Updated: Mar 13, 2019
You've heard the saying, "Distance makes the heart grow fonder," right? There is truth to that for sure. You don't realize what you have until it's gone. But during a deployment or long-distance relationship, if you're not connecting enough or adequately with your loved one while separated--you can draw further away emotionally. The relationship is not getting the proper nourishment it needs, so to speak. You have to keep that intimacy alive as best you can under the circumstances. And when you're miles apart, sometimes you have to get a little creative.
My husband and I had a long-distance relationship the entire time we were dating and engaged (which was only a total of eight months....fast, I know). He was in the middle of some Army training and it was difficult for us to see each other a few states apart. We got to know each other mostly through talking on the phone and texting. We can talk about anything and everything for hours on end.
For the past 7.5 years we've been married, we've had to be apart because of my husband's work many times--a couple months here, a couple weeks there, etc. We joke about it, but there always seemed to be a training, or something or other, in February and May--as we've only celebrated Valentine's Day and my husband's birthday together a handful of times. For the longer periods of time apart, I have stayed at my parents' house (with a couple of my younger siblings still at home). So just the presence of being around more people helped me to not be as lonely. Their support and help with my kids made a big difference.
Being apart is always very tough for me especially; however, I have gradually become stronger after every separation. You get accustomed to it and learn to cope. I feel like the shorter periods of time separated prepared me for my husband's deployment to Iraq. He was gone for almost a whole year....322 days to be exact. Our kids were 3.5 and 1.5 years old when he left. It was the day after Christmas, 2016 (and two days before my birthday).
I remember the feeling so well when I had to say good-bye. The image of the scene was hauntingly imprinted on my mind for a while as he was dropped off at the airport. That last hug and kiss. Watching him walk away and feeling like my heart had just broke into a million pieces. My parents came with, my dad driving, to support me. We all knew that a solo 3.5 hr trip back to where my parents live would be difficult for me. I wouldn't be able to think clearly, as if I forgot how to drive altogether--nor see clearly with the waterfall of tears I would cry. I became severely depressed. I felt so incomplete without him. As time went on, things got easier, as I adjusted to the new normal. But there were always those moments that triggered how much I missed him.
This was one of the hardest things I've ever been through. But we did it! We made it through. So glad it's over. This deployment took volunteers first, and I really didn't want my husband to do it. But he had served for eight years in the Army and had never deployed. Up to this point, all of his hard work had just been training. So I don't blame him when he told me that he wouldn't feel like he truly served his country until he deployed. So I supported him in his decision. There has been a lot of sacrifice and compromise in our marriage, as there should be. My husband then promised me that he would get out of the military after the deployment--that he wouldn't renew his contract.
Now, don't get me wrong, I still loved various aspects of military life and was grateful for all the benefits. The Army was good to us. I'm proud of my soldier and have so much respect for all the brave men and women who choose to serve. I was just ready to be done because the frequent separations were taking a toll on my mental health. And thankfully, since being in the military wasn't my husband's full-time job, he would go back to working as a federal law enforcement officer, like usual. So now, my husband has been out of the Army since this past May. A veteran. No more long separations. Less anxiety.
Whether your spouse is deployed or has a work assignment outside the military--or you're in a long-distance relationship with your boyfriend or girlfriend...
Here is a bit of my own advice from my experience, to make it through long separations:
1. Take advantage of the amazing technology we have and communicate as much as possible. Maintain a close connection. Thankfully I was able to talk on the phone and Skype with my husband a little bit. We emailed and I set up a folder on Google drive with pictures and home videos of the kids. It's hard when birthdays and important milestones are missed, and what not, but having the ability to still capture and share those precious moments was a great blessing. So take lots of pictures and videos. Involvement in even the mundane, day-to-day things and maintaining old routines like usual, particularly with the kids, helped it all to feel normal and not as drastic of a change, having Dad gone. We prayed together and had family councils over the phone. The kids played charades and Daddy told bedtime stories through Skype. It's also important to plan "date nights" with your partner, via video chat or phone--where it's just the two of you, without the kids. Keep that romance strong!
2. Have a physical object that reminds you of your partner to comfort you. Before my husband left, I sprayed some of his cologne on one of his sweatshirts that he left with me. I also ordered a large body pillow on Shutterfly, with a picture of my husband in his uniform (full body shot), with this quote on it. It's one of my favorite scriptures. Joshua 1:9 - "...be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” Having that pillow next to me every night, as if it were my husband's presence, really helped me. I also made he and I little matching throw pillows, for a time we were separated previously. Along with the pillows, I bought a weighted blanket to sleep or cuddle up with, which can help with anxiety, among other things.
At an Army ceremony held for deploying families before my husband left, all of the children were given a Build-A-Bear teddy bear with Army uniforms on them. They came with a little message recorder that could be sewn inside the bear. So we had my husband record his voice on it--a loving, comforting message to each of my kids--so that whenever my kids were missing him, they could cuddle with their bear and just press its paw and hear Daddy's voice. All the children were also given a little soldier doll where they could put a picture of their parent's face on it--as well as a couple books about coping with deployment as a kid. Very helpful gifts.
3. Find a support group. Whether that be family and friends or other military wives going through the same thing you are. I'm really thankful for my family. I moved to where my parents live, and chose not to live with them, but close by in my own house, in the same neighborhood of their small town. It was nice because they were close for support, but then I also felt like I had my own space and independence to run my household how I wanted. I was also apart of a Family Readiness Group through my husband's unit. This was my resource for all the information and tools I needed during deployment. I attended a couple of fun activities through this program, where all the families get together, which was nice. There was also a pre-deployment and post-deployment conference that we went to, so that we knew what to expect.
4. Stay busy. Although it felt difficult taking care of my kids without my husband, at the same time, my kids kept me absorbed and distracted. All my focus and energy was in taking care of them. And the natural joy that children bring, and all the cuddles and cute things they do, was comforting. I felt like I developed a stronger bond with my kids during this time. Also...find a hobby you enjoy. I got a part-time job as a dance teacher for little girls, which I really enjoyed. Get your kids involved in community activities or lessons as well. It was while my husband was deployed that I had the opportunity to be a photo double and background extra in a movie, that was being filmed just a few hours away from where I was living. This was a great spirit booster for me.
5. Take care of yourself and your personal hygiene. When I feel depressed, it's easy to get in this slump where I don't shower or do my makeup. But I told myself that I wouldn't "let myself go," just because my husband wasn't there for me to look pretty for. So dress for success and start your day out right. And treat yourself to some "me" time--to relax, go out with friends, and just take a break.
Here's what I posted on Facebook when my husband came home from deployment: