When Brian and I married in the summer of 1990 he had been in the Navy for almost three years and was stationed at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. We were very young, he was 20 and I was 18. The first two and a half years were amazing. We lived in Hawaii and although we didn’t have much we had each other and were living in paradise. At this point, Navy life was great! We were together every day and had many adventures exploring the island of Oahu. We were young, in love and were connected.
A lot change in the February 1992 when we transferred to San Diego, California. Brian was stationed on the USS Kitty Hawk and within the first few months of our arrival in San Diego he was underway frequently. His first six-month WestPac (Western Pacific Cruise) was in November, which meant six months of separation, and was just in time for the holidays. The first year of his assignment was tough. I had just turned 20, and up to that point, never lived alone in my life. Our life of living in paradise and having adventures every day had ended…at least for a season. Brian was gone more than he was home and we were faced with learning how to be married and separated all at the same time. And we had to figure out how we were going to stay connected while he was away. It was hard! We each had emotions and feelings that were difficult to express and we argued often, especially around the time he was to deploy. At times it would get kind of ugly and although we loved each other it was difficult to express how we were both feeling.
The weeks leading up to Brian’s first six-month WestPac were rough. It was the little things that would cause one of us to become irritated or frustrated with one another. Then one day we decided to not count the days to his deployment and focus on the present. We knew that the day was coming but when we focused on the day we missed out on the time we had with each other. That one small adjustment in our thinking transformed the rest of our 23-year military career.
When we took the focus off how few days we had left and focused on the present our frustrations were less. He wasn’t worried about my safety or security while he was gone and I wasn’t worried about how many days it would be before I would hear from him or if he was going to be safe and come home.
Remember, this was 1992 and we didn’t have the Internet or email so it would sometimes be weeks before we would get mail from each other and sometimes I’d get a phone call before a letter ever arrived. Staying connected had its challenges. I wrote Brian every day (sometimes twice a day) and numbered every envelope. Numbering the letters helped so when the ship had a mail call and he got a bunch of letters at once he would be able to read them in order. Mail was one way for us to stay connected. Even after the Internet and email advances in the latter part of our career, I still wrote letter and numbered them. There is just something special about getting a letter that is hand written; it is way more personal.
Five things we learned in the early years of our military career helped us stay connected for the remaining years.
- Trust God. Our trust in God and staying connected to Him helped us stay connected to each other. It’s hard to trust God when we don’t know the future; especially when your spouse is getting ready to leave for a long period of time. Our trust in God is what helped us through some of the longest separations in Brian’s military career. Putting your faith in Him is the only way we found that helped us through countless deployments and long-term separations. (Trust in God and lean not on your own understanding.)
- Focus on the present. Too often we focused on the future, which caused us to miss out on the present. When we focused on the future, worry, anxiety, frustration, and fear would rob us of the time we had together. Focusing on the future would cause us to disconnect from each other in order to not feel the pain of the upcoming separation. Staying focused on the present kept us connected.
- Nix counting the days. Counting days until deployment brings anxiety. Take each day as it comes. Find ways to do meaningful things for each other that builds memories.
- Do your best to refrain from talking about the “what ifs”. What if this happens, or what if that happens. Most of the “what ifs” don’t even come to fruition and talking about the unknown is sure to create anxiety in both of you (and if you have children it will create some fear in them as well). No one knows the future…only God. So trust God for the future. He knows what tomorrow holds.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. And when I say communicate, I mean communicate regularly and as much as possible with a healthy filter. We learned that sometimes it was not the best thing to communicate about issues or concerns the other spouse can do nothing about from thousands of miles away. For example, I wouldn’t communicate about something that broke because that would cause Brian to want to “fix it” and he couldn’t. I would tell him after the fact that everything turned out ok. The key is to understand what and when something needs to be communicated, and not every thing needs to be talked about at the moment it happens. Learning to communicate well is an on going process so if you don’t get it down right away, keep working at it…the journey will produce fruit.
Military life is not easy, especially in today’s world and with the increasing number and frequency of deployments. Finding your groove or your special way of staying connected is critical. Brian and I have had our ups and downs but we have remained committed to staying connected—even now that he is retired.
The time and commitment you put into staying connected is well worth every struggle, tear, joy and laughter. I hope these five simple ideas for staying connected will benefit you on your journey.