We military spouses come from every walk of life, but as a demographic group, we are characterized as predominately young — and strong. I would even go so far as to call ourselves resilient, though I think we are also fairly modest because most of us say we weren’t “cut out for this job” at some point in time. Nevertheless, we are tough. We can handle the most stressful situations and trust me, the military puts us to the test often, but we are at an increased vulnerability during deployments and need additional support.
There are a ton of tongue-and-cheek posts out in the blog world about things you should and should not say to a military spouse. Just a quick Google search on the topic brings up several posts with lists of phrases. (Yes, I do Google everything.) Many of them even I hear on a regular basis.
I just don’t like this. There is no set of rules to follow when you talk to me or any other military spouse. It’s true, we can be a little sensitive to things that people say, some may even say we’re oversensitive. Yes, some of those phrases prompt a snarky response in the back of my mind, but like I said, we’re conditioned men and women and we can handle ourselves. We realize that non-military can’t possibly understand our lifestyle and we don’t expect them to.
I’m not going to write a rule book, but I am going to be more blunt than ever with this post. I know that people want to be helpful and supportive and the only way they can do that is if they are cognizant of what it’s like for us. This post is just offering up one military spouse’s perspective <– disclaimer. I have a loud voice and I’m usually not afraid to use it.
I don’t want people to be afraid of saying the “wrong” thing to me. I know when this happens because they stop talking to me. Not to be rude, they just don’t know how to offer support and are in fear of sounding ignorant, dumb, or even mean. This is particularly discomforting. When this happens, I start to believe that no one understands and it drives me into a world of isolation. Just because I own a t-shirt that says, “back off, my other half is deployed” doesn’t mean I don’t need a little extra love and support. I don’t just need it, I want it.
Personally, I appreciate people’s attempt to empathize with my situation. I truly believe that the so-called “thought-less” things people say are their efforts to offer sympathy. I’m sure I say the wrong thing to a friend who loses a loved one in my clumsy efforts to be comforting, but my intentions are genuine.
The Viper Pilot volunteered for this line of work and I got drafted into it. I married him because I was aware of the job description, I accepted this obscure lifestyle, and was fully prepared to take on any challenges that the Air Force threw at us. Because I love him. Though the military has been a part of our lives for almost seven years now, neither of us had any idea what we were getting into. So no, I did not and still don’t know what I “signed up” for. But I did sign up to spend the rest of my life with him, through thick and thin, and that’s for certain.
Let me ask you something, and I want you to really take a moment to consider this. What would be your reaction if someone told you their spouse was deploying soon? Before we were in the “real world” military (back when the Viper Pilot was at the academy and in pilot training), I know exactly how I would react. I get sad. Say how sorry I am to hear it. Hug them close. Ask if there is anything I could do. Hindsight is always 20/20 but looking back on those conversations, I’m mad at myself. It’s a deployment — NOT a funeral!
So, what would I say to those spouses knowing what I know now? First and foremost, I’d thank them and thank their spouse. The rest of my response is going to require a bit of explanation. Telling it to you out of context just wouldn’t drive home my point enough.
There have been multiple TDYs (temporary duty) over the years of our time together, but the recent ones have taught me a lot about myself. In the past, I’ve always had school to keep me busy. I didn’t have time to go out on the weekends, and I didn’t have time to sit and watch TV on a random Tuesday night. For those of you who are new around here, I have been a student since I was 5 years old and it was all I knew until May 2012. Now I have a regular nine-to-five hourly job that doesn’t require me to devote every fiber of my being to it. When I go home at the end of the day, instead of working on a thesis paper, I scurry around the house trying to get the little chores done to pass the time until the Viper Pilot gets home so I can spend a relaxing evening with him. He’s my reason for getting out of bed each day. I love hearing about his day over dinner and I’ll admit, he’s a pretty good snuggle buddy. 🙂 When he was TDY, I discovered something about myself that I even still find hard to accept.
I am an introvert by nature.
