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Coping With Deployment

As more and more civilians enter the fray of military deployments, so do their better halves find themselves thrust into a world of great unknowns. It’s taken twenty years and numerous deployments to hone my own coping skills just in time for my husband’s retirement. The following does not address the return of wounded servicemembers and instead focuses on the majority experience of departure, deployment, and safe return. For assistance above and beyond what is included here, contact your Key Volunteer, Family Service Center, or your spouse’s command.

The best way to cope with deployments is to approach life from the standpoint of a two-year old child. Two-year olds don’t necessarily like change, they throw fits over it, but they transition relatively well. For all they have to adjust to, two-year olds do a better job of it than adults. They are the perfect model for assimilating change. All of the following is relative to you and how you adapt. If it doesn’t apply, disregard. Before you disregard, think about why you’re disregarding. Just because it’s unfamiliar and uncomfortable right now doesn’t mean it isn’t just the thing for you for the long haul.

Deployment is a change, not a crisis. This is a crucial mindset. Seeing a deployment through the filter of crisis sets you up for all manner of disaster. Everything you do and say is directly affected by how you see the deployment. If two-year olds saw change as crisis, they’d never learn to talk (something those of us with teens would prefer). This is not intended to address those who experience crises during a deployment (death, debilitating injury, etc). It’s important to have a support network of people you trust so that if something like this happens, you have them to count on. Busted hot water heaters, court dates, and sick kids do not fall under the heading of “crisis”. If these things are a crisis to you, good luck with that.

Scream into a pillow over the injustice of it all. This is not to question the justification of his/her deployment or service, but hey, it hurts when someone you love heads out. By the same token, worry is natural but not a coping tool. Set the timer, worry your head off for 15 minutes, and stop at the bing. Have an activity already planned that you will throw yourself into as soon as the timer goes off. If the worrying thoughts won’t go away, say out loud and loudly “stop”. You’ll get another chance to worry tomorrow.

Maintain your routine. Brush your teeth, brush your hair, take your shower, wear your clothes (not just sweats or pj’s), wash your face, do the laundry, get the groceries, etc. This is an unfamiliar and other-than-normal time for you. That which is familiar and normal is very important. Is brushing your teeth as important a task as your loved one’s job while deployed? Yes! Do you want them to come back to some yellow-toothed bedraggled spouse?
There is the tendency to see our lives as minimal and insignificant compared to what our loved one is doing/feeling/etc. There is no comparison so stop it. If everyone with a deployed loved one quit what they were doing, think of the mess. I don’t just mean chores and stuff, I mean think of the gross national product.

Having said that, if you don’t have one, get one:
Get a hobby, a job, a volunteer position, a workout routine, a diet of fruits and vegetables, a support network, etc. Having any one or even two of these things doesn’t mean you’re set. The idea here is to add. The addition won’t fill the void of the loved ones’ absence because that’s a void that can’t be filled. Filling the void is not the point. The point is to cushion the edges of the void and this is done by adding to your own life that which will both distract you from the deployment and serve to help you grow as a person. Sound corny? It is. Sound time consuming and too much for your schedule? It isn’t and I know this because if you’re reading this then you’re looking for something to help you out. Why would you take the time to look if you don’t also have the time to do something with the information you get? Now is the time to seek out those things you previously thought you didn’t have time to seek. Have you had a hankering for scrapbooking? How about book clubs, reading to kids at the library, learning CPR, making stepping stones, getting on that treadmill or going to the gym? If you’re really rowdy, get a bunch of other people involved in your new routine/hobby. Start a walking club or book club, or get others to go to the gym with you.

Speaking of getting information, the best way to get it is to ask. Support and resources don’t fall from the sky. If you’re not the kind of person who is comfortable asking for help, remember that you are the kind of person to have a loved one deployed, and that kind of person is going to have to ask for help at some point.

Since you’ve probably already prayed for strength, here’s what to expect: one horrible day after another for a while. The kinds of events that work the muscles of our character, and the distraction of those events, are the only logical answer to the prayer “Help me get through this!” Any one who’s read other’s stories knows that deployments don’t exist in a vacuum. Things happen in 3′s unless you have a loved one deployed. Then they happen in 4′s and 10′s. Why is that? I don’t know, and I’m not asking because someone might tell me and I’m not so sure I want to know. It just is that way so let’s work with it. Other things will happen right along with the deployment that may seem like too much all at once. In reality, these things strengthen your character and will go a long ways in helping you develop coping skills you didn’t even know you had. The other events also serve to distract you from the deployment and help you get through the days that come without mail, email, and phone calls. Does all this mean life won’t stink? No. Life will stink sometimes, and maybe even quite a bit at first. And out of this compost you will make beautiful things grow, and the most beautiful thing you will grow will be yourself.

Journal, journal, journal. Write, write, write.
Journal once a day? Sure, if you can. Once a week? Absolutely! Journaling is the best way to track your own mental and emotional health. Those who journal during deployments are amazed at how much they grow and the strengths they develop. Some look back on old entries and think “Gosh, what a baby I was”. Don’t do that. The person you were gets full credit for the person you are today; after all, it was that “baby” that picked up the pen and bought the paper even though he/she sure didn’t feel like it.
Writing letters and emails is not just good for you, it’s the very air your deployed loved one breathes. You could anguish over how clever and witty you are not, or you could write what they want most to read: every insignificant detail of your daily life. Spare them the worry and frustration of busted pipes and broken down cars because there’s absolutely nothing they can do with this information but spin it up into guilt and anger. Instead, give them the number of flowers you planted, the kids’ best school work, and how you tricked your nagging mother into thinking you weren’t home.

