Decreasing Deployment Stress – 4 Tips for Military Couples

U.S. Navy Electronics Technician 2nd Class (SW) William Boyd kisses his wife, Marie, before boarding the Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44), Jan. 2010, at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in Virginia Beach, Va. Gunston Hall Sailors were deploying to Haiti to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster response in the aftermath of Haiti's devastating earthquake. (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class John Suits, U.S. Navy/Released)

Military couples have challenges beyond those of typical relationships. That additional stress of multiple deployments and multiple moves can erode a couples’ relationship.

Yet, there are ways to build resiliency in a relationship according to Dr. Kate McGraw, a clinical psychologist with the Defense Centers of Excellence.

McGraw contributed an entry for the DCoE blog: Success before Stress: Keeping Relationships Healthy. Here are her four tips from that column:

  • Ask your partner what they need. Also, you should both be able to identify what you need and how your needs can be met. If you both develop empathy for each other’s needs, than you will both be very satisfied with what you can create together in your relationship.
  • Eliminate all sarcasm, name calling, belittling or other types of verbal and emotional abuse, and make a pact to not tolerate displays of temper such as slamming objects or doors. These behaviors cause significant damage to the trust and safety between you and may lead to physical abuse. If you’re able to say at least five positive comments to every negative one you say to your partner, your relationship will feel much more loving and supportive.
  • Nurture the bond between you. One way is to foster and keep open regular communication about the important things in your life, as well as the small daily matters.
  • Develop a homecoming ritual upon your partner’s return from deployment. This ritual can serve as a line of demarcation for both of you, a dividing point from their being away at war, to being here, at peace.

McGraw added it’s important to take time after returning from a deployment to adjust. “The non-military partner can play an important role in the stress management of the relationship by lovingly encouraging their military partner to seek help if it appears they are experiencing severe post-deployment problems.”

Here’s another DCoE article: Couple Tidbits: Dealing with Conflict.

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Deployment’s Emotional Cycles: Stage 1 for an Army Wife

 

Alison during pre-deployment photos. Photo by Carolyn Cummins, http://www.shootinforfun.com.

Anticipation of Departure for the service member and spouse is different from what I experience as a military mom.  The first stage of the emotional cycle of deployment is a very busy time for the soldier and his or her family and brings mixed emotions.

The service member is away from home frequently due to extensive training and preparation which touts the reality of the looming separation for the whole family.  The bond between unit members grows immensely as they are completely focused on the impending mission.  In addition to preparing for the work side of deployments, there are many personal items that need tended to: wills and power of attorneys, house and auto repairs, decisions and arrangements about where spouse will spend the deployment, final visits with family, medical and dental visits–these are just a few.  This stage can be stressful for the soldier as he juggles the final preparations for work and home while trying to spend quality time with family.

My daughter-in-law, Alison, shared her thoughts and experiences with this stage:

Josh and Alison during pre-deployment photos. Photo by Carolyn Cummins, http://www.shootinforfun.com.

“The anxiety prior to deployment is overwhelming because I feel such pressure to make the most of every moment I have left with Josh while I’m constantly fighting emotions for the loss I am about to experience when I have to say good-bye.  Josh and I created a wish list (similar to a bucket list) of things to do before he deployed and we accomplished everything.  We truly lived like we were dying and savored every outing and relaxing moment together.  I treasure the dinners, movies, walks, fishing trips, hugs, and we had intimate conversations that we struggle with during deployments.  We learned a lot about each other and our relationship as husband and wife during the month prior to his leaving.   

Our fun trip prior to deployment was a hog hunting excursion in Oklahoma which Josh picked.  It was both satisfying and sad; I know how much he enjoyed it, but the reality is he wanted the experience in case he doesn’t get another chance.  

We have professional photos done prior to every deployment; it is very important to me to have fresh photos to treasure if they are the last ones of us together.  This may sound morbid but I never know when such opportunities are the last.”

I commend Alison for her strength and willingness to share her innermost feelings.  She is a loving and supportive wife to my son and an amazing example and mentor to other Army wives.

Josh and Alison on their hog-hunting trip prior to his third deployment.

 

Deployment Week 1: Army Mom’s Transition

Tracie with her son Josh at Fort Carson for pre-deployment pictures, May 2011.

Thanks to everyone who responded to my Deployment Day post  with thoughts, prayers, and well wishes.  One of the easiest ways to support military families through deployments is to encourage them.  A simple note or email expressing care and concern makes a big difference on the difficult days.

It has been one week since my son left for Afghanistan.  The first week into a deployment is a time of transition for the soldier and his entire family.  Josh’s transition was traveling from Fort Carson to his final destination in Afghanistan; he called yesterday to let me know he had arrived at the location that will be his home for the next year.

He described his living quarters as “decent” with a working air conditioner in his room which is critical with an average daily temperature of 110 to 115 degrees.  While in transit last week, the air conditioner in the tent where he slept quit working during the night so he woke up soaked with sweat.

My son, Josh, my husband, Jeff, and me at Fort Carson on deployment day, June 11, 2011.

As an Army mom, my transition into deployment is about getting back into the routines that, I know from past deployments, will get me through the year.  One of which is having my cell phone in my hand 24/7–I can’t afford to miss a phone call from my son who is deployed in a war zone.  If I do miss a call, I don’t get to call him back a few minutes later, I must wait for the next call–never knowing when or if that call will come.

Yesterday’s call came while I was in church with cell phone (on vibrate) in hand and I knew it was him from the strange number that appeared in my display.  I quickly headed to the door pushing the receive button on the way to avoid missing the call.

Josh, Tracie's son, swearing into the Army on June 24, 2005.

The biggest deployment challenge for me is controlling my mind; wandering thoughts can spiral out of control very quickly and must be managed constantly.  My thoughts this past week kept drifting back to 1991 and the beginning of Operation Desert Storm; Josh was 3 years old and we were huddled around the television watching the invasion of Iraq unfold.  Lee Greenwood’s song titled “God Bless The USA” played constantly and I still have a vision of Josh jumping to his feet each time the song got to the part with the words “I will stand up next to you and defend her still today”.

I had no idea at that time that he really would stand up to defend the USA and that twenty years later he would be a sergeant in the Army and we would be standing next to him, supporting him, and sacrificing with him.

I am so proud of my son for choosing to serve his country; without him and others like him, the USA would not exist as we know it today.  God bless our men and women in uniform and let us not forget that it is their sacrifice that gives every American citizen the right to live in freedom.

Military Spouses Explain “What Civilians Don’t Get”

Here’s an opportunity to “celebrate” Military Spouses Appreciation Day. It was Friday, but a military spouse’s sacrifice is daily and lifelong. And, the day may have been overshadowed by ongoing coverage of the capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden.

Neal Conan (Photo by Antony Nagelmann, Courtesy of NPR)

National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation” with host Neal Conan devoted half its show Friday to the topic: Military Spouses Handle Challenges at Home. Conan’s key question: what don’t we “get” about military life. It’s a question this blog is dedicated to answering daily.

From taking on the role of medical advocate for her husband to the stress of becoming the family’s breadwinner, Gina Rinder is one of the featured military spouses from Denver. Her husband served two deployments in Iraq and is being treated for brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.

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