What I want to tell my civilian friends about deployment
Our number has finally come up again, which means we’re headed for another deployment. My milfolk friends all understand what this means for us. I will pull away to a degree to focus on my spouse more in an effort to drink in what time we have together. These moments are precious and will be a relationship reserve I draw from while my spouse is gone. It also means that there will be times when I get stressed out and need their support more than ever. Military spouses get the tidal ebb and flow of friendships with milfolk, because we have all lived it.
My civilian friends have had a harder time with the changes in me and my family as we prepare for deployment. I hope that maybe this post will help clarify some of those changes and help them understand where I am coming from as we move toward him leaving. So, my dear friends, this is what I would like to say:
1) Every deployment is different, but none of them are a cake walk. Sure, my spouse is not going to be running convoys in Afghanistan, but that does not mean that it’s just like having my spouse at home. So please don’t assume that just because my spouse isn’t a member of Seal Team 6, we’re on easy street. And if you do feel the need to make that assumption, please don’t say it. Every service member serves whether it’s front-line combat or not.
During deployment communication, contrary to the Apple Facetime Commercial, will not be a click away. Internet is unreliable and often crappy. It’s difficult to Skype or Facetime someone when the connection is so terrible you get garbled audio and no video. Email is also semi-reliable and sometimes there are communications black-outs. Military spouses may go weeks or more (ask a submariner’s wife about communication issues- Oi!) without contact with their partner.
Communication issues up the stress level of the relationship and can up even the most seasoned spouses’ anxiety for their service member’s safety. So while I am glad he isn’t doing some of the jobs my friends spouses have, deployment still sucks. Please don’t minimize an experience you haven’t had and don’t understand. It will make it harder for me to talk to you about what I feel later and that is isolating.
2) Ebb and flow in friendships is just part of military life. I told you up front I wouldn’t be as available for the next few months because he was getting these orders and I wanted to focus on my marriage a bit more ahead of deployment. This doesn’t mean you’re not important to me. You are. My family has to come first. I don’t want, if -god forbid- the worst should happen, to regret not spending more time with him. But he’ll be gone soon and then if you want, we can focus on you.
3) Military families are incredibly self-reliant, perhaps even to a fault. As a result, I am sometimes bad at asking for help when I need it. I’ve gotten so used to trying to function with one-too-many plates spinning that sometime I don’t realize when I am not doing a great job at it. Please don’t ask me “do I need help?” I am way too overwhelmed to spend the time analyzing all the things I need and what I could reasonably hand off to someone. It’s much better for you and for me if you offer specific help you’re comfortable with. If you ask could I use help with shoveling the driveway, I know it’s something you feel comfortable offering and whether or not it’s something I could use help with. Specific offers of help are a huge help in and of themselves. FYI, offering a bottle of wine and movie time with you is always a win in my book. Sometimes the hardest thing for me to do is to take a night off from keeping it all together.
4) No, I cannot tell you when he is leaving, where exactly he is, or when exactly he will be home. Operational security demands that even if I have more information I do not share it. This doesn’t mean I don’t trust you. The truth is all dates and locations change at least once, so I don’t take them too seriously until things actually happen.
5) I get that the whole deployment thing is a giant elephant in the room. You feel like you have to mention it, but you don’t know what to say. That’s honest. I get it. Once, not too terribly long ago, I didn’t know what to say either. You don’t have to say anything. Just be the same awesome friend you’ve always been and include me in all the reindeer shenanigans we’ve always done. That’s really enough for me. And if I need to talk and bring it up, please be there to listen. I know you can’t fix it and sometimes I will need to vent, just like you need to vent about your crazy boss or issues with your in-laws. Talking is how we cope with the stressors in our lives, even if they are different stressors.