The Serenity Prayer 101:
No, you don’t have control over this so quit wasting your time, energy, and money on it.
Yes, you do have control over that so start spending your time, energy and money on it.
What’s the difference between this and that?
This is any change you don’t like and have no control over but think you do, and all that results is a headache and an empty Tums bottle. That is anything you can do to cope with the change but don’t wanna.
The very idea of coping with undesired change is initially a tiresome prospect full of unfamiliarity and a bunch of “why me?” You’re not going to necessarily want to get up and cope with your life changes. Nonetheless, be bored, scared, lazy, disgusted, nervous, reluctant, anxious, arrogant, or even flippant — and do it anyway.

Have at the ready:
*Healthy food to snack on. Unhealthy food bogs down the digestive system, drains the brain of nutrients, and taxes your energy level and immune system. This is the last thing you need. Turn your refrigerator into a rainbow of fruits and vegetables (only buy clear storage containers) and you’ll turn snack time into fun time for you and the kids.
*Movies: whatever makes you feel good. Personally, I like “Grumpy Old Men”, “Groundhog Day”, and “The Christmas Story”. Play them in the background now and then.
*Music: whatever gets you out of bed, on your feet, and back into your routine. Personally, I like “Joe Muggs Coffee House CD Vol 1″, anything by “John McCutcheon” (bluegrass), and anything from the “Jock Jams” collection.
Sad movies and music, and war movies are the bane of anyone whose spouse is deployed. Avoid them at all costs.
*Magazine subscriptions. Don’t order stuff with the idea that you can forward it to your loved one. Get stuff for yourself!
Personally, I like “Reader’s Digest” and “National Geographic”.
*A list of phone numbers and email addresses of those you can turn to for support. Don’t just make this list, use it!

Moms with other kids/ Wives with children:
There’s always going to be initial neglect of the kids while you get yourself relatively centered again (read: functional). If this takes more than a week, pull out the following emergency stops:
*Get friends to come over. Put aside thoughts like “I don’t want to bother them”, “I don’t really need them” or “I don’t deserve that”. Call your friends. Note: Some friends aren’t really friends, and sometimes family isn’t much help either. If you don’t have the kind of people in your life that you need, go get them. Extend yourself!
*Schedule activities for the kids that involve getting you out of the house for at least an hour or two.
*If you’re not doing better in two weeks, call your doctor, your therapist, your significant church person, or any trusted friend who has consistently been there for you in the past. Ask for help. Don’t feel obligated to use every bit of advice you get and don’t turn your nose up at something that doesn’t appeal to you right away. Mull over all advice and answers before using/dismissing anything you get.

Important DON’TS:
I can’t stress this enough: *Don’t get around people who bring you down no matter how long you’ve known them. Deployments change things, specifically your emotional needs. Anyone who starts out a conversation with you with a grim face and the question “How are you holding up?” is not going to do anything for you. You need people who don’t even ask about the deployment other than a sprite “How’s John?” You also don’t need political lectures. Avoid these. Do not attempt confrontation of discussion with people with so much free time on their hands and so much grinch in their hearts that they would lecture or question a loved one of the deployed.
*Don’t listen to negative stories about deployments from ANYONE. It doesn’t matter if they’re true or not, these stories serve only to bring you down to the emotional level of the storyteller. You don’t need that.
*Don’t watch the news. The same 30 minutes of news will be repeated over and over, and only one minute, if that, is relevant to you. Tune in once a week, but rely only on the information you get from your spouse’s Command.
*Don’t think you’re the only one because you’re so not the only one. You’re not even the only one thousandth.
*Don’t stay in your pajamas for longer than 2 hours after you get up (unless it’s your day off and you feel you deserve to do so).
*Don’t stay in your house for longer than 24 hours.
*Don’t “Give until it hurts”. Sure it’s good to listen to other’s problems, you know “help yourself by helping others” but there is a limit, and your stomach will tell you when your limit is approaching. Stop listening to that person and listen to your stomach. Being a good listener doesn’t mean being a chump. You’ve got your own problems. While helping others is a fine endeavor, you can’t help anyone if you aren’t up to par yourself.

Important DO’s:
In addition to the aforementioned:
*Do take advantage of every pre-deployment brief, meeting, class, and family day offered by the military for spouses. This is where you’ll get all the information you need about healthcare, benefits, expectations, and information about your spouse’s unit. You’ll also find this is where you meet those who know exactly how you feel. Remember you’re not the only one. Make new friends because these people are gold. No one, not even family or other friends, could possibly understand how “lucky” you are that your spouse is floating around in a tax-free zone and how horrible it feels to wait for word after hearing that your spouse’s unit has been bombed. If you’re near a military base, check with the Family Service Center to see what they have scheduled. While you’re there, inquire of their counseling services even if you don’t need them. If you find yourself in need down the road, that won’t be the time to be researching your options. If you already know what they are, you can step right on in. Note: No, it’s not true that confidentiality is out the window. A civilian professional would also have to report abuse, other criminal activity, and suicidal thoughts. Everything else is confidential. If you have any reservations about counseling in general, I urge you to set them aside. There is not a spouse of the deployed on this planet who has not at some point needed the objective perspective and feedback of a third party even for a brief but much needed sanity check.
*Do be aware of two things before your spouse’s departure.
One, Anger. This is every spouse’s way of dealing with the inevitable. We seasoned spouses refer to this as “pre-deployment grief.” Clever, eh? It’s easier to say goodbye to someone you think you can’t stand. Remember this mixture of anger and grief will grip your spouse as well. No matter how stable and loving your relationship was before, suddenly you are in the way of him/her getting ready to go. Seasoned spouses plan get-togethers with other spouses during this time period for the purpose of staying out of the deploying spouse’s way until the anger passes. And it will. Be sure to tell your spouse what you’re doing if you’re spending more time away from home so that he/she won’t think you’ve just up and abandoned them.
Two, Sadness. After the anger comes sadness. This usually slaps you in the face right before he/she is to leave and is often accompanied by guilt over the way the two of you have been treating each other since the order came down. Suddenly it’s no big deal that they snore or fold the kitchen towels wrong. Give yourselves a break. This too shall pass.
*Do prepare for two things upon your spouse’s return.
One, the date will change and/or the deployment will be extended at least once. Count on twice. This is no time for planning weddings or any other date-specific events unless you’re into dire amounts of disappointment. If your loved one is not standing right there in front of you, don’t plan on him/her being there.
Two, reunions are fickle things. You’ve been apart for six months to a year. Everyone and everything has changed. These changes require a great deal of patience and flexibility. It’s not uncommon for reunion-sex to take place as much as a month after his/her return. If it’s longer than that or if your spouse seems especially out of sorts (do give this 30 days before jumping to any conclusions), follow up on the counseling information you got at the Family Service Center. Keep reunion parties to a minimum (one is plenty, trust me) and expect your spouse to be scarce. There are no two experiences more polarized than combat and parties. Give your spouse time to make this transition.

