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Maintaining Relationships with Loved Ones During Deployment
Military spouses and significant others provide an invaluable source of support to today’s service members.1 Loved ones can play a vital role in offering encouragement during a military career – especially during deployments when separation often goes hand-in-hand with concern for the safety of service members, coping as a single parent at home or worries about money or legal troubles.2,3,4,5
Starting with open communication and a willingness to work together, couples can boost their resilience to manage the strains associated with deployments. This article offers tips on how you and your significant other can persevere through the tough times, lower the stress of separation and maintain a strong relationship throughout the deployment cycle.
Relationships and Deployment
Being apart can be tough, especially when deployments are high-risk or household demands build up. However, establishing a strong foundation before deployment can help ease stressors that may develop later:5,6
- Staying connected. Talk about the importance of regular contact. Make plans for how you will keep in touch, and how often. Keep in mind that you may need to plan around or sometimes reschedule due to deployment assignments and events at home. Try to time conversations about upsetting issues so that they do not pile up all at once. It’s important to talk openly on issues when they arise but conversations should be left with an overall tone that’s positive and supportive.
- Support back home. Before deployment, establish a support network for the person at home. For instance, decide whom to contact for auto repairs or babysitting. Find the contact number for resources within your service branch that can help loved ones cope with issues such as medical problems or financial hardships that may cause stress.
- Trust. Work together to find ways to maintain trust while apart. Discuss in detail your expectations of each other prior to the deployment. Maintain honest communication and listen to your partner; respect him/her and his/her opinions, and accept your partner as he/she is.
Quick Tips for Improving Communication
- Ask questions to make sure you understand what the other person is experiencing
- If there is a conflict, such as over finances or involving a child, make a plan for tackling it together
- Be willing to listen so you can understand where your partner or spouse is coming from
- Understanding. If you are fighting, get to the bottom of what is really upsetting you so that you can work to solve it. Focus on how to solve the problem, not placing blame for it.
- Professional help. Counseling or spouse support programs can teach you the skills you need to support a healthy relationship. Whether it involves the birth of a child, financial problems or other family matters, a counselor or chaplain can help you work through life’s challenges while you’re separated.
It is also important to find out if your loved one is feeling down. Deployments can cause stress for both service members and their loved ones at home that can lead to depression and other conditions.4 Reaching out for support can help you manage any reactions to stress that occur before, during or after deployment.
Knowing When to Seek Relationship Help
MFLCs and programs vary by base and installation and can be accessed though locations such as the Army Community Services, Marine Corps Community Services, Navy Fleet and Family Support Centers or Airman and Family Readiness Centers. Also, reservists and National Guard members can call 888-755-9355 to speak directly to a consultant who will refer them to a counselor in their area.
Even seemingly perfect relationships often have problems, most of which can be solved by the couple on their own.7 It’s important to realize that relationship problems – if left unresolved for long periods of time– have the potential to impact a warrior’s well-being and focus on the job. Don’t hesitate to seek help from a support group, counselor or chaplain if:7
- The spouse at home feels overwhelmed with the extra responsibilities
- The deployed service member feels helpless to support family in need
- Problems keep you from getting daily tasks done
- One or both of you feels alone or without anyone to talk to
- There is awkwardness or nervousness between you and your loved one
- You want to work on strengthening your relationship
Some people may not seek help because they fear counseling may make things worse or because they prefer to keep relationship matters private.6 However, reaching out for support can help you feel more secure and build resilience to cope with stressors during deployment.
- Air Force Family Readiness Centers
- Navy Fleet and Family Support Programs (FFSP)
- Naval Services FamilyLine
- Marine Corps Family Team Building
- Army Family Strong - Deployment
- Army Spouse Battlemind Training [PDF 107.82KB]
- Families With Kids [PDF 6.17MB]
- Families & Friendships
- Counseling Services
- Becoming a Couple Again: How to Create a Shared Sense of Purpose After Deployment [PDF 406KB]
2Views from the Homefront: How Military Youth and Spouses are Coping with Deployment, [PDF 156.3 KB], RAND Center for Military Health Policy Research, Published 2011.
3 Alyssa Mansfield and others. “Deployment and the Use of Mental Health Services among U.S. Army Wives,” The New England Journal of Medicine 362. Published January 14, 2010.
4How Deployment Stress Affects Children and Families: Research Findings, National Center for PTSD, Department of Veterans Affairs. Last accessed July 19, 2013.
5Deployment Concerns, Navy Leader’s Guide for Managing Sailors in Distress, Department of the Navy. Last accessed Sep. 17, 2012.
6Marital Problems, Leaders Guide for Managing Marines in Distress, U.S. Marine Corps. Published May 10, 2011.
7Mental Health - Relationship/Marital Problems, Navy & Marine Corps Public Health Center. Last accessed Sep. 17, 2012.