Each of our deployments has brought a new and different set of challenges. Spending this much time apart is never easy and your relationship will be tested to the limit. Honest moment here... Gabe and I almost didn't make it through the first deployment. I can't tell you how many marriages we have seen crumble during these first deployments. It takes a level of commitment and pure gusto just to survive and I don't blame or fault others if/when they part ways. I mean, we limped across that finish line and it took time and patience to bring our marriage back to where it was.
By our second deployment, we knew a little better what to expect and that helped a lot. But 18 months apart will put a strain on a marriage no matter who you are. We were living in a military town at this time so my friends were very understanding and supportive. And when you live that long apart, there's always a big learning curve to get back into a smooth rhythm and schedule.
Now at our third deployment, I almost feel ashamed when people always ask if it's tough without Gabe here. I usually shrug and give a nonchalant answer along the lines of "Yes, but by the third time you just do it. No big deal." Does that sound cruel? Of course it's not easy but I can't sit there everyday giving myself a pity party and waiting for life to get back to normal. I feel like coming out of this deployment, our marriage is almost stronger. Sure there were points of struggling but it's how we handle the struggles that make all the difference this time around.
As a woman that has survived three deployments each totaling a year plus (45 months or 3 years and 9 months in total so far) and countless business trips of varying lengths, I can safely say I have learned so much and earned the right to share some of the tricks to surviving.
1. Take time for yourself - I struggle with this the most. I feel guilty when I send the kids to the sitter so I can get out and relax. But it is so important for your own sanity and stress level to take some time to be alone.
2. Remember that it's not all about you - While you have stress and struggles at home, you need to remember that your partner is going through their own stress and struggles too, but doing it in an unfamiliar place. You both are in tough situations and one is not more important than the other.
3. It's not a competition - Oh Lord is this a tough one. I can't tell you how many times Gabe has remarked about being tired from working a 16 hour day and I came back with something about how at least he's not dealing with kids while doing it. Or when a friend complains about having to spend a day or two away from their spouse, or even complains about how much that spouse works. I want to scream at them that it's better than never seeing them. And I did... during deployments one and two. But I have had to come to terms with not comparing our situation to theirs and for them, it is hard. You will feel a whole lot better when you can stop turning these things into competitions, trust me.
4. Arguments will happen - You will be faced with challenges and you will not always get along. I know this happens when people are together too but when apart, the struggle is exacerbated times 100 and you don't always handle them in the best manner. I can't say what is best to do but I can say that you need to show compassion and patience here. Put on your big girl (or guy) panties and handle it like an adult. Talk it out, listen to each other, and come to a solution. Putting off arguments or shoving every problem under the rug will only make it that much worse when someone snaps. And they will.
5. Stay positive - I know how easy it is to get down on yourself and depressed about the situation. But I also know that by you being a Negative Nancy all the time, you're making it worse and people do not want to be around someone like that. Here's where this third deployment has the most differences from the other two. I realized the situation is what it is and I made the effort to keep a positive attitude. And you know what? Suddenly life didn't seem so dismal, Gabe and I argued less, the kids cried less about daddy being gone, and I was happier. I miss my husband a ton but sitting around whining about it isn't accomplishing anything. The power of positivity, folks. It's real.
6. Live life - OK, what is all this about? Obviously you have to live your life but I'm talking live it. I have a hard time going out with the kids to do fun things because I give myself a guilt trip about how Gabe doesn't get to join in on the fun. Or I talk myself out of it by explaining we can do these things when he comes home. But who are you hurting when you do nothing and stay at home 24/7? Yourself, your kids, and the people around you. Yes, your partner can't be there to enjoy it but there's nothing you can do about it and doesn't mean you can't take some time to enjoy yourself. It helps to pass the time and get your minds off the situation even for a brief time.
7. TAKE IT ONE DAY AT A TIME - This is my #1 tip and I can't stress it enough. The only way you are going to get through this is one day at a time. You can't speed up or slow down time. There's just no way around it. Remind yourself when you're in the throes of sick and cranky kids, no shower for days, housework piling up, and exhausted beyond belief that this day will end and tomorrow is one day closer to seeing your partner. I literally have to do this nearly every day. One day at a time. You've got this!
And there you have it. The real and in your face tips and tricks for making it through and surviving your deployments or time apart. Got anything you want to add? I'd love to hear them in the comment section.