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.
Pre-Deployment Problems are Stressful
For the past two years, I have been running a deployment support group on Facebook. It currently has over 4,000 members, all of them either preparing for an upcoming deployment or currently going through one. For many, it is their first deployment experience. Others, like me, have been through deployments before, and know that they will need some virtual support. There are also members who are active duty or veterans, who are now experiencing their spouse’s deployment. And I assure you that this topic comes up all the time. Here are some of the things that seem to be ‘normal’ during the pre-deployment stage:
“My service member and I are fighting all the time, about the tiniest dumbest things. We never used to fight before and I don’t understand why we keep picking fights now!”
“My spouse just seems to withdrawn and disinterested in me right now. I want to enjoy our remaining time together, but it feels like we hardly talk at all. I’m nervous if the entire deployment will be like this.” (This is also sometimes reversed and it is the one who remains at home who feels like they are withdrawing.)
“Intimacy is at an all-time low. We haven’t had sex for weeks now, and he’s about to deploy. When we try, he apologizes and says he just isn’t in the right place right now. I worry if he will still love me during deployment.”
“Our kids know that something is up, and even though they are too young to understand deployment, they are going absolutely crazy! This is my first time having to raise them on my own, and we don’t have family nearby. How am I going to get through months of this?”
These topics and questions about pre-deployment relationship problems come up almost every day in the deployment support group. So if it sounds like what you and your service member are experiencing, I can assure you– you definitely are not alone. These problems are a normal reaction to the stress and uncertainty of an upcoming deployment. But just because they are normal doesn’t mean they are easy to handle.
Pre-Deployment Relationship Problems are Normal
We asked members experienced with deployments whether they thought that the time before deployment was more challenging than the deployment itself. Over 90% of them said YES!
The pre-deployment stage is difficult for a variety of reasons, but it is not an accurate representation of how the rest of deployment will go for you. Before deployment, you can’t get into a routine because the service member is constantly coming and going for training. During deployment, it’s easier to settle into a routine of daily life and find healthy activities to focus on. Before deployment, stress is high because of so much uncertainty. You don’t know what their deployment schedule will be like and what communication options you will have. During deployment, you can experiment to find the time of day and communication style that works best for each of you, then coast along with that for a while. You should not try to take your currently work load and stress levels and multiply them times the amount of days they will be gone. That’s not an accurate representation of deployment, and it honestly just makes everything you are dealing with right now much more intimidating and difficult to accept. Deployment will be hard, but it’s a different kind of challenge. It is not exactly like pre-deployment, so don’t try to shoulder both burdens at once.
Learn how to handle Pre-Deployment Stress in the Deployment Masterclass
Because the pre-deployment stage is such a unique and less-discussed difficulty in military life, I have a special training video in the Deployment Masterclass dedicated to the pre-deployment stage. In the video, I interview Corie Weathers, a military spouse who also had the unique opportunity to take a media tour to Middle East military bases. Her ‘deployment’ trip came after she had already experienced her Army husband’s deployment. As a licensed counselor, she is able to help describe and process deployments from both perspectives. In our video, she describes how during the pre-deployment stage, the service member and the loved one are looking in two different directions: the service member is focused on their mission, while the one who will stay behind is focused on home and family problems. This is a frustrating experience for a couple who is used to working together and looking in the same direction. Our pre-deployment training video discusses ways for couples to work through this stage and appreciate the other person’s perspective. You can watch her full video in the Deployment Masterclass.
“Before deployment, the service member and the loved one are looking in two opposite directions.”Corie Weathers, in the Deployment Masterclass
The Deployment Masterclass is the perfect tool to help any military spouse or loved one prepare for deployment. It includes the Ultimate Deployment Guide, which is a 28-page workbook full of resources, checklists, and answers to common deployment questions. There are also video trainings with a dozen experienced military spouses–including Corie Weathers– who offer guidance to the most frequent deployment challenges. Learn more about the Deployment Masterclass here!