Semper Gumby! (Always Flexible!)
Welcome Home MSgt Robert Hartman!

About Diana Hartman

Diana is a USMC (ret.) spouse, mother of three and a Wichita, Kansas native. She is back in the United States after 10 years in Germany. She is a contributing author to Holiday Writes. She hates liver & motivational speakers. She loves science & naps. For extra fun, follow her on Twitter.
  • Christina

    I really enjoyed this article. My husband is a Marine and is preparing for deployment to Iraq in September. We recently married about 3 months ago, so this is my first deployment. Most all of the things you touched on in this article apply to what i have been feeling and going through. Although my husband technically doesn’t deploy until Sept. he is in CA training and stuff while I am back home in TX, so I am already experiencing the separation and the things that go with it. Thank you for writing this article. I know this information will be helpful to me over this next year.

  • Shannon

    Thank you.

  • Holly

    Thank you so much for this article. My fiancee left for Iraq September 25th (yesterday). I have literally felt like I am dying inside. This article has given me Hope that I will survive this.

  • diana hartman

    Holly, email me ( msdusmcd at yahoo dot com ) if you have any military fiancee-type questions.

    My daughter’s boyfriend (USMC) is on his 3rd Iraq travel venture. She has, of course, very limited access to information and support. Her only saving grace is that she is also a military dependent.

    Let me know what state you’re in and the base he deployed from and let’s see what we can get for you.

  • Rachael

    thank you so much for the article. I am an Air force wife of just under a year and my husband will be going on his first deployment to Iraq in a few months. It’s one of many, almost all members of security forces at dover AFB, are gone for 6 months and then are home for 6 months, so he’s looking at many deployments in his future. I’m already starting to get freaked out by his first deployment and it’s still months away. When you said Anger and Sadness are the first two emotions, I totally agree. I’m already going though that. they seem to alternate with each other. I will save your article and read it every so often. I really like it’s going to help me out. Thanks a lot again for you insight and knowledge.

  • Deanna

    This article is like a breath of fresh air just when I felt at my lowest. On top of dealing with a deployment I felt like our marriage was in trouble because of all the arguing just before he left. The worry has been almost too much. Today I didn’t even get dressed.
    I found your article and there on the page was my life and all the emotions I felt over the past few months. I could hug you! I feel so relieved to know all these feelings are normal.Bless you for giving me hope. I know now that everything will be OK.

  • kimberly

    thank you for writing this article, it made me feel MUCH better about deployment and everything

  • Jennifer

    Thank you for writing this.. I am a marine wife with a new baby and my husband PCS’d to another state and is awaiting deployment to Iraq.. some days I feel like Im losing it and want to curl up and cry, others are good days but I am glad to know that Im not alone. I commend all you Military Wives out there who have gone through this several times.. I now feel your pain and strength! Support for ourselves and our spouses, we DO have the toughest job in the military!

  • Kristy

    ok so I read this while talking to my “technically not deployed” fiance’. he and i have been at wits ends. i am ready to give up… i actually think i did give up yesterday, but somehow woke up today back in this stinking situation. so here’s my deal. its christmas andwe have no decorations or gifts. my family tries to cheer me up by talking about going caroling and shopping and it only makes me homesick.
    plus, i moved away from everyone i loved and new to be with chris and then he left for a deployment, training and now an upgrade. he was gone on a mission for 4 months (he is a spec ops pilot) and was home literally about a month before he left for another 3 months to oklahoma for an upgrade. it kills me because a friend of mine who’s hubby is deployed gets care packages and has family send her man stuff, but what about me. just bc chris isnt fighting in iraq at this particular time, doesnt he and i deserve some help. everyone seems to think i should be ok. my own mother sent a care package to another secret santa girl in her church bc the poor child’s husband was away in turkey for the holidays. hello. i am ALONE too. to make matters worse all the things u suggest cost money and I dont make alot. i am a nurse (LPN) and made a fair salary in TX but here in SC it is very competitive and i dont seem to make enough to get by. plus the cost of living is outrageous but bc we are NOT MARRIED -yet- i dont get help financially. he doesnt get bonuses for me and i cant get on his insurance. these things have made me want to hurry and elope and sign the marriage license for all the wrong reasons. we want our nice wedding in NY, but i dont know if I will survive military life long enough to make it down the aisle. for those of u thinking i fell in love with the wrong man… not the case. i have been with him for 4 years. 3 of which i spent away from him bc his station transferred to SC… i was living in TX. the way i coped then was i worked… two jobs and had my friends and family with in driving distance. now i am not even within 20 hours of anyone i know. all of the things i did back home to make the deployment easier arent accessible here. it all costs money. plus chris and i do not live on base… its about a 1/2 drive and he doesnt research the options very well for either of us. i cant get on base, i dont have an id. so how do i take advantage of what they offer?!? lots of girls go on shoppig trips or spend their tax free money. one i dont get that and two i cant afford it. i pretty much walk the dog and that is about the only fun thing i have found that doesnt cost money! books clubs= money for books. sports, tennis= money for equiptment and facility. scrapbooking, ect= money for supplies… and my favorite, planning a wedding= money. not to mention my maid of honor is in arkansas, my sister and mom are in texas, and his parents are in NY…

    chris kind of made it a point after his deployment 2 years ago to make friens outside of his squadron… since he spent so much time with those particular guys while over seas. good idea… it worked out well for him. but these new friends are single and doctors or such and have no idea what i go thru. thry dont help or have supportive, understand girlfriends who can help. most of them dont even have girlfriends AT ALL. i am just lost!!!!

    please help… i have prayed and the only reason i am still hanging on is bc i believe God will eventually send me an angel with an answer!

    let me end by saying i cried during the article bc u did touch on many things i thought i was the only one to experience. you hit the predeployment feelings i have right on the head. your article was fantastic and very informative. thanks a bunch. the only reason i am ranting and raving and being a baby and all “feel sorry for me” is bc i saw that people can chat and write you back and i was hoping someone would have some adice for me!
    thank you.