Seriously?! ME?! Socializing is one of my favorite hobbies and I’ve even been “that person.” You know, the one you dread sitting next to on an airplane because they talk your ear off during the whole flight. How is it possible?! I didn’t want to believe it but the proof is in the pudding. When the Viper Pilot was away, I found that I was perfectly content taking a mental retreat; I was a loner. Evenings and weekends usually found me reclusive, sitting on my couch with my dog, a snack, coffee or wine, and a good book or TV show.
If a social opportunity with the girls presented itself, rationally, I knew without doubt that I should go, but I had to drag myself out the door. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the time spent with my friends and I went right back to being gregarious little old me, but committing to a social engagement was a challenge. Every single time an invitation popped up, I immediately began compiling a list of possible reasons why I couldn’t go.
Where am I going with this? The specific invitations such as, “Emily, I’ll meet you at church and we’ll have brunch after,” and the routine Wednesday night soup dinners with a friend were precisely what I needed to get through the long days and even longer nights while the Viper Pilot was away. I know those are the kind of things that will get me through deployment, too.
If a military spouse told me that their spouse was deploying soon, after the thank yous, I’d whip out my calender, clear a day during the deployment to make her cookies, to go shopping, to a movie, buy her lunch, and get a coffee. There would be a date, a time, the specific shoe I’m in the market for, a restaurant name, and a specific movie title. Because if she (or he, men are military spouses too!) is anything like me, she tends to act irrationally during a long separation thinking that she will be fine and won’t need anyone to help keep her mind off of things. It’s completely normal, but just keep in mind that she’s probably not going to call you up and tell you what she needs at any given time just because you told her to let you know if she ever needed anything…she needs you to distract her with something happy and she probably needs you to be just a tad bit aggressive about it. She needs a specific invitation, one so well planned out that she cannot turn you down. And if she does turn you down, don’t take it personally, she just might need a mental health day, but do try again. Seriously.
So during deployment, I’ll probably become an introvert again and suffer a bit from deployment depression. It can manifest itself in different ways. It’s easy to fall off the bandwagon when he’s gone and forget to eat healthy or stick to my workout routine. A very dear friend once suggested writing down frustrations on sticky notes, because sticky notes are temporary and this too shall pass. I’ve done that and it’s fantastic advice. Then I wrote a list in my journal (something more permanent than a sticky note) that I call “Emily’s Deployment Survival Guide,”
- Hang tough, you’ve got this. No, seriously, stay strong.
- KEEP BUSY. Embrace those hobbies!
- Call your family and friends, don’t wait for them to call.
- Remember your promise to each other and his commitment to our country. Be proud.
- Two words: pity party. It’s okay to have one a week. Or two.
- Be prepared.
- Take it one day at a time, let the emotions run their course, face your feelings.
- Accept a helping hand.
- Alcohol is a depressant. <– meaning don’t drown your sorrows
- Be even healthier! Workout more. Run faster.
- Routine, routine, routine.
- Write a letter daily. (I usually give him a run down of my day anyway, why stop now?)
- Look forward. (Have one “thing” each month to look forward to whether it is a trip with the girls, hosting a visitor, or a plan to explore a new hike or bike path.)
- Focus on other things, chin up, and it’s okay to have a good cry.
…the list is a work in progress, of course, that’s just what I have so far.
“Hi, leg warehouse? Yeah, I need something to stand on…So, nothing for me to stand on? Okay, thanks so much.”
Pardon the How I Met Your Mother reference, but the point of that was that I realize I haven’t “survived” a deployment yet and maybe it seems that I have no room to talk about this. Au contraire. This is part of the preparation process. But perhaps I’ll rewrite this post after a deployment…
The hardships of being married to the military are hard to imagine for many, including myself at times. Don’t worry about saying the “wrong” thing to me. Friends, family, and fellow spouses alike, I advise you to ignore the “things not to say” and the “things you should say” to a military spouse and focus on what is real, be yourself. Be a friend, show that you care about the spouse and the person they are, without defining them by the deployment. In the end, it is the honesty and sincerity that means the most.
This is life, this is the real world. There are no rules.
Oh, but good Lord, please just know that our lives are nothing like what you see on Army Wives. Kind of like how Top Gun is nothing like the Viper Pilot’s job. Also, a deployment is nothing like a business trip.