During my Marine’s first deployment — while we were still dating — I learned how to play guitar. I started rollerblading. And I spent a semester abroad studying in Paris, France. It was a lot of change all at once. I became stronger, shifted my priorities and challenged myself to grow.
When he returned from nine months of combat in Iraq, I was dealing with the culture shock of moving back to America. He was navigating the emotions and tragic memories of his first deployment. It made our homecoming and reintegration very challenging. Our relationship almost didn’t survive the stress.
So, the next time he deployed — less than a year later — I didn’t want to grow or change at all. No new hobbies. No new friends. I hoped if I held my breath while he was away, it would be easier for us to pick up where we left off. Of course, that strategy didn’t work for long. You can’t hold your breath, or put your life on hold, for half a year or more!
I learned there is a balance between these two extremes. You don’t need to change everything about your life while your service member is deployed … but you can’t avoid some changes occurring over the months you are apart. Deployment often brings new routines and schedules. Most military spouses and significant others find themselves either feeling forced into too many major changes or feeling frozen, afraid to do anything new. Both situations are “normal,” so you shouldn’t feel alone. Whichever changes you are facing during deployment, let’s find some encouragement through it.
1. When there’s too much change during deployment: Deployments force a change in routines. You might be adjusting from moving back home or taking on a new job or classes during deployment. What if you are the solo parent and feel forced into new routines? You may have to work fewer hours, put kids to bed earlier, let them sleep in your bed, or be more relaxed on discipline and screen time.
Let’s be realistic: A long-distance marriage is going to mean some changes. Don’t waste energy fighting change or letting other people tell you how to live. Deployment is temporary, so it’s okay to make temporary changes.
If your service member disagrees, remind them that you have to reduce your stress and streamline your time now. If that means cereal for dinner, it’s okay. If you make new friends or pick up a stress-relieving hobby, that’s something to celebrate. You haven’t changed who you are inside. Reassure your service member that your love is still constant, even if some routines look different.
2. When you’re afraid to change during deployment: Many spouses feel afraid to try something new during deployment. You don’t want to change so much that it impacts your relationship. You worry whether your service member will still like who you are when they return.
Remember, people are always growing and developing in one direction or another. If you aren’t moving forward, you’ll slide backward. Your service member wants you to live your best life. After all, they are making huge sacrifices to protect your freedom! So, invest this time wisely.
Even if you change your diet and start a completely new hobby, your service member should still love who you are. They fell in love with YOU — your passions, your interests, your unique sense of humor, and yes, all your quirks too. A new interest should never be enough to break up a relationship, (unless it’s something they would be morally against).
3. How to embrace new routines during deployment: Whether you feel forced into too many changes or frozen in place, here are ways to manage deployment changes in a healthy way.
- Communicate the changes. Discuss the big and small changes with your service member (via email, messages, letters or phone calls) and ask how they are changing too. The more details you share, the easier it will be to adjust together.
- Start a bucket list. What are some things you’ve always wanted to do, try or visit? Are there friends or family members you can share these experiences with to build connections? Use this time to grow intentionally.
- Try new foods. Feeling stuck? Get out of your comfort zone by eating something different. Look up recipes, try a TikTok trend or visit a new restaurant nearby.
- Join a group in your community. Whether you’re brand new to the area or in your hometown, make some local connections and pursue a hobby at the same time. Think about joining a gym, book club, fitness group or a place of worship.
- Let a friend motivate you. If you aren’t brave enough to try new things on your own, you probably have a friend with interests or hobbies. Tag along with them and see if their enthusiasm is contagious!
During deployment, you can find balance and embrace the large and small changes in your lifestyle. Just don’t stop being yourself!