  • Diana Hartman

    Dear Kristy,

    I hope you’ll be checking back for feedback. Many girlfriends go through very similar ordeals and it ain’t no picnic. Without being married, a girlfriend is caught between two worlds, and not able to participate in either one. Sure there is the town you live in outside the gate, but as you’ve said, that’s not providing the support you need.

    Following a military man comes with very few benefits, but one of them is (and should be) the company and support of others in the same situation and access to services. Without that public proclamation of your love, following a military man becomes a nightmare in which a young woman is easily lost.

    Before I tell you what I’d do, let me preface this by saying this is not what most girlfriends do. Most of them stick it out with the idea that love is enough to get them through. Most of them end up doing precisely what I’m going to tell you to do and then thinking themselves failures. This is what I would like to see you avoid.

    Given how much he is gone, that you’re not married and money is tight, this is what I would do: Go back home, save up money for the wedding, enjoy the company and support of your family and friends, and visit your boyfriend (or him visit you) whenever possible.

    While it means not spending what little time he does have between operations with him, it does also mean you will be in the company of those you know and love, you’ll be able to get a better paying job, you’ll be able to save (more) money (faster) for the wedding you’re hoping for, and most importantly it means you will not sit at the end of your ropes wondering where it all went wrong.

    Trust me, even as a spouse there will be plenty of lonely nights and times when you question your decision to marry this particular man. As a spouse, however, you will have other spouses and the support services of the installation itself to counter that which you’re feeling now: alone and without support.

    About your mother: You’d think family, especially mothers, would be more supportive. I don’t know that they aren’t supportive; it’s just that they don’t understand. How can they, really? Unless they’ve done it themselves, they have no idea of the daily grind.

    We just returned from Germany. To hear my family tell it (bearing in mind I was a Marine wife for over 20 years), you’d think I was off to Paris one day and Rome the next. It’s not like that, whether you’re in Stuttgart, Germany or Stuttgart, Arkansas. There’s a huge difference between being a tourist and being a resident.

    This is a difficult concept to get across to the family and friends we leave behind. They just don’t get it. They’re thinking about all the wonderful things they’ll get to do when they come visit you – because they’ll be on vacation. They don’t consider how difficult it would be to go to Rome, take a full-time job, pay bills, raise kids, and still get to Paris.

    When a family member would ask me if we’d been to Paris or Rome yet, I asked them if they’ve been to Denver or Miami. From their perch in Kansas, guess what? They hadn’t. And yet they expected that I would have traveled a similar distance already. Why? Because they don’t see the reality of moving and living somewhere else; they only see the fantasy of travel.

    For the family and friends we leave behind, the life of following a military man is all about travel, new people, excitement and opportunity. And it is about that. For the first few years especially, and with each new assignment, it’s about loneliness, the quest to get to know oneself better, and to put every social skill you thought you had to the test.

    It’s a great life I wouldn’t trade for any amount of money, but it is a life that requires great patience, sometimes restraint, constant adjustment, flexibility and stamina. Military life is challenging and will make or break the best of us. It will pull on you and bring things out of you that you didn’t even know you could do. It does not require you to give up who you are and what’s most important to you. If the life you’re living is taking this away from you, make a change – and make it soon.

    Sincerely, Diana

  • Stacey

    Diana, do you have an email address I can email you some questions about deployment to? I need advice and don’t know where to turn

  • Diana Hartman

    Stacey, you can contact me here at Blogcritics at diana1hartman at gmail dot com

  • Asha

    This is great information. My boyfriend and I have been together for nearly 8 months and he’s getting deployed in July for what’s supposed to be a year. He has been married before and got divorced because his ex cheated while he was deployed. This is all very new and scary for me as we are dealing with alot of obstacles because of his past fears and mine. I truly love him and think we may go the distance. Is it okay to ask for some sort of clear commitment before he leaves or should I lay low and say nothing? We’ve already decided were not breaking up. I mean he is going away for a year! Im not saying propose or else but Im not getting any younger and he’s 5 years older than me! He has mentioned he wants to marry again and have more children. I admit to his credit he is a good guy who I know loves me. He may have unfairly caught me at the peak of my “I-want-to-get-married-and-have-kids-soon-phase!” LOL. Give me your thoughts.

  • Diana Hartman

    Dear Asha,

    It’s only April. Who’s to say he doesn’t already have something up his sleeve in terms of a ring and a proposal speech? I’d sure as hell say nothing if for no other reason than because you may be setting yourself up to spoil what could be one of the happiest moments of your life.

    If he has no such plans, he has a real good reason for it: he isn’t ready. I can appreciate your body clock and know it can be a strong, pressing need. He has one, too, and it is complicated by his divorce and the circumstances under which he divorced.

    You have the opportunity to give him the deployment he hasn’t had: the one where no one cheats on him. You don’t need a marriage license to give him that – and in return, he just might come back with nothing but marriage on his mind.

    The very idea of an ultimatum is a bad plan all around and it guarantees both parties walking away embittered. It’s also one of the worst possible ways to propose, second only to holding a gun to his head. You say you’re not saying “propose or else,” but unless you keep quiet, anything you say along these lines is going to be heard just that way.

