Long distance—DON’T WANT THAT. That was my first reaction when I met Chris. I knew he was in the military, and sharing my life with someone who was planning to miss a lot of it of it wasn’t my idea of a good relationship. Isn’t experiencing life together the whole reason we pair off anyway?
That was the logic behind the big fat NOPE I gave Chris (my now-husband) when we first met in college a decade ago. He had already sold his soul to the (extremely romantic but eternally absent) Navy lifestyle. Sorry buddy.
“My brother found out the day before his wedding that his Army fiancé, freshly back from Afghanistan, was soon headed to Iraq. I can’t handle that crap,” I told Chris.
I graduated and moved away to a job covering the night cop beat at a Texas newspaper. It was interesting, but very lonely. A partially long distance marriage couldn’t be worse than that, right? So Chris and I got married.
By the time he finished flight training, I’d had two years together to worry about how awful deployments would be. Being active duty means moving a lot, and then the only person I knew—the whole reason I’d moved again—was leaving?! What was I going to do? Jobs, friends, classes—these things take time, and we headed to a post in Japan knowing he was shipping out soon after we got there. I knew I’d survive being left behind in a foreign country indefinitely, but even thinking about it left me disoriented. Ok, I’ll say it: I was terrified.
People’s ridiculous comments didn’t help. A friend back in America said to me shortly before we moved, “I don’t know how you’re going to do it! If I’m away from her for more than like 20 minutes I just fall to pieces!” This was followed by a big squeeze for his beloved. Please join me in an eye roll.
Surprisingly, our dreaded first deployment was…actually…not that bad. In fact, the vast majority of my anticipatory anxiety was totally unwarranted. I’d assumed people who said long separations weren’t really so terrible didn’t love their significant others. Turns out, they just have their own lives. And I did too (and do). I didn’t stop having fun just because my best friend was gone—I made new friends. I got new jobs. I traveled alone. And I had more time to blog and freelance because my house inexplicably stayed much, much cleaner.
Deployments and separations are nobody’s favorite, of course. But with seven deployments under my belt and my husband currently out on a boat who-knows-where, I’ve found a few tricks to get through the hardest parts. Here are some of mine. Be sure to add yours, too!
1. Identify the hardest parts of a separation and be mindful that they are the extreme worst—know that the rest of the time will cycle between highs and lows.
For me, the worst parts are the two or three days before he leaves, when I see the entire deployment looming ahead. Once he leaves, boom! We’ve begun the countdown to reunion (assuming we have any idea when he’s getting back)! The first hour, the first evening, the first weekend alone are hard. Sometimes the middle of a long separation has a unique depression to it, and often the last week feels the longest. Knowing those points are as bad as it gets takes away some of the sting.
2. Set a separation deadline
Setting a deadline means the goodbye doesn’t straggle on and on, smothering everyone with anxiety and grief. Band-Aid Theory, right?
3. Schedule something—a haircut, a lunch date, an assignment, work, whatever—for shortly after The Big Goodbye
That helps keep it short and sweet. I want him to know I’ve got it together when he leaves so he can totally focus on the mission at hand, not worry about what’s going on at home.
4. Make a plan for trouble spots
My trick for the first evening alone is to indulge in some judgment-free TV watching of something he would hate. While eating food he doesn’t like. Margaritas and a Burn Notice marathon? I’m not saying I’m glad you’re gone, honey, but since it’s inevitable we should make the best of it.
5. Focus on the short term when long term feels overwhelming
Weekly things to look forward to help a lot for a long separation. In Japan, several wives met for a wine night. Now that we have kids and live on the other side of the world we do weekly coffee.
6. Treat yourself
I have special foods I only get when he’s gone, like ethnic and vegetarian foods. It’s a mental counterbalance to keep from feeling sorry for myself.
7. Avoid those couples that survive on public displays of affection while you’re having a hard time being solo
Actually, consider avoiding them the rest of the time, too.
8. Celebrate milestones
If you know when the halfway point is, plan something celebratory. A trip, class, fancy lunch downtown, cultural activity. This time we’re trying the aquarium.
Nothing will help with unpredictably crappy times, like when you get rotten news and have no way to share it with the one person you want to talk to most. Or when their job is dangerous and you don’t know if everything’s ok.
However, staying focused on the short term and having a plan for rough spots can make deployments—or any separation—easier. In the end, it’s never as bad as I feared, and I’m glad I didn’t let a little separation anxiety get in the way of what’s become eight years of marriage and two astonishingly good-looking kiddos!