Everyone knows that deployments are difficult. Any time you have to spend apart from your service member is bound to be lonely and at times frustrating. But here’s a dirty little secret that is not often discussed in the military community: the time leading up to deployment is often worse than the deployment itself! Pre-deployment relationship problems are common for military couples.
I’ve been through it seven times now. My husband has done seven different deployments during our time together. Most were combat, two were not. They were spread out over his military career, so I went from being the girlfriend to being married and mother of four kids during his most recent deployment.
And every single time, even though I should expect it by now, the pre-deployment relationship problems catch me by surprise. There are so many things to do before deployment (I have a free helpful checklist here), but you can’t seem to both get on the same page. It’s stressful. It’s emotional. It causes a roller coaster of anxiety, doubt, and anticipation. There are days where you just want to kick your spouse out the door so you can just get the deployment started already! And then a few moments later you want time to stand still so you can just savor every last minute together.
Common Pre-deployment relationship problems
Constant fighting before deployment
Fighting is to be expected when couples are dealing with tremendous changes like a deployment. There are many major decisions to be made, including hot-button issues like where to live during deployment, how to manage the budget, school, employment, managing kids, etc.
You might find the stress of the major decision expresses itself in tiny arguments throughout the day. Military loved ones also say that it’s normal to get involved over very trivial fights, ranging from car maintenance to sandwich ingredients. (Yes, military spouses have confessed to shouting matches after getting the wrong lunch!)
These trivial arguments are one of many common pre-deployment relationship problems, but they are doubly hurtful. Not only does the fighting cause tension between you and your service member, but it can also make you feel guilty and mad at yourself afterwards. You probably intended to treasure the time remaining before deployment, but instead now you are both going to bed angry because of a stupid argument that was never important.
Pre-deployment fighting and arguing now does not mean your relationship has changed or that your service member loves you any less. You are both stressed and letting your ugly side show, but that doesn’t mean you don’t love each other.
In fact, venting your emotions to someone is a sign that you trust each other enough to be vulnerable. You are leaning on each other to get through this difficult situation. Sometimes when one person leans, the other person pushes back.
The Deployment Masterclass helps you prepare for deployment! It gives you a printable booklet with tons of checklists, questions, and things to do before deployment, so you can feel organized and confident. Plus, the collection of video interviews with experienced military spouses discusses common deployment challenges–from pre-deployment relationships problems, to the struggles of cooking for one, or the difficulties of solo parenting. You’ll laugh, gain confidence, find practical solutions, and learn that you aren’t alone on this deployment journey! The Deployment Masterclass is available here.
Distancing and pushing away are pre-deployment relationship problems
Sometimes before deployment people start to push away those they love most. This can happen with either the service member or the loved one, and it isn’t always on purpose. When they know they must spend many months apart, some people mentally prepare by making themselves and their partner miserable, so it won’t hurt as much when it’s time to say goodbye.
It’s a backwards approach that doesn’t make logical sense, but it seems to be a psychological defensive reaction that some people do without realizing it. Of course, it is never okay to make your spouse miserable and there is no real excuse for picking fights, but it can be reassuring to realize that this is a somewhat common and temporary reaction to pre-deployment stress.
Feeling numb or emotionally distant from your service member doesn’t mean the couple is headed towards divorce. Remember that this stage is temporary, and you are both working through pre-deployment stress. Many couples also report that this happens near the end of deployment when the cycle of stress is repeated.
You’ll find encouraging support for military relationships in my new book, Open When: Letters of Encouragement for Military Spouses. Each letter in the book is a supportive message for a specific challenge of military life. You’ll find support for the bib and small moments, from “Open When You’re Dating Long Distance” to “Open When You Miss a Phone Call During Deployment.” This is a great gift for any military spouse to keep with them throughout their military journey! You can buy Open When on Amazon, order it directly from the publisher, or request an autographed copy here.
How to work through pre-deployment relationship problems
The good news is that many pre-deployment arguments can be reduced when you learn to see things from the service member’s perspective. It is normal for them to be focused on their mission and dedicating their attention to the task ahead. Of course they wish they could spend more time with you. But they are often eager to use the skills they have been practicing for so long. Remember that deployment isn’t a punishment. Instead, it is the culmination of military training. It’s the reason behind the military’s existence.
When you see it that way, it makes a little more sense why your service member is so obsessed with their packing list. They aren’t trying to neglect you on purpose. They are simply trying to be prepared for the mission.
Remember that leaving is hard for the service member too. They feel the same fear, loneliness, worry, uncertainty, and longing that you are going through right now. But they are expected to move forward anyway. In fact, they are trained to remain focused on their mission, regardless of their personal feelings. That is why many service members appear to be emotionally detached or acting distant before deployment.
It isn’t your fault they are acting different before deployment. It’s simply the way they are trained. So try not to take it personally when they start to act that way. It may be helpful for you to find another military spouse or significant other who will understand what you are going through and be able to listen to your struggles. If there’s no one who lives near you, there are many supportive groups online.
Talk to your service member about pre-deployment relationship problems
You can also help reduce the fighting and distancing that are common pre-deployment relationship problems when you talk to your service member and help them to see things from your perspective. When you find yourself stuck in a rut of trivial arguments, you can take a step back and think about your own feelings so you can voice them more coherently.
If you are feeling angry, are you truly angry at your loved one? Or are you angry with the military, the deployment, and the general situation? It’s okay to be angry. But being angry with your service member won’t help things.
Instead, finding ways to vent or reduce that frustration will be helpful to both of you. If you are feeling worried, try to pinpoint your major concerns. There may be some things you can do before the deployment to help you feel better prepared or more in control.
Or your service member may be able to reassure you about deployment life. If you’re worried about deployment communication options, discuss your plans in advance. In many deployment locations, troops have access to phones, wi-fi Internet, and American-style stores. Take the time to ask questions, because your worries may turn out to be misplaced.
Remember, pre-deployment relationship problems are temporary
Finally, you must understand that just because you are fighting now does not mean the entire deployment is going to go this way. Tensions are highest right before they leave. Many military loved ones admit they feel a sense of calm or relief after the deployment begins.
It’s certainly not because they don’t love their service member or miss them. In part, that feeling comes when emotions stabilize and they are able to resume more predictable habits. For many couples, once they get into a deployment routine, they can chug along steadily with just an occasional bad day or argument.
So if you are in an ugly season full of stress and arguments, be encouraged to know that it is not going to last forever. You and your service member can get through this even stronger than before. Do what you can to lower the tension level and find healthy ways of venting your own emotions. Sometimes you just have to breathe and take things one day at a time.