    There is no way you and he are going to be the same people you are today in July of 2009. While “nearly 8 months” sounds good, it’s only the tip of the deployment iceberg. Unless he’s retiring after this one, it probably won’t be his last deployment.

    Many things will change with both of you between now and the middle of next year. I guarantee you will both be very different people come next year – and if those two people want to marry, so be it.

    I’ve been involved with my husband for over 20 years and we still find out new things about each other because we, like all people, grow and change over time.

    He deployed for a year not even a year into our dating. We didn’t marry until after we got back – and even that felt rushed to both us and we both wished we’d waited a few months after his return. It worked out, but jeezy creezy were there some rocky roads to travel – all roads we could have avoided by getting to re-know each other.

    Rocky roads in a relationship are plentiful enough without building some of your own by rushing into things before both of you are ready and willing.

    If you give him an ultimatum and he says yes, he will likely do it begrudgingly and come to regret the decision — even if it was the right one — because it wasn’t a decision you both made together, but rather a decision you made that he agreed to.

    If he says no, how will you feel? Seriously sit down in a quiet place and imagine the whole thing: you give him the ultimatum and he says no. How do you feel about your relationship? How you do you feel about him? How do you think he feels about you? Your every answer will likely be colored in doubt – and that’s not good no matter how you dress it up.

    Allow him his right: the opportunity to miss you, crave you and need you. Too, the person you’re going to be in July ’09 might really appreciate it if you didn’t blow it for her by jumping the gun now.

    Men are notorious for writing what they won’t say. You have the opportunity to exchange a year’s worth of letters, a year’s worth of reflection on both your parts, a year’s worth of learning new things about each other. Tainting this opportunity with an ultimatum (or destroying the opportunity should he turn you down and then turn you out) eliminates any chance of happiness.

    In fairness to him, he didn’t catch you at your peak; you just are at your peak. Expecting him to accommodate that regardless of where he is emotionally is grossly unfair and, again, will only work to create wedges in the relationship – assuming it doesn’t take the relationship down completely.

    Infatuation is easy. Love is a decision. If the extent of your effort at this point is to get married or else, then it’s time to cool your heels and re-evaluate what and who you really want without haplessly involving someone else.


  • Magdalena

    Diana – Thank you for this wonderful article. The level of honesty in your writing is much appreciated.

  • Raya

    Diana- I dont know if you still use this blog since all of the comments are in 2009 and prior, but i came across it when googling “dealing with a deployment boyfriend” here is my story…I actually met my somewhat boyfriend on a website. I wasnt able to find what i was looking for the old fashion way so i joined the website and found him. I live in philadelphia and he is stationed in Kansas. Even though there was a distance we still wanted to give it a try and get to know each other, and we clicked right away. We have made plans to meet one day and it was very exciting for us. To past time we would talk or text everyday and we also started to have web cam dates. I have grown to really like this man as a person. He has made me a happier person and i learn a lot from him. I cant wait for us to be together. Then comes the problem. I started to notice him being a little bit distance from me. Our conversations werent as long anymore and there wasnt much being said. I soon found out that someone was supposed to get deployed and now cannot be deployed so they need a replacement and its him. We have only been talking to each other a month this friday coming. So this is rather difficult for us. He has never been deployed before and I have never been through any of this before. I dont know what to do. I feel like this is who I am supposed to be with and I dont want to let it go. He isnt comfortable only seeing me once or twice before he leaves and then not seeing me for a year. I dont want to give up without being able to say that I tried. But I think he doesnt want to be there and then get news that Im moving on without him. He already has to worry about not being near his family and friends and not being able to speak to them when he wants. I dont want to add on to his worries. But I dont want to let him go. Im scared. Can you give some input on the situation….Thank you

  • diana hartman


    Even the heartiest military servicemember does the distancing thing before a deployment. What you’re talking about, however, is not a deployment. A year is a tour. The difference used to be the location, but these days the difference is the amount of time. A deployment is up to a year, but is more often 6-8 months. A tour is a year no matter what and can go beyond that.

    A year tour (whether to a combat zone or not) is an excruciatingly long period of time. Keep in mind that sometimes marriages (which is to say two people who have met, dated and committed to each other) break up during or after a tour. The loss of an already established day-to-day relationship is very difficult to bear.

    What you’re looking at is the loss of a potential relationship. Very different. Don’t allow yourself (and don’t let anyone else talk you in) to getting all caught up in an imaginary drama.

    This may well be the man you are supposed to be with, but that doesn’t mean there is any rush to do anything right this minute or even right this month! My husband was gone on a year tour not 8 months after we started dating, and while it was a struggle after he returned, his absence was not the end of the world. In fact, all that writing was good for us because people, especially men, will often write what they won’t say.

    If this man decides to cut off communication with you before he deploys, do yourself the dignity of not chasing after him or trying to convince him otherwise. Because you’ve been communicating for as long as you have, there’s an outside chance he will get back in touch with you once he’s settled in (relatively speaking) to his new assignment.

    What you’re both experiencing is important, but I must tell you that what he’s experiencing could cost him his life down the road if he is not focused. He will no doubt miss you just as much as you will miss him, but he will have the added pressure of doing a job in a place he’s never been before with people from an entirely different culture and language. Culture shock is very real is a major obstacle to transition, especially if one is there for reasons of combat.

    If the location is dangerous, all the more reason why he doesn’t need nor would he benefit from a single distraction, including trying to assure you that he’s okay when he might not be.

    Again, once he’s settled in he may contact you. Don’t set your calendar around it, though, because oftentimes people change drastically when their lifestyle/routine goes through a major change (to include the significance of the location). His job is NOT to make you feel better about anything. His job is to stay safe and alive while doing what he was sent there to do.

