This post is part three of the series: How To Keep Your Marriage Strong When You Never See Your Spouse.
I’m so excited for you readers. You are about to read some excellent writing with some even better advice from my good friend Andrea. I grew up with Andrea (I’m trying really hard not to cave into my temptation to post an embarrassing picture of us circa 1999). She’s witty, she’s smart and she’s well-versed in the ways of bonding with a husband who is away a lot. Get excited readers. Get excited. This is gonna be good. – Celeste
The reality: I don’t know how to fix my hair. I married a pilot in the military. We live in the kind of towns that you are grateful for when you are on a road trip and you took a wrong turn and you really have to go to the bathroom and please let there be a town somewhere in the middle of this desolation! (I actually like the towns, but they are a good 2-3 hours to Target, airports, etc.) At best, we are a two day’s drive from family. We have lived on base housing up until now, and they don’t allow goats, horses, chickens, or tree houses. My husband is my best friend, and a fantastic father. He works hard, but his work day frequently lasts 10-14 hours, often at weird times of the day (4 pm to 3 am?) and sometimes travels on weekends. We have lucked out so far and avoided any deployments, but they will begin this year, with him being gone on average 3-6 months a year.
We are currently in limbo, as my husband is at a 4-5 month training. This training came after a move from one town, but before the move to the next, so right now my three sometimes decently-behaved children and I live with my parents, about 15 hours away from my husband. He doesn’t get any leave during this training, and my son is in school, so we just don’t see each other.
Here’s the thing though: we are happy.
I miss my husband. I really do. My kids miss their dad, and it breaks my heart when they ask for him. If I let myself think about it too long, I’ll end up in a pile of snot-covered tissues, eating a bag of chocolate chips, listening to playlists people put together on YouTube called 100 Best Love Songs of All Time.
I really, really miss him. But while there is definitely a time for just being sad, I don’t want to spend my time like that. And he really doesn’t want to talk to that hot mess every time he calls. I know I don’t want to talk to a blubbery fool every time I pick up the phone.
Here are some things that have helped us:
Be intentional about your relationship.
If you aren’t mindful of it every day, the relationship will weaken bit by bit. You have to work a bit harder to find ways to build the relationship, but you got this! Of everything you have in your life, wouldn’t you say your relationship is worth fighting to keep? Yes. The answer is OF COURSE! So think about it. Make a plan for how you are going to work on your relationship.
Use the time apart to help you be a better spouse.
Whether you are apart for weeks at a time, or one of you works long hours, think of ways you can improve as a spouse, and work on it! Jonathan and I like to ask each other for ways we can improve. We try to set goals together, so we are still working towards something together, even if we never see each other.
You need to still live your lives, today, now. Not “when we live closer to family…” or “when we live next to a restaurant worth eating at…” or “when I can finally take that luxurious trip to Afghanistan.” Nope. Today. Where you are, with what you have.
My husband was in pilot training in our first year in the military. This means 12 hour days, five days a week, with 2-4 hours of studying a day, and more on the weekend. And if you fail, you could be kicked out of the military. We put off camping and hiking trips, telling ourselves, “Things will be better when he’s done with pilot training.” Guess what? When we were done with pilot training, he became an instructor, and worked 12-14 hour days, five days a week, and this time, he often had to go on trips on the weekends. Also, we had another baby. And then another one. And a foster baby somewhere in there.
We found ourselves wishing we had done more and been more contented “back when…” We learned our lesson in waiting for life to be perfect before enjoying it. Those years of 12-14 hour days were hard. Dang hard. But there was plenty of joy to be found in them. So find ways to put happiness in your life today.
Respect each other’s schedules and routines.
This is especially important if you have kids. I have heard this from several couples, and I totally agree. If you are the one at home, remember that your spouse has responsibilities where he is. Just because he can’t talk RIGHT NOW doesn’t mean he doesn’t care about you. It just means he has a job to do. If you are the spouse away from home, know that you are loved and missed and respected.
I can’t tell you how many times my husband has called, and I just sat down to eat, or my sister had just come over, or the kids are sitting on the dog again, and I have to go. Or he calls to talk to the kids, but I just got them in bed. We still love him. We still want to talk to him. But we have to maintain some order in our lives. Having this understanding helps to maintain respect between the two of us. I know that he values me and my time and goals, and he knows I value those for him as well.
