As if it isn’t enough that soldiers risk their lives from our country, they also risk their marriages due to long separations and the stress that accompanies active military service. I’ve had requests from some service members for tips on keeping the home fires burning, as well as how to effectively reunite the family after a tour of duty. Thankfully, two in-depth interviews with exemplary military families helped shed some light on this topic. Any families enduring a long separation could use some of these tips.
Before the soldier leaves:
- Enlist the help of family, friends, church members and neighbors to help support the family while the soldier is away. Make a list of concrete ways your family will need help, from lawn or home maintenance to babysitting or grocery shopping.
- The spouse at home may need to learn to accept help, even when he or she hasn’t in the past. It helps to focus on the support and love rather on the negative circumstances of being separated from the spouse.
- Invite letters, care packages and prayers and provide simple guidelines that would be helpful for the soldier or unit.
- Give the immediate family plenty of alone time prior to the deployment.
While the soldier is away:
- Consider a blog to help keep family and friends updated on your own schedule. This prevents having to repeat updates on the soldier or unit (for the soldier and spouse at home) and keeps the soldier updated on the family.
- Remember phone calls can be inconvenient for one or both spouses. Plan a convenient time if phone calls are important.
- Play upbeat, fun music to keep the house from getting somber. Plan fun activities with friends or family.
- Use videoconferencing only if it makes sense for your family. For some spouses it is too painful. For young children, they may not understand why mommy or daddy is on the screen, but they can’t touch them.
- Focus on the positive aspects of your spouse and your life. Keep negative news at bay by turning off the news and keeping TVs out of the bedrooms.
- Keep precious reminders of loved ones close at hand—a special letter, a photo of each family member, perhaps a special piece of jewelry or memento.
- The traveling spouse may still be able to handle certain home responsibilities, such as banking, with online services.
- Young children who don’t have a concrete understanding of time could make a paper chain with a link for each day the soldier will be away. Invite them to send pictures and letters to their absent parent.
- Reach out to support groups or other spouses in similar circumstances.
When the soldier returns:
- Plan a welcome-home celebration to thank everyone who has offered support and to honor the soldier for his or her service.
- Be patient. Particularly when the soldier has been gone for a lengthy tour, the family has often adapted to his or her absence, and the soldier may no longer feel as if he or she fits in as before. The at-home spouse became the leader and took the role of two parents, so time to assimilate is needed. Give the immediate family space and time to sort this out. Children may also need time to sort through their emotions.
- Be sensitive to soldier’s sleep needs. The soldier has just returned from a different world and may be battling anxiety, nightmares, difficult sleep patterns or may awaken disoriented after having just returned.
- Express your gratitude and praise to the spouse who cared for the family as well as to the soldier who performed in the field.
- Stress can often bring a couple closer together. Use the experience as a catalyst for recognizing and appreciating what is truly important to you both.
Two in-depth military profiles will be shared in my upcoming book, From First Kiss to Lasting Bliss, Secrets of Successful Marriages. Contact me if you would like to stay updated on the book’s progress. Special thanks to all members of the military, single and married.