    Do what you have to do to keep from consuming yourself with worry regardless of where he’s going. Worry never helped anyone, and the anxiety of it could certainly do you harm, so re-read the article for things you can and should be doing to make your life the best it can be regardless of who else is or isn’t in it!

    Sincerely, Diana

  • Raya

    I am so happy that you responded. And so quick too. I reread the article after i read your response. Then i called him and talked about us. We have came to the conclusion that without putting a title on us we can continue to communicate while he is gone and then when he comes home if getting into a relationship is something that we both still want to do then we will…One part in your response you say that you and your husband used the time he was away to write and it was good for the both of you…he said the same thing to me over the phone. he mentioned that it will give us time to get to know each other better too…i just wanted to say thank you for shedding some light on my stiuation. i will be sure to come back to the site if i have any more questions or if i get off track and need a refresher on the things to do…Thank you

  • Leigh

    Foremost, let me express my appreciation to you, Diana for taking the time and efforts to writing such a descriptive and helpful article. Your article instills hope and a positive perspective in place of many negatives. I feel very fortunate to have stumbled upon your blog as I to am in a situation that is a bit worrisome for me.

    My boyfriend on the past six years (yes, six years… I always feel as though I have to explain that. He is just freshly divorced, he had an ex-wife who made it her priority to see that a divorce would not come easy, but rather difficult, time consuming and ridiculously expensive as she did not want to as she has said “my entitlements as military spouse to vanish” things didn’t go in her favor as the marriage only lasted two weeks before separation. Anyway…) My boyfriend is a Sailor turned Seabee and we have been through multiple brief debits and even a deployment together. Although, all of which was before we had two children and moved out of state several hundred miles from my home, family, friends career, and network, two years ago. Now, he is currently away for training and will not return for four months. And we are only eight days into this. I feel very silly and ridiculous admitting this, but I feel as though I’m losing it. Eight days and it feels like the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to face and there is an overwhelming amount of time left. I keep trying to rationalize this out as it’s only a four month separation and we’ve been through longer more than once and therefore shouldn’t be as hard as it was before and not to be so overdramatic.
    Either way, if I am being silly, my sanity owes you a debit of gratitude and my sincerest thanks.

  • Hillary

    WOW You really know what you are talking about!! My husband is gone right now and I am having a hard time with it.this is his 4th time going but our 1st with a child but just reading this helped me so much because I know I’m not alone.The part about how it feels before they go when you fight and then your sad….that was like I wrote it my self because it was so close to what we went through.Thank you so much for taking the time out to write this to help others like me.I will be sharing this with my other air forse wife friends.THANK YOU!!

  • Courtney Baker

    Thanks for the article, Diana. I’m getting ready for my first deployment as an Army wife, my husband is headed for Afghanistan in January. He packed his first bag last night, and I think that’s what’s causing it to really sink in for me right now. Last December when we got married, he told me he was going to get out of the Army. That all changed in April when he decided to extend for this deployment.. It’s always just been something we talk about, and hasn’t seemed like a reality until just now. I don’t know when we are going to get a definite date.. I almost just want it to come so that we can get it over with, and be done with it.

    It’s especially difficult because I am young, and just moved 1500 miles away from my family, and everyone I know, to be with my husband last January. And now, suddenly I am going to have to face up to facts and deal with being alone out here for a year. I’ve met some of the other wives on the base, but they are all drama and I really don’t want to get caught up in that. They also all seem to drink a lot, and that’s not something I want to be doing while my husband is gone.

    I know how to take care of myself.. I just don’t want to be alone, and I’m so afraid of something happening to him, or me. I lost my best friend overseas in Afghanistan in 2008 to a roadside bomb. So, I’m not spreading this story to the other wives, but it’s something I’ve had to cope with and live with, and now here is my husband, and my very best friend, headed for the same place. I don’t know what to do.. I guess just pray and try to keep busy, but I think too much. Thank you for this article, though, it has given me a bit of hope that I will be okay.

  • Sarah

    Thank you so much for bringing me back at least a small piece of my sanity. I have been a wreck since finding out my husband is deploying – it’s my first deployment and he is set to leave in January, and our 2nd child is due in 3 weeks. I have been scared, angry and upset, and feel guilty for it all. Thanks to you, I know that these are all normal and now have a glimpse of hope that I might do okay.

    I am still nervous and scared about being alone, and am not really sure how to handle the situation with my 3 year old daughter. She already knows that her daddy will be leaving, but I am not sure how to handle the situation with her. I intended on telling her later, but my husband slipped so now we are trying to assure her everything will be okay.

    Where exactly do I turn to for support? We just relocated to this base and I don’t know anyone or where anything is. I am a good 12+ hours away from any family, and I am not even sure how good of a support system they are regardless. I am worrying more each day how I will handle being alone with a newborn and my oldest for 7-9 months.

    Your article will serve as a reminder that I am not alone and that others have survived this all before. I am going to follow your words of advice and keep busy – that shouldn’t be too tough with 2 kids. Thank you again, and thank you for giving a place for me to vent. I am sure my entry may seem as a rant to some, but I do feel a bit better now that it’s all in black and white. Thank you thank you thank you!

  • sarah

    I have read yur article and some of the responses and it has been such a relief to know that what I am feeling is normal. I have been with my partner for over seven years and as he is in the TA I did not think he would ever see active service. Due to his work commitments we have not had a break together for three years as his holidays were taken up with training and now he is due to go I have been so angry and resentful, and felt so guilty afterwards. He has become very distant and even on his two week R&R he did not want to spend anytime at home prefering to go and see his friends, on the odd day he was at home he was edgy and snappy. Everyone around you is very sympathetic and when they are not in the situation they cannot fully appreciate it that part of you almost wants them to go so you can start to move forward and they cannot understand why I say he’s doing my head in instead of bursting into tears every five minutes. I completely underestimated the strain it puts on your relationship and the feelings that kinda take you by suprise. And I did not want to join any support groups because I felt that somehow as a single woman I did not have the right to complain when there are so many mothers with children to look after as well as coping with all this that I felt guilty about approaching them. Reading this article has now made me feel a little better and taught me a lesson in looking and asking for help when I need it!

