Sunday, February 16, 2014

Tips for surviving time away from your spouse

All of a sudden many of my friends are faced with long periods of time away from their spouses. Some are going through deployments that will stretch on for months while others are dealing with training that will last three weeks or more.

Nate and I have done our fair share of time apart and it's usually right around the time you really need to be together (thanks, Army). Let's see, we spent two months apart leading up to our wedding, spent about two months together and then he left for a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan - that was fun. And last year he went to California for training for a month while I was pregnant - also stressful. And there are the extra days apart here and there when he goes to the field or pulls staff duty and the list goes on and on. 

One thing I've come to realize is that it takes a special person to be married to the military. This job definitely weeds out the ones that aren't suited for this lifestyle (and you wonder why we have a high divorce rate), but the ones that are left are truly special. These are strong, capable, resilient, patient, caring men and women that keep the fires burning at home while our spouses "do what has to be done." But even the strongest of individuals has a bad day (I love a good ugly cry) so here are a few tips that helped me maintain my sanity (mostly) when my husband was gone.

Let it all out
It's completely normal and healthy to have a good ugly cry on occasion. The stress of being apart is tough and if you're like me, you'll feel loads better after a good cry (and probably a nap). Maybe you're more of a yeller. If so, call up your mom or your best friend and let it all out. Whatever you do, don't hold it all in. This will build resentment and when you have a chance to talk to your spouse, you want it to be positive (at least 80 percent of the time).

Get out of the house
It's easy to hibernate and get cozy on your couch while your spouse is away. Instead, get outside and breathe some fresh air. Go for a walk in the park, go to Target, go to the movies - just leave your house.  If you're faced with a long stretch of time, try to plan a couple of trips. It could be a weekend trip to see some friends nearby or a trip back home to see family. When Nate was in Afghanistan I was able to take a couple of trips with friends and able to fly back to the States for Christmas. Not only did the trips help my mental state, even the anticipation of going helped keep me motivated. Five more days. Three more days. One more sleep. Airport.

Find a battle buddy
It doesn't matter if your spouse is gone for a week or a year, something is bound to go wrong (thanks, Murphy). Before your spouse hits the road, go down your list of friends and family who live nearby and decide who you're going to call in an emergency situation. You probably won't be thinking clearly in a crisis, so it's better to have a name in mind going in. Side note - visualization is actually a helpful planning tool in general. If you play it out over and over again in your mind, you're more likely to make it happen in the event of an actual crisis. This is why I visualize what I would do if someone broke into the house or the smoke alarm were to go off. It's also important to know who you can call when you're having a bad day. Some are more empathetic than others and I always like to be coddled when I'm upset (hey, mom!).

Establish a routine
When Nate was in Afghanistan, I was working full-time so establishing a routine was easy. Sure, the weekends kind of sucked, but at least I had a plan five days a week. Now that we have E, I think it would be harder simply because I wouldn't have something planned every day. Instead, I think I would try to control mealtime, bedtime, playtime as much as I possibly could. Maybe you commit to going to a library program every Monday or to the gym each Thursday. Knowing what's coming is a huge relief when you're dealing with so many other unknowns.

Join a group (and the FRG)
If you don't have a big support system where you are, go out and make one. Join a local mom group or a cooking class. Join the area running team. It will give you more people to interact with, events to attend and a sense of belonging. I also recommend attending your unit's FRG meetings if you're military. This is a great way to stay informed about the unit and you definitely want to be the first to know when your spouse is finally coming home.

Set goals
Want to lose 15 pounds? This is the time to do it. You'll have extra time to go to the gym or you can spend your evening at home doing a workout video (I did this almost every day Nate was gone). It helps build up a routine and the release of endorphins make you feel good (and depression is easy to fall into). Or maybe you start taking college classes online or start training your dog. Whatever it is, make sure there's a definite end goal so when it's finished you can check that box and know that you've accomplished something.

Do your paperwork
This is really something you should do before deployment. Make sure all of your paperwork is done and you have a valid power of attorney. This will save you many headaches down the line because as I said before, Murphy will undoubtedly pay you a visit.

Find a new hobby
Being creative is a great way to relax when you're stressed. You could start painting or maybe you prefer to knit. Writing has always been an outlet for me. When my husband was gone I started a blog and wrote a post once a day. When his deployment was finished, a good friend of mine had my blog made into a book. Every time I see it on the bookshelf, it reminds me that I'm strong and capable...and awesome (hey, we all need to be reminded now and again).

Try not to judge others
This one is hard, but try to avoid conversations like this:
"My husband is going to San Francisco for work next week. What will I do with out him?"
"Psssh, my husband is gone for two months. Suck it up."
There's always going to be someone who can one-up you. My husband did 12 months so naturally yours did 15, right? This is also hard when you compare civilian jobs to military ones. For my non-military friends, spending a week apart really is difficult because it's so far out of their routine. Where a week for me would be a nuisance, but not the end of the world. It's important to have some perspective and not make someone feel small because you're feeling down. Try to be supportive. Hey, that's one person you can have dinner with for a week!

Time apart from your spouse sucks, but you can get through it. Most of the time, you'll come out on the other side and realize you're much stronger than you thought was possible. So embrace the suck and choose to make your time apart an opportunity to better yourself and make new friends. And don't worry; even if you want to spend your time watching TV (I seriously watched hours upon hours of trashy television) time stops for no one so whether it's 10 days or 10 months, you WILL get to the end.

Anyone care to share tips I may have left out??


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