When Military Marriage Is a Long Distance Relationship

Wed, Jun 08, 2016 @ 08:06 AM Dawn M. Smith Military Life

I’ve been asked to share advice and experience relatable to long distance military marriages, because the vast majority of my 18-year marriage has been precisely that. I should be an expert by any calculation, but I have struggled with what to share with readers to make separation happier because there isn’t a simple checklist to follow. It’s really just trial and error.

Is this post a warning to current military fiancés to get out now while you can because look what can happen to you, or just observations about living a military life primarily without a spouse in the house?

I don’t know, exactly. But this is my story. 

A Long-Distance Marriage

Our long distance marriage is really the only type of marriage I know. The first year was solidified with emails and occasional phone calls (we had to use pre-paid phone cards!) incurred by a year-long solo trip to Korea. Next were months of separation for training, school, and regular TDYs. As a new bride, I was already cranky from government interference in my young marriage. Not to mention the less than stellar duty stations. The idea of trying to start a career was laughable given our unfortunate geography. 

These extended absences were all pre 9/11, and we all know what happened after that. Game on: Years of “official deployments” sprinkled with mini deployments; unexpected, yet slightly expected, prolonged deployment cycles; more training; and more TDYs. Dozens of trips to the desert and beyond have brought us to our latest separation, geo bachelor style. 

I have lived alone for many months that, linked together, would equal several years. I have lived alone with a toddler and I have lived mostly alone through this latest geographical separation with an elementary school child and I have to say each scenario is hard for different reasons. Some are obvious, like mommy/baby days that are endless and filled by a battery of baby liquids; and some are less pronounced, like the drudgery of Sunday night trash roundup for Monday morning collection.

Personality Traits Helpful for Coping with a Long-Distance Marriage

Some people manage with faith, family, nose to the grindstone studying, or chasing a career dream. For others, it’s a combo of all the listed above. In my humble opinion, however, I think there are personality traits that help military spouses cope throughout their long distance relationships. The more adept you are at accessing and cultivating each one, the better the chances for a successful long distance marriage become. 

Independence

You’ll go to weddings, birthday parties, and vacations without your spouse. Learning to adapt to solo endeavors instantly adds maturity and broadens life skills in many ways. Learning to haul a car seat and a three-year-old to the airport or how to file an accident report are usually mastered by the good old sink or swim mentality. Too many great and awful things will pass by if you don’t take the chance to go it alone. Although you’ll think you want those awful things to pass by, they will help you to be prepared in the future.  

Resourcefulness/Creativity

Creativity doesn’t necessarily mean writing poetry, drawing, or throwing clay, although those will fill the time and/or pay the bills, but I also am referring to problem solving in potentially unique ways.

A rental we lived in literally had the brown, wood paneling in the dining room. I absolutely could not stand it and during a deployment, I learned everything there was to know about how to paint it, over and over again. Martha Stewart and I couldn’t have been any tighter if had I actually met her. Previous to that, I had zero experience painting anything.

I learned early on that living in an undesirable city will put your resourcefulness to the test. I figured, the residents-on-purpose were there for a reason and set out to figure out why. Themed festivals and an art house theatre on a gentrifying main street proved to be hidden gems I wouldn’t have known about if I didn’t read local papers.

Adaptability to Solitude

Alone time will be inevitable, and it's best to learn to enjoy and actually savor the time because a lot of good things can come from positive introspection. The earlier you can become aware of what makes you tick and tock, the better you’ll be at communicating with your spouse. You knowing you is one of the best things a person can do for their marriage.

You Won’t Know What You Are Getting Into

There will be a time when a well-meaning person in your life (or perhaps an ill-meaning person), after hearing about yet another deployment or TDY, will utter this ignorant statement: “Well, you knew what you were getting into.”

My short answer is No I didn’t, and You are welcome.

The long, slightly sarcastic answer is this. First, and most unfortunately, my psychic abilities ceased around first grade, so I didn’t know exactly what my life would be like. Secondly, I would appreciate any gratitude, because if the exact details were laid out in front of some military members and spouses, we surely would take the time to rethink the lifestyle and a nationwide draft would likely ensue.

Kidding aside, I do wonder if other spouses of dangerous professions are vexed by the same statement. I have a feeling that the majority of police and firefighters, just like the military, would go to their hazardous and unpredictable jobs every day and leave a spouse behind without knowing what they were getting into simply because there was a calling in their heart and soul to do so.

So it seems this post has become a version of What to Expect When You Are Living a Long Distance Marriage for those new or about to be new to the military lifestyle. The problem is and always will be the unknowns of perspective and personality.

Some of us roll with the proverbial punches and others of us will fight to make sense of a non-sensible situation.

Either way, your long distance military marriage is yours to care for and protect during the days spent apart by controlling the only outcome you can: how you react to the separation. Which, unfortunately, takes time and repeat deployments to begin to master.

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