  • Eirini Steiner

    My fiance has been deployed a bit more than two weeks. So far I’ve had a hell of a time adjusting to that. I think I’m a strong woman, but I’m still having grappling with his absence and trying to find some kind of a structure that I can adhere to. I miss his presence. I miss being able to just phone him whenever I want. I miss just simply to be able to go to him to where he lives or where he works and to spend time with him. I miss just simply getting regular text messages from him. I miss being able to do stuff with him. I miss easily discussing things with him.

    I also worry about his wellbeing. This, eventhough I know that he’s had good training. This also eventhough he is strong. I feel like a baby sometimes, but apparently that is not so uncommon or so strange to feel like that in these kinds of situations. I don’t want to pretend that I’m so rough and tough all the time. That is hogwash and pretending to be like that all the time will just not be good at all.

    I feel as if noone really understands me. My family has not been a help in this so far at all. They add to the frustration, anger and sadness. Sometimes. I sometimes also feel as if people are not taking me serious. I don’t know why this is so. Just because we are not married yet? What is this?! That just adds to all the negative and bad emotions. And it completelly isn’t helpful at all.

    I’ve been in the Army before and I have deployed before. I thought this would help me a great deal through all of this. Maybe I’m not aware that it does help, but I get the feeling it doesn’t. I knew I would miss him like crazy -eventhough I’m not crazy- and I tried to prepare myself mentally and emotionally. The truth is though, that it’s far more difficult than I ever thought.

    I live in a place where I don’t know any people close-by and I’m looking for work. That doesn’t help either. It’s wintertime and outdoors activity have have come to a minimum. I say to myself, just keep on going as much as you can. Keep on pressing on. The year will go by; slowly but surely. I know it is so, but there are moments when I just want to burst out crying or when I feel that I’m going crazy. Again, I’m fully aware that I’m not crazy.

    I also don’t know how to be or what to write about when I write to him. Sometimes I say to myself that maybe I shouldn’t mention the one or the other thing, since it might worry him or upset him. Should he be worried? I don’t want him to worry, but then he should know certain things. So, I get stuck in not knowing what to do or what to say. How am I as his future wife supposed to be? I don’t really know and I don’t want to make a mistake either.

    Then, as his fiancee I wish I were married to him already. It would make certain things much easier. It’s not easy. All of this is not easy at all. I said to myself I will come and deal with whatever comes my way to the best of my abilities and knowledge, eventhough only now I’m starting to feel how it is to have my fiance being deployed. It hurts sometimes, sometimes it angers me, sometimes it leaves me saddens me. I do miss him in so many ways. I guess only him and I do understand this. And I keep on pressing on.

  • Falon

    Eirini, I am going through the same thing as you on the other side of the world (Australia). My partner left a week ago and I’m such a wreck of emotions.

    I am a strong person, too (I thought), and I also grew up in the military so I knew what we were getting into when he joined. I think knowing about it is both helpful and detrimental. I’ve seen the horror stories and people who haven’t coped well, which leaves this tiny fear constantly in my gut. But I also have more understanding about what’s going on, which is reassuring I imagine.

    I thought it would be much easier than it is. I’ve been through other times apart with him and thought it would be the same — how wrong I was. The week leading up to him going I was a complete mess, not sleeping or eating, really confused about everything, forgiving him anything at all…all his annoying habits I suddenly didn’t mind one bit. I went through the memorising of his face, just in case, the crying on his chest while he was asleep so that he didn’t know and worry about me. And finally in the last day he was here I just broke and couldn’t hold my tears anymore, they’d come out every time I tried to speak.

    And then he was gone, and I cried in the car on the way home until there was nothing left to cry, and then I was numb. And that’s where I’ve been the last week, staring off in space, really quiet..the only time I’m not numb is when I’m angry, which is often. Not even at anything in particular…the guy that cut me off at the grocery store, the dog when he won’t stop crying to come inside, my son when he’s feeling like a chatterbox…everything except what I should be angry about, and then I’m just numb! It makes no sense at all.

    He’s called a couple of times and I haven’t known what to say, only to remember when I hang up and feel horrible that I’ve forgotten. Even though he’s already gone I know his world is so different from mine now, what can we possibly talk about that matters? I bought a journal to write in while he was away (writing is an outlet of mine), but I haven’t touched it…infact this now is the most writing or talking I’ve done! I sent him a care package already, but could only muster a tiny little note. I don’t know what to say at all…do I tell him I’m missing him so much that I’m not sleeping, that I’m drinking more than he normally would? No, of course I don’t…I don’t want to worry him. Do I tell him about my day when it seems so insignificant now? Why bother, I think.

    I’ve been reading and hearing so much advice on how I should be handling this. What I should be doing for his sake, and what I should be doing for mine. It just makes me so angry. As if I choose to feel like this? It’s ridiculous. If I had the capacity to get out there and find a new hobby right now don’t you think I’d be doing it? Obviously I know it’s unhealthy to sit around stewing, and don’t get me wrong..I get up and go to work, I force myself to go around and see friends. But I just feel miles away from anyone. I want someone to say to me at the end of the night when I’m falling asleep in front of the television but avoiding bed “come on, you’re tired, get in bed”…but that’s him that does that. How do I suddenly learn the one to do it? And what if I just don’t want to?

    I’m trying to count down the days, and at the start of each I’m both happy it’s one off the calendar, and worried about what mess of emotions it’s going to bring. Am I going to feel like I’m sleepwalking the entire time he’s away?

  • Mary

    Thank you for this. My boyfriend and I are both in the Navy and this helped me out a lot since we are stationed apart.

