February 7, 2020

Is Your Partner in the Military?

Are one or both of you a member of the military? Do frequent separations due to deployment or job duties cause you to feel disconnected or make it hard to be a team once you are together again? Do you have difficulty communicating with one another due to being away from each other or not being able to discuss work? Have you had to deal with frequent moves or living away from your biggest support system? If so, this post will help you identify how to address these concerns.

Being a military couple comes with its own unique challenges and sacrifices. You may have to go days, weeks, or months without seeing each other and/or be separated from your closest friends and family. You may also find it hard to stay emotionally connected with each other. Additionally, when one of you returns from deployment, re-integration back into your day-to-day life and routine can be challenging and can be made more difficult by the onset of mental health issues that arose from service. These issues often create the following cycles: “Day-to-Day Problems” and “Issues Around Deployment”


If only one of you is in the military or if you are in two different positions within the military, you may feel hurt when your partner cannot talk about all aspects of his/her job or feel alone when your partner needs to work long hours. If you are the only member of the couple in the military, you may feel guilty that your work takes you away from your family or upset that your partner does not understand the sacrifices you make.

The Military Member

Sometimes, you might get really frustrated with your partner for not understanding the nature of your work or you may feel guilty that your work gets in the way of the relationship. Tips to change these situation:


Have a conversation with your partner to tell him/her why being in the military is important to you and why you don’t want it to affect your relationship negatively. Ask your partner to share his/her feelings too. Remember your DEEP Understanding and consider how each of the DEEP components could be contributing to both you and your partner’s feelings. Use the Respond conversation to discuss what you can change in how you prioritize your relationship so that the negative impact of your work is lessened.


Even if you are busy or cannot be open about your work, there are other ways to feel connected with your partner. Decide to prioritize date nights every once in a while or plan to do something fun together at least once a week such as doing a physical activity, cooking together, playing a game, or watching TV.


Often being in the military can mean living away from friends and family. Recognize that this may be difficult for your partner who moved to support your line of work. Together, try to identify a few people who live close by who you can rely on for support and/or prioritize calling both of your and your partner’s friends and family members more regularly so that you both feel supported.

The Non-Military Member

If your partner cannot open up about his/her job or is gone frequently due to long hours, you may felt left behind and alone.Tips change these situations:


Sometimes, being the non-military member can be filled with loneliness. Especially if this isn’t the core issue you decided to work on, be vulnerable with your partner about how this is hard. Use your DEEP Understanding to better understand why you are feeling the way you are and how it impacts your and your partner’s perspectives. Remember, sharing your hidden emotions can make your partner less likely to be defensive and more likely for the conversation to go smoother.


Because you are in a military couple, you may be living away from your closest support systems such as family and friends. With your partner’s long hours and possible frequent deployments, this can make you feel isolated from those you love and from a community. Rely on the support of other military spouses who know the challenges you face and when your partner is around, try to integrate those individuals in your lives. As a couple, try to prioritize calling both of your and your partner’s family members and friends so that you can be integrated in their lives and feel more connected as a couple.


Deployment can make it hard on both members of the couple to feel connected. Different time zones can make it hard to talk or responsibilities can lead to going days without talking. After deployment, it can be really hard for the person who just returned to feel like a contributing member of the family. He/she may feel isolated from the other partner or could be suffering from mental health concerns as a result of deployment. The partner who was not deployed may want to help, but not know how or could feel confused about having gotten used to a new routine while their partner was away.

The Deployed Partner

Deployment creates a physical – and often emotional – distance between partners. You may feel distant from your partner during and after your deployment but not know how to make the relationship closer or get the connection back once the deployment ends. Finally, emotional concerns that arose from deployment can make you feel numb or unable to connect to your partner or to your other loved ones. Tips to change these situations:


If your deployment is coming up, use the Respond Conversation to set expectations for how communication will look during deployment. Consider writing each other letters and/or emails so you can stay connected despite not being able to talk regularly. Talk to each other about how you can keep the communication positive which will help you feel like home life is stable so you can concentrate on your important dangerous work.


Read the Long Distance Relationship Topic for ideas on how to stay connected despite being far away from each other. Ideas include playing games online, spending quality time together while talking, and strengthening communication. Other ideas include sharing music or listening to a favorite song together, writing letters, or sharing a journal with one another.


Transitioning back home can be challenging. You may be struggling with mental health concerns or emotional problems when you return, which is a very common experience for service members.If so, consider utilizing the free services at your local Military or VA facilities to help you manage the internal struggles you may be facing.

The Partner Left Behind

As the person left behind, you may feel lonely, hopeless, scared, or any number of difficult emotions about your partner being away. You may really miss him/her while also feeling resentment that he/she chose work over the family. All of those complex feelings make adjustment after deployment more difficult. Additionally, you may not know what to do if your partner returns home with mental health concerns such as PTSD or depression. Tips change these situations:


Use the Respond Conversation to set expectations for how communication will look during deployment. Consider writing each other letters and/or emails so you can stay connected despite not being able to talk regularly. Talk to each other about how you can keep the communication positive so that you feel less stressed as the partner left behind and feel joyful in your day to day life despite your partner being away.


As a couple, it is important to feel emotionally close, despite the distance and sensitive nature of the relationship. Use the tips in the Long Distance Relationship topic to keep this connection alive. Additionally, to feel connected to your community, make sure to access the many military resources available to you (found here) and rely on other spouses who are also dealing with the hardships of deployment


For tips on reