As the spouse of an active duty Chief Petty Officer in the United States Navy, I’ve learned that it’s the little things that count, especially when you are separated.
JG and I have been married for twelve years, all as a military couple. I’ve been with my husband through boot camp, four deployments and numerous training/temporary out of area assignments. JG has missed every holiday at least once, including birthdays and anniversaries. The times apart have also spanned different phases of our marriage: as newlyweds, through pregnancy (twice!) and for various parenting milestones.
Like all military couples, we have our ways of bridging the distance and time apart. We try to keep it simple so as not to get overwhelmed. These are my six secrets for staying connected as a couple—even when miles and continents physically separate you.
1. Stamps and snail mail are worth their weight in gold. An email is nice, but I have heard from JG more than once that getting “real” mail (a stamped letter or a care package) on a ship or in the desert is one of the best things ever.
2. Even the least romantic man still wants that personal connection. Let your spouse know how much you miss them, love them, and value them. It will make things a little easier when they come back. Try to plan ahead for special days. Make references to inside jokes between the two of you. It will all mean more to your spouse than you think.
3. Be patient when they get home. After numerous deployments, I have realized that when my husband returns it is good to give him a few days to get used to being home again. Then, we start gradually including him in more day-to-day things.
4. Be a good listener. Make sure you take time to really listen to your spouse. That means stopping what you are doing (physically and mentally) to listen to them talk about where they have been and what they have been doing. Don’t push them, but if they volunteer to talk about it, just listen. You may not always understand, but the important point is to let them know you are there for them.
5. Carve out some “us” time. Everyone will want a piece of your significant other once he or she steps through the door, so you’ve got to plan in advance for some alone time to reconnect as a couple. It can be hard with parents, pets, kids and good friends, but if you take the time at the beginning, it will set you up for success as time goes by.
6. Stay connected to community. In my job, I’ve learned the importance of being part of your local community. JG and I have always liked to be involved wherever we live beyond MWR and local command activities, and it’s gotten a lot easier now that one of my kids is a Cub Scout. Even if you don’t have a child, you can still connect with those around you. Look in the newspaper for volunteer activities. Sign up for a 5K or join a book club. Those community connections will carry you through a separation and the subsequent rough patches upon a return.
More than anything, your spouse just wants to feel connected, appreciated and valued—whether it is while away or upon returning home. These are my six ways of bridging the distance. What are yours?