  • Nicole

    My boyfriend of a year and a half just left for his pre-deployment training from which he will leave to go to Afghanistan. I am having so much trouble thinking about how its only been a week and we still have so much time to go. Already it has been hard communicating with him and I am so scared of a lot of things! I scared to be alone, I am scared that our relationship will fall apart, I am scared that something terrible will happen to him. I feel like I’m crying all the time. I am constantly busy due to school and work and such but I feel like I think about him the whole time. I feel like a ghost! Everyone I know has no idea what I’m going through and while I appreciate their effort it makes me feel worse when they say “I understand.”

    I feel like I’m going crazy. Your article did help me realize that I am definitely not alone but its hard not to feel that way right now.

    I don’t know if anyone else has felt this but a lot of times I feel like even if I feel a little better that I shouldn’t feel better.

    Definitely needing some guidance and support.

  • Amanda

    Thank you so much for this. My fiance left yesterday and before he left told me that it was only going to be a short departure of 2 months for schooling and once he landed, shot me a text that said 6 months. I understand why he did but not how he did it! Im a mess and it sucks but i love him and this helped so much

  • Tiffany

    Dear Diana,

    Thank you so much for your informative article. My boyfriend and I have been together four months and now he will be gone on a tour to Bahrain for a year. We are both from Texas, and he had been in Mississippi. We met one night while he was visiting Houston and really hit it off. He is in the Civil Engineering Corp in the Navy and as far as I know he will be going to Bahrain as an IA. We have seen each other four times and talk and text all day everyday for four months. After the first month we decided to not date other people and I discussed with him what will happen when he leaves as I did not want to continue falling for him and then have him dump me before he left. He said that if all is still going well before he leaves that he would be willing to make it work. I just got back from four days in Mississippi on Sunday and that will be the last time I see him before he leaves on Dec. 1. Everything went very well and he really opened up to me a lot, which was surprising as he is very tough and does not verbally express his emotions well. While saying goodbye he told me that if he was capable of crying that he would be crying and that he was sick to his stomach and had butterflies in his stomach. He was also shaking and I have never seen him like this. We talked about us being faithful and he said that he feels he could be faithful to me no matter where he is, and I believe him because he is a very blunt and honest person (sometimes too blunt and honest, lol). I feel that he knows I will be faithful as I am a very loyal person and I am in love with him and have told him. I went through a very difficult situation a year and a half ago where I called off my wedding (to another man) one month prior to the wedding. I have casually dated people within this year but am very picky and have not had any connection with anyone until my boyfriend came into my life. He knows all of this and knows how much he means to me and is so amazing at showing me how much I mean to him. He has had two deployments before this tour but did not have a girlfriend at the time. We both said that we are willing to make it work with Skype, email, and letters. I am hoping that it will work since we started this relationship as long distance. The weird thing is that he was starting to act distant before I went to Mississippi this weekend and now is not texting or returning my texts the day after I returned home. I appreciate your article in regards to the informative information on them pulling away before they leave. Some of my military spouse friends told me months ago that this would happen, but I guess I was not prepared. He did say before I left that this was the easy part because he is still here and that we would continue to talk and text. I guess I am just worried that maybe he changed his mind on wanting to stay together but honestly I felt he was very sincere in his feelings towards me and wanting to make this work this year. But, like he said while I was there, “I have a lot of stuff to do before I leave and it is not always about you.” I do not feel he was trying to be mean but trying to let me know that he has a lot going on at the moment. I am just hoping that he is trying to distance himself from me before he leaves and everything will be fine. I have just been super sad and stressed out because I am wondering how it will be when he gets to Bahrain (in regards to when I will hear from him, etc.). Plus, it is freaking me out a bit that he is not in contact with me as we normally would be and that he did not return my messages yesterday (the day after I returned home from visiting him). He is still doing some normal things as he did text me on the long drive home to make sure I was ok and wanted to make sure I made it home safe. I guess what I am asking is if after four months do you think we can make this work? I love him more than anything (which I know is crazy to say after four months), but like I said before I rarely ever connect like this with anyone so I will do whatever it takes. Also, I am 33 years old and he is 26, but I do not feel that is relevant although some of my friends feel he is too young. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this as I know it is quite long.



  • LauR

    This article is wonderful! My boyfriend of a year just left for training in October and I’ve been lost without him. He’s leaving for Afghanistan soon but he’ll be home for christmas. I’m excited to see him in a few weeks, but it almost feels like a tease because I know he’ll have to leave again, and this time for a very long period of time. I haven’t been myself at all since he’s left, I work three jobs, and have felt almost like a zombie just going through the motions. This article gives me hope that I’ll be able to handle myself while he’s away and that things will get easier. Thanks for all of the tips!

  • shelbie

    I have been dating this guy for almost two months. He got discharged from the army in december but he just got called out for another deployment of four years. This is my first time dealing with a deployment. He said he will be home in no time but i am still scared. I Is there anything i can do to ease my mind until he comes home?

  • Destiny

    Thank you so much for this most. I have felt so incredibly alone. Especially recently. My fiance and I have been dating since we were in middle school. 6 years now, and we have always been inseperable. And we’ve rarely fought. He is in the Marine Corps. Has been for about a year now and he is leaving this weekend for his first deployment. And for the last 3 weeks or so, we have just fought constantly. Really hurtful, screaming fights. That last for like 10 hours at a time. It’s been really hard to work through. I knew that it must have something to do with our stress levels but after reading what you’ve put about pre-deployment grieving has made me feel slightly less alone. It makes sense though, it’s easier to let go of anything when you aren’t quite as vulnerable. And the anger feels almost as a shell. After every fight, we both break down and apologize. And I end up in tears. Our communication is worse than I’ve ever seen before. I love him more than I could ever begin to express.. and I just want to learn how to talk to him. And how he can talk to me. I want to be as supportive as possible without letting myself fall. I need help and honestly he’s all I have. I need a friend to talk to, I need guidance and reassurance. Please..

  • Sally

    Thank you thank you thank you…this has made me feel so normal! Very helpful