As military spouses, it’s something we all face sooner or later – as inevitable as the constant moves and unpredictable hours. Its presence is always on the horizon, shadowing every decision, every moment in between. It’s the inescapable reality of this life: deployment.
We all know it’s hard- damn hard. It’s not something any of us want. And it always requires great sacrifice from both the soldier and those back home. But just because something is hard doesn’t mean it’s without value. In fact, it’s often those truly difficult seasons of life that help us to grow the most. So I say, let’s embrace its advantages – yes, advantages.
Ok, ok, let’s just get the elephant out of the room here and acknowledge the one definite, tangible, advantage that deployment affords our families: money. Situations vary widely but when both tax-free benefits and hazardous duty pay are added to monthly income, you may be looking at a good chunk of change. If you absolutely must endure a separation, this perk can definitely ease a difficult situation. Use the opportunity to get your finances in order or work toward a specific financial goal.
But, really, if you are a military spouse, you already know that; and it’s not the kind of advantage I’m getting after…
What I mean is this: Military life is going to be one tragedy after another if you don’t look for the positives and genuinely embrace them. Real tragedy, the kind the exacts a toll on human life is a reality in our world. We owe it to those who have given everything to give as much as we can, too. That doesn’t mean throwing in the towel every time the Army disrupts our plans or constantly complaining that this life is too hard. We all need a boost sometimes – I get it! But if you aren’t ready to face the realities of this lifestyle with the kind of optimism that it requires, you simply aren’t ready for it at all.
Those of you who endured the long, arduous, and recurring deployments of the Iraq and Afghanistan surges are welcome to throw a quick sucker punch my way and take me down a notch. My comparatively blissful military life over the last seven years is 100% worthy of your derision. To you strong ladies, I tip my hat.
But, to clarify, the deployment schedules of today are significantly more relaxed and soldiers are generally not subject to the type of quick succession deployments that were the norm during the height of the wars.
So when we look at today’s military and its omnipresent realities, I think it’s important to remember the following:
Deployments can afford us a unique perspective on a whole host of important issues.
It’s often said that hindsight is 20/20 and, usually, the insight that comes from such reflection ends up being too little, too late. But in the case of deployment, when the long months have finally come to an end it is possible to apply those insights in order to positively change one’s daily actions and outlook on life.
Unlike your civilian counterparts, you are forced to contemplate what life would look like without your spouse. The fear, the stress, the uncertainty – they are your constant companions for the duration of a deployment, along with the knowledge that your entire world could change in an instant. You jump when the doorbell unexpectedly rings, fearing the sight of uniformed soldiers bearing unimaginable news. You panic when a Skype conversation abruptly ends or when blackouts prevent you from contacting your spouse altogether.
When you finally wrap your arms around him upon his return, relief exhaled in every deep breath, you suddenly understand with an uncomfortable degree of clarity that not every spouse will get that opportunity. It’s a stark realization in a beautiful moment – but an important one.
The profound sense of appreciation for every facet of one’s life is undoubtedly a benefit to us and our families; but it’s up to us to recognize and cultivate it in a positive manner.
Deployments dig up wellsprings of strength.
Suddenly you find yourself alone, reliant on no one. No matter how independent you consider yourself, it can be quite unsettling to feel the weight of responsibility that settles in at the start of a deployment. But you roll up those sleeves and get to work changing tires, taking care of sick children, assembling furniture, and mowing the lawn because you must. And it’s not long before you do each of those things simply because you can.
Each chore may seem trivial in isolation but, taken together, they constitute a kind of general life competency that can sometimes get lost in marriage; and that’s essential because, as we know all too well, nothing is guaranteed in this military life. Should the unthinkable happen, it is important to carry the knowledge that you are tough, capable, and prepared – that you will be ok.
Deployments can bring you closer together as a couple.
Now we all know stories of couples who collapsed under the pressure of a deployment and spiraled rapidly toward divorce. It happens. But deployment certainly doesn’t have to ring the death knell for your relationship; and, in fact, can oftentimes solidify your bond if you resolve to work toward that goal.
The key is being prepared for the difficulties and acknowledging your shortcomings ahead of time. Do you hate small talk and spending hours on the phone? Do you tend to lash out at your partner when your stress level rises? Do you need time to decompress at the end of the day before engaging in real conversation? Hash all this out with your partner before he leaves and then keep one another accountable when issues arise.
It’s inevitable; you will argue at some point but there’s an interesting twist to fights during deployment as opposed to fights at home: there is always that sudden realization that a chunk of your heart is physically absent. When the reality of life without your partner stares you in the face, petty arguments tend to fizzle out a bit faster. It’s one of the great double edged swords that come with this lifestyle.
Of course, there’s also the deep appreciation you acquire for your spouse when his absence suddenly highlights all the ways in which he really makes your life easier. It’s hard to see in the muddle of everyday life, so much so that spouses inevitably find themselves bickering over who works the hardest and who isn’t pulling their weight. It can be so easy to find fault with our partner when he’s around to be taken for granted. But as soon as his every day contributions to your home life are taken out of the equation, it quickly becomes clear that perhaps your partnership isn’t quite as one sided as you once thought.
It’s the simple realizations, really; those quick, almost imperceptible recognitions we make each day of a deployment that sharpen our character and strengthen our marriages. It doesn’t make the separation any easier but it certainly can make the separation worthwhile if only we resolve to peek through the lens of positivity. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? Surely you ladies know that better than anyone else. And, in that truth, we have a unique advantage over our civilian counterparts. So use it. Make it work for your marriage and your family. Make deployments work for you.
**C also writes for POMP USA, a start up company promoting businesses owned by service members, veterans, and their spouses.