the new Sector 9 Longboard that was waiting for him in the closet when he got home. However, I want to emphasize something: the most important characteristic of this one is thoughtfulness. For example, I still personally think one of the cutest gifts is sending him a soft, new pillowcase spritzed with perfume that will remind him of you. It doesn’t have to be something expensive to bless their socks off as long as it says, “I know you, and I knew you’d love this.”
5. We make time for each other.
As military wives in 2015, we are blessed to have a lot of technology available to us that our predecessors didn’t, and we should take advantage of it! Whenever my husband was in port and could find wifi, we would video chat. Obviously this was more difficult for him to arrange on his end than mine, but I invested time as well making sure that I looked good for a our “date” and that our baby was well-distracted with something so that we could talk with as little interruption as possible.
Here’s a tip I learned the hard way: Save the less-fun conversations for e-mail. The last thing you want to do the few times you get to video chat is argue. Make a pact ahead of time that you’ll keep your video sessions sacred to re-connecting with each other and keeping things positive.
6. We don’t spend time alone with non-family members of the opposite sex when he’s gone.
Just…don’t. Your guy friends may be great guys, but save spending time with them for when hubby is there. When he’s gone, call your girlfriends; call your family.
7. We are willing to go outside our comfort zone.
Halfway through Jake’s first deployment, I came across a Groupon ad for a private boudoir photo shoot. My first reaction was to laugh and think: “Who does that?!”; but then my second thought was: “Jake would love that.” It took me way, way out of my comfort zone to cash in that Groupon, but it was so fun getting to hear Jake’s reaction when he got it and after doing it myself, it’s a gesture I would honestly recommend to anybody considering doing it. It actually ended up being a lot of fun!
However, if you go this route, may I suggest not sending him digital copies? It is way too easy for these things to be seen accidentally that way. Your safest route? Have a photo-book printed, wrap it in paper with crayon scribbles on it and label it “drawings for Daddy.” Nobody checking the care packages would be the least bit interested in opening that.
8. We pray for each other.
Asking each other, “What can I pray for this week?” was such a good lead-in to being vulnerable with each other about our fears and struggles throughout the separation, and it was immensely encouraging to share our hearts and know that the other one would be praying. If you’ve never tried praying for your spouse, it has an incredibly mysterious way of drawing you closer to him no matter the distance and it’s the one thing on this list that I couldn’t live without during LTJG Husband’s deployment. If it’s something you want to try but you’re not sure how, this page from “Faith Deployed” is a good place to start.
Overall, I’ve found that staying committed to these eight things really brings us closer during the separations, and now each time he goes away we try to look at it as another opportunity for us to learn to love each other better.