Lots! Phone calls and video chats are great. So, so, so awesome. Do them when you can. They don’t work too well for us. My kids are pretty young, and video chats with them are mostly spent trying to keep them in the room, or keep them from touching the computer/phone. Our most common time to call on the phone is between 4-8 pm. Do you know what the hours of 4-8 pm are like? I’ll tell you. They are crazy! This is the time of day when everyone (including myself) is tired, irritable, and there are usually half a dozen things going on.
I wish I could say that our daily phone calls are magical and wonderful and that chick flicks could be written based on our conversations. But let’s just say that the Andrea that Jonathan gets on the phone during those hours is not the Andrea his dreams are made of. After 8 pm, I’m just tired. And honestly, my kids frequently don’t fall asleep until 10 or 11 anyway, so there is really not a great time we can always plan on to talk.
Note: One of the most meaningful things my husband tells me is that I am doing a good job. Can I tell you how much it means to me when he tells me I am a good mother, even after listening to me hollering at the kids or just generally being exasperated? Words of encouragement are sooooo important.
Watch out for feelings of guilt and resentment.
These two sneaky vices are tricky. In one day (let’s be honest, one hour!) I can go from feeling guilty that I get to be the one who stays home and see the kids every day while he has to be away, sleeping in a gloomy dorm, working really hard, to feeling resentful that he gets to have peace and quiet every day and have time to exercise and, and, and… It’s ugly stuff, and there is no room for it in your relationship. Understand that there are pros and cons for both of you, whether you are the one away or at home, and leave it at that.
Recognize that it is HARD to be apart!
Relationships take work when you are together, but when you are apart? Yeesh. Somehow, allowing myself to say “this is HARD!” helps me cope better. Sometimes I tell myself that so-and-so’s husband was deployed for a year and he wasn’t able to make it home for the birth of their baby! I should be able to deal with a measly three months. Or at least he is in the states and I can talk to him… While these statements might be true, they generally don’t actually help me out. They just make me feel guilty. So. Tell yourself that this is hard, but then tell yourself that you can do it.
Find things to do together.
Jonathan and I like to set goals to work towards together. We’ve set goals to exercise, read certain books, study the scriptures, etc. I’ll be honest, it never works out the way we hope (he usually reaches the goals and I usually have really good intentions.) But it’s fun to have something we are both working on…or thinking about working on. There are lots of sites that let you play games against friends (ranging from checkers to Settlers of Catan.) You have to get creative, but you can still find things to do together.
Sometimes Jonathan calls me at a time when I am…not at my best. Since we usually talk in the evenings, depending on the day, I get to be quite frazzled from all the crazy of the day. And sometimes I am short with that good man. Or the connection will be bad and we are both short on patience and the conversation ends on a bad note. We have to remind ourselves that usually if we had a conversation like that, we would still have lots more together time to work it out or get over it. When your total interaction time for a day is under 20 minutes, sometimes those little tense moments feel like they are a much bigger deal than they are. It’s alright. Apologize if needed, and move on.
Physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Do what you’ve got to do to be healthy. When Jonathan is gone, I tend to eat like a college freshman boy. Um, I don’t recommend it. Eat right. Get the sleep you need. Make time for yourself to do something you enjoy. Pray. Pray lots and lots. When you aren’t taking care of yourself, you aren’t able to take care of your relationship. So get some rest. Take a class. Exercise. Go out with friends. Swap babysitting so you have a break sometimes. ACCEPT HELP. Hello, if you need help with kids or the house or with just not being alone, and someone offers that, this is no time to be bashful. If you won’t do it for you, do it for your spouse. You know they are praying for you.
There are so many more things I could say about this, but I have a feeling that this is kind of like getting parenting advice: what works for one family won’t work for another. And if you ask me next year, once I’m a couple deployments into this madness, I might have totally different answers! I think the most helpful thing for me has just been to try my darndest to make the best of things. I hope someday he is home more, and that we have goats and chickens (and that I know how to take care of them) but I don’t want to miss out on these years just because they are less than ideal.