While the time leading up to departure offers a chance to prepare for your upcoming separation, it can also bring confusion and high emotions. It makes sense for your Warfighter to be the main focus of attention as you plan for him or her to leave. But as the home-front partner, you need to get ready too—mentally and emotionally.
As a military partner, the way you cope before deployment isn’t just significant to your well-being. Your ability to cope can impact the quality of your relationship and the mental health of your Military Service Member after deployment too.
So, what can you do to prepare yourself for your partner’s deployment to keep you and your relationship healthy?
Communicate about what’s ahead. It’s normal to want to avoid talking about a challenge you’re expecting. While putting it out of your mind might help in the moment, it can make the time after “goodbye” much more difficult. Try to address and cope with the upcoming deployment proactively. Take some time to share your feelings and concerns about deployment with your partner. Encourage him or her to do the same. Now is also a good time to make sure you have as much information about the deployment as you can get. For example, try to find out where and when your Military Service Member is going, best times and ways to communicate, potential safety issues, etc. It can feel easier not to ask, but you’ll both be better off if you acknowledge what’s coming.
Be aware of “battle mind.” Sometimes, to be successful in high-stress and high-danger situations, Warfighters have to engage in “battle mind”—the mode of temporarily separating from or suppressing their emotions. While this might be helpful (perhaps even crucial) during combat, it’s not so great in relationships. It’s fairly common for partners to notice their Warfighter act more distant as deployment approaches. This might leave you feeling lonely, powerless, and disconnected. You might even have your own version of battle mind. It’s normal to distance yourself emotionally from your partner as a mode of self-protection when you know a long separation is coming. But that distance can hurt your relationship in the long run.
Instead of letting your battle mind take over, talk to each other about your needs, fears, and feelings. Make it a priority to spend one-on-one time together. Build intimacy. Have fun together!
Reach out for support. Taking care of yourself often that means asking for help. Make a list of those you can reach out to when you need a little extra boost. Your list might include a friend to talk to or a babysitter you hire so you can go out. Consider looking into local support groups and counseling options, or reach out to a chaplain before your spouse leaves.
Plan the logistics. You and your partner will have many “to-dos” before deployment. But preparing all the logistics can make a big difference in how well you both cope with the separation. Consider going over a deployment checklist together. At the very least, make a communication plan, set up your family plan and back-up care plans, get your financial and legal documents in order, and find out what resources will be available to you once your Military Service Member has deployed. You might also want to think through what your new daily routine will be, including how to deal with things your partner usually handles. You might need a few tries to figure out what works, but with some planning, you should find a balance eventually.
Partners who approach their Warfighter’s upcoming deployment with denial and avoidance are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and stress when deployment ends. Spouses at home are more likely to experience loneliness and distress during the deployment too. But when you approach deployment with acceptance, take time to plan ahead, and actively seek emotional support, both of you are more likely to have better mental and physical health through the whole experience.