If you know anything about military life, you know it can lend itself to a lot of time away. We’ve been lucky that thus far in our relationship, my husband Daniel has never been deployed. But I can tell you that within the four and a half years we’ve been together, there have certainly been large chunks of time spent apart. This was the first Easter in three years, for example, that we will be able to spend together. And we are grateful for this, because it also happens to be the first Easter with our baby.
Daniel and I met as the result of a mail mix-up. My family and I had just moved to the area, and Daniel’s family lived two streets down. The new high school I was attending sent a welcome package that ended up in the hands of Daniel’s mom. At the time, his youngest brother attended the same school, and we can only assume the mailman made an honest mistake. So our moms swapped mail, met for coffee and a year later I was offered a summer job from his dad. Daniel and I finally met, and the rest is history!
Everyone’s experience with marriage is different, and it’s no different for couples in the military, with maybe some added roadblocks. And a few moves. Daniel and I have been apart at critical times in our relationship: the summer we started dating, he was away for six weeks, with limited communication aside from a few short letters here and there. A few months before our wedding he was sent across the country. He was thankfully able to come back for our wedding and a five-day honeymoon, but we were separated soon after since I had to finish up my degree.
If your other half is in the military, distance and time apart is commonplace. Planning a wedding while apart, with sometimes little to no communication, is not the best scenario, but these are the types of struggles military families--and families-to-be--work through. We had to prepare for marriage while apart, and to navigate our newfound status as husband and wife in the same way. All difficult, but not impossible.
Here are a few things that helped us:
I know this comes up on every relationship advice listicle ever. But no matter how much we read about it, it’s still not always put into practice. Communication is key in every relationship, but its importance cannot be emphasized enough—especially in relationships involving stressors beyond your control, such as inconsistent schedules and extended time apart. Military life lends itself to all these things.
If you don’t put effort into talking to your spouse on a daily basis, or however often you’re able while he or she’s away, about even everyday occurrences, things can quickly deteriorate and you’ll end up with a pile of misunderstandings and frustrations. Try sharing even mundane moments with your spouse. For example, I usually text Daniel whenever I leave the house to go to the grocery store, and text him again once I am back home. Not that it’s necessary for him to know exactly when I go to the store, but it often results in further conversation about our days that wouldn’t come about otherwise. Daniel does the same for me whenever he goes out, which helps keep my day running smoothly and shows me that he's thinking of me and being considerate of my time.
You don’t have to fight.
This is something that has helped our marriage immensely. We have never fought. Please don’t misunderstand and think that we don’t ever disagree! We do. But we have never allowed our differences to escalate into a fight, despite numerous people telling us throughout our marriage prep that “You need to fight! It’s unhealthy if you don’t.”
Every couple has different personalities, but it’s not that we don't fight because we aren't confrontational. My husband and I both have tempers (our families can tell you that). The reason we don’t fight is because our goal is always to control immediate emotional responses, not to suppress our thoughts or feelings--that would be useless, and would achieve the opposite effect. Many times we do this by acknowledging the situation and allowing each other time and space before continuing the conversation.
I want to be extremely clear about this: we would never have made it through two and a half years of dating and more than two years of marriage if we were were in the habit of ignoring our thoughts and feelings simply in favor of not fighting. There would have soon been an explosion.
Don’t talk badly about your spouse.
This is a favorite piece of advice from my mom. It helps in so many ways. Because of Daniel being in the military, most of our time spent apart has been both involuntary and with limited communication. If you have to spend time away from your husband or wife, the tension only increases when you vent your frustrations to your friend or family member about every little annoying thing that your spouse does.
Instead, spend your time away from each other reflecting on your marriage and thinking of ways to make the most of your time together, while serving one another. This advice most definitely applies even when your spouse is not away. It gives your thoughts room to breathe before you choose whether or not to voice them.
Make sure your spouse has a good connection with your children.
My grandmother should be given an award for the amount of patience and kindness she has managed to keep after years and years of being married to a military man (if you haven’t deduced this already, our family is going 3 generations strong in making military families). In any case, what this point means is don’t pass off the punishments to the parent the kids rarely see. Don’t make them the bad guy. Make time for children to bond with their parent. After my grandfather came back from a long time away in Okinawa, he and my grandmother spent two days together to reconnect while their children were looked after by family friends. After they got back home, they set up a candlelit dinner for the two older children to enjoy time with their dad, without the littler ones. The day after, the littles got the same chance.
Always do date night.
Well…whenever you can anyway. Why wouldn’t you want to? Date night refreshes your relationship, especially when you have children. It gives you the chance to communicate in a different setting than your usual day-to-day, gives you something to look forward to together, and will likely lead to joyful conversations about past dates.
Through all of our experiences Daniel and I have repeatedly learned the lesson that we should always trust in God’s plan and timing. This is especially important when it comes to all of the seemingly ill-timed training away from home or possibility of upcoming deployments. These situations are the best reminder of this fact: you have little to do with what happens in your life, but you have everything to do with how you deal with it.
Feeling like you have no control over your life or plans comes often in the military, and the only solution is to trust.
Trust God and trust your spouse. Lean on each other, even while you are apart. Maintain loving and encouraging communication when it's possible. When it isn’t, pray for each other and your marriage.
Photos by Spiering Photography.
About the Author: Sophie Wheeler is a wife, mother and artist. She grew up in a military family and as a result has lived in five different countries: the United States, Panama, Spain, Argentina and Venezuela. After settling back in the U.S. and finishing high school, she graduated from George Mason University with a BFA in Arts and Visual Technology. She now runs The Anchor Theory, a freelance graphic design and illustration business. She lives with her husband, Daniel, and their 8-month-old son in North Carolina.