Communication during deployments helps keep military families strong. As technology advances, communicating with family members is becoming a routine part of deployment, which can be beneficial and challenging. Conversations with your partner during deployment can increase emotional bonds and improve her or his morale too. These exchanges can help your partner coping at home as well. Verbal communication also is linked to a smoother adjustment during post-deployment reintegration.
However, too much communication during deployment also can be a source of stress or distraction to some Service Members, leading to a potentially dangerous lack of focus. And what’s shared with those at home might increase worries about safety. By weighing the pros and cons of different types of communication and understanding the barriers you might face, your family can develop an effective plan to stay connected during long separations.
Modes of communication
To maintain your relationships across long distances, it’s important to keep in mind the differences, benefits, and limitations between real-time communication (such as chat, instant messages, video calls, and phone) and delayed communication (such as email and letters).
- Real-time. It often feels more intimate when you’re on a phone or video call because you can hear and see each other. They’re also ideal for discussions that require back-and-forth or decision-making. However, it can be challenging to plan for real-time communication because Service Members’ schedules sometimes change without warning. It also comes with some of the pitfalls of in-person communication between couples, where misunderstandings or disagreements can escalate quickly.
- Delayed. These methods of communication allow partners time to thoughtfully engage and respond to each other. Letters or emails also allow for deeper communication and privacy, particularly for Service Members who might be living in close quarters with others. However, these methods aren’t ideal when you have problems that need solving or joint decisions to make.
Barriers to communication
It’s important to be aware of what might impact your ability to communicate, so you know what to expect during your deployment and how to address it with your loved ones.
- Operational security (OPSEC). Service Members are often unable to share details about their deployment due to concerns about information security that could affect their mission. This can be frustrating because it places extra burdens on family members to drive conversations and Service Members to regulate what they share.
- Distance and time zones. It’s already difficult to be far apart from your family, but staying in touch across time zones presents additional challenges, especially when you’re trying to communicate in real time.
- Limited access. Sometimes Service Members simply don’t have access to multiple (or any) modes of communication. This might be because the technology is either unavailable or unreliable, or their access is determined by rank.
- Talking points. It’s hard to know what details to share and what’s best kept for later. And many partners might hold back information, fearing it will be either too traumatic, stressful, or distracting for their loved ones to hear.
Although you can’t prepare for everything, having realistic expectations and a plan might make communication during your deployment a bit easier to navigate.
- Plan ahead. Talk through some of these questions with your family members: What methods or modes of communication are likely to be available? Which methods will you use in certain situations? How often do you want to touch base? Are there any costs to consider? What topics will you keep each other updated on, and what can you catch up on after deployment? If you have children, how will you stay connected to them?
- Make a backup plan. Talk about how you’ll decide on a new communication plan if your original plans need adjustment. And discuss what you’ll do if your call gets disconnected, or if one mode of communication is unavailable for a few days.
- Think outside the box. Consider creative ways to stay connected too. For example, family members might send care packages or pictures to deployed Service Members. You also might try playing online games or even online shopping together. Or you can read the same book or watch the same movie, and discuss it during your next phone or video call. Or leave video messages for each other to view when your schedules allow it.
It can be tricky to navigate communication with loved ones during your deployment. Still, you can keep up good communication with your partner, particularly during times of separation, to help maintain emotional intimacy and work together as a couple. With some preparation and planning, your family can find healthy ways to stay connected and close too.