Being apart from your “person” is hard. Let’s just get the obvious out of the way. In no way do I want to minimize anyone’s separation in a long distance relationship; it’s all hard. But some situations can make being far apart from your loved one feel like an extra-painful kick to the gut.
Understanding some of the factors that can make being apart especially difficult may help you give yourself extra grace and seek out extra support during these times. So, today, let’s look at this most uplifting of topics. What makes time apart particularly hard? Are their ways to minimize unnecessary hardship? How do you cope?
My pilot and I have been doing deployments and other military-related separations for nearly 10 years now. We have two young children aged 1 and 4. Sometimes it does feel fairly easy. I find a rhythm that works for the kids and me, and he’s back before we know it. Yay! And sometimes—ok, a lot of the time lately—I’m left wondering what else could possibly go wrong. Wow, I just invited Murphy’s Law into our next deployment, didn’t I?
Here are some things that make being apart especially difficult for me…
Just moved and now you’re all alone? Moving is more stressful than many people realize, and, unfortunately, moving and being apart often come hand-in-hand when your loved one is in the military.
So what helps? Being alone can make it more difficult to find your stride in a new area, but it can also be motivating. Getting the house unpacked while you wait to hear back from the jobs you applied for counts as multi-tasking, right? Set small goals related to finding your way around, exploring your new digs, and finding other newcomers who need a friend like you. Make an effort to join the spouse groups in your command or area. Does your neighborhood have a playgroup? Joining a Bible study is another way to meet people, and childcare is often provided. Celebrate progress by treating yourself.
2. Uncertainty About the Future Makes it Harder
The first time I was pregnant, a natural disaster caused my husband and me to end up on separate continents unsure of when we’d see each other next. I was unsure of whether I’d return to our home before our son was born. I was unsure of everything.
When our second child arrived, we had just moved (see #1) and my husband was at sea until the week she was born. I wasn’t sure he would be able to be there for her birth, and the logistics of trying to find a babysitter and someone to take me to the hospital just in case my husband wasn’t home in time was stressful.
So, what helps? This is where you have to suck it up and ask for help. Family members helped. And you know what? A great way to get to know your neighbors when you move in is saying, “In case my water breaks at 3am, can I bring my son over so I can take a cab to the hospital?” (Thankfully, it did not come to that). This is a situation where prior planning can go a long way toward relieving anxiety and easing your overall load. I saved taxi cab contact info into my phone, mapped out multiple routes to the hospital—even hashed out extreme worst-case scenarios, best-case scenarios, and everything in-between. That helped me mentally prepare and feel like I had as many bases covered as possible.
3. Having a Death in the Family/Loss/Newborn/Potty Training/Big Change/Being Pregnant/Illness Makes it Harder
Doing life can be hard anyway. That’s part of why we want a partner: to share the highs and the lows. The lows feel extra low when you’re alone. Being up all night with a newborn, with no relief in sight, is just hard. Separations after a major surgery are just hard. What’s the point of “in sickness and in health” if your other half is GONE for the sickness?! Potty training is awful, and doing it along is hard.
So, what helps? The only thing that makes it better is time, and trying to keep perspective. A crappy time alone would probably still be crappy with your spouse. Get counseling if you need it. Paying a babysitter to come feed your kids so you can have a solitary walk or run errands alone could be the best investment in your mental health. Call on family if they’re available. And trust that the difficult time you are weathering now will help you make the next separation a little bit better.
4. Being Inflexible Makes it Harder
Planning around the military can make you crazy. We tried to plan having both of our kids during times my husband would be home. But last minute changes for our next duty station and a new deployment schedule—not to mention the unexpectedly long time it took us to get pregnant again—put us having a baby with no idea where my husband would be.
So, what helps? Deep breath. Do your best. Try picturing a point in the future—say, a year. “A year from now, all these uncertainties will be known. Even if it doesn’t go as I plan, I’ll have a new plan by then.” Thinking through it can give you confidence. And ultimately, the best way to prepare for the tough spots is to trust that you really can handle it when it all hits the fan.
5. It’s Harder When the Worst is Yet to Come
When I “married into the Navy” I knew I’d have to deal with deployments. Deployment separations are hard, but here is what caught me by surprise: The ship is gone weeks and months at a time before the deployment actually starts! Knowing that the hardest part (deployment) hasn’t even started—and it’s already hard—can feel very defeating. The same holds true when you find the relationship landscape looking bleak and realize the deployment or separation isn’t even at the halfway point. Despair.
So, what helps? I have to force myself to stop extrapolating the negatives. A rough patch early on does not mean the entire separation will be exactly this hard or harder. The challenges will be interspersed with “finding your stride.” Sometimes I fail to set reward milestones for shorter separations like I do for deployments, and that’s a mistake. Draw yourself a road map of encouragement: tonight I’ll give the kids chicken nuggets and we’ll watch a movie. This weekend we’ll go to the zoo with friends. Next week we have (fill in the blank) to look forward to. Extrapolate the positive and before you know it, you’ll be in the home stretch.