Like many other Marines, my husband has spent the better part of the past 11 years away from home. That’s 6 ½ years deployed, away for training, on temporary duty trips, or as a geographic-bachelor. While we didn’t know 11 years ago how frequently we were going to be apart, we did recognize that what had been normal no longer was and we were going to need to find different ways to connect with each other every day.
This idea of staying part of each other’s daily life helped us to establish a few methods of keeping focused on the important stuff. This means that each day we do something to enhance ourselves or our family in a way that promotes our collective strength over time. Some of these things involve communication, some of these things involve action, and some of these things just involve maintaining a mindset that keeps everything in perspective. We know that there are going to be days or weeks when direct communication is impossible, but even in those days we can still be working together on our marriage and family so that when we are physically together again we won’t feel far apart.
Following is our Top 20 list of things that we do to stay connected through the everyday:
- It is what it is. Accept the nature of the separation. Don’t get angry with it or with each other because of it. This time is temporary, while there may be defining moments of your lives during this period, your family is forever.
- Maintain a good daily routine. Establishing a pattern of activities that occur roughly around the same time each day helps everyone to know what is happening or expected. This is terrific during the separation but also very helpful when reunited because it allows the service member to slip back into a known set of events.
- Say “I Love You.” Say it frequently and clearly. This is not filler – this is an affirmation of your feelings for each other.
- Share something about your day. It might be a joke, it might be a rundown of all the things the baby did, it might be a rehash of the latest and greatest menu options in the chow hall. So long as it is honest and important to you and your experience then it is worth sharing.
- Concentrate on what your spouse is sharing with you. You might not understand its importance now, but when you are together again and able to interact directly remembering those details will matter.
- Share “Daddy Stories” with the kids. What adventures did Daddy go on today? What did we do with Daddy when he was home? Using pictures that Daddy has sent home or that were taken when he was here, talk about Daddy: who he is; what he does; how he feels; and other details that your kids can latch onto to get to know Daddy even if he isn’t here right now.
- Read with Daddy. Record stories of Daddy reading books to the kids so they always have a way to see and hear him doing something special just for them. United Through Reading is available through many unit Commanders via the Chaplains and FROs and at many global USO locations (including some forward operating bases.)
Cuddle with Daddy. Sometimes kids just need a tangible physical connection. Use Daddy Dolls, blankets, or pillowcases that have Daddy’s picture printed on them to get a few snuggles when extra reassurance is necessary.
- Go on a “date”. Set up times to call or video chat. Get yourself ready as if you are really going out and have a special conversation that you would normally reserve for when you are courting.
- Don’t compete with each other. The idea that one person is working more or has it harder devalues the work or experience of the other.
- Vary your communication methods. As with most things, using the same method all the time can get stale so switch things up. Maybe you want to use email to recap most of the day but leave out some funny stories so you have something to say over the phone. Plan video chats when the kids are awake and available so they can see and hear Daddy. And there is no substitution for a letter that you can hold and carry with you and reread no matter where you are or how much bandwidth or battery is available.
- Look at pictures. Photo albums, stuff in your photo library, pictures preserved in a Ziploc baggie… Seeing each other and remembering all of the things that you have done together really does help your heart stay connected.
- Share family meals. Set up the computer, tablet, or phone at the table and eat with each other. If planned in advance you can even arrange to be eating the same type of meal. Having Daddy eat with the family, even when he is on the computer, helps everyone to remember what normal is.
- Talk about the boring stuff. Family finances, new orders, health issues, child discipline, etc. are tedious and boring and take up time that you would rather use talking about lighter subjects. But they are important beyond the moment and being on the same page helps ensure continuity when you are together again.
- Don’t make big decisions alone – just because you are physically apart now doesn’t mean that the other person doesn’t have a vested interest in or isn’t interested in what’s going on.
- Appreciate each other.
- Let the kids have their own time with Daddy. They are experiencing the separation too and need their own time to connect. A special call just for one child goes the distance to demonstrate that Daddy really loves them too.
- Be cute. Send or stage thoughtful gifts for each other like a deck of cards that shows “52 reasons I love you” or an “inspiration jar” full of motivational quotes.
- Meditate. Pray. Spend time every day in a quiet reflective state. Be honest with yourself so you can be honest with everyone else.
- Grow together. You will certainly learn new things and have new experiences independent of each other. If you hide these or keep them from each other you only stunt your relationship. Share who you are and who you are growing into so you can both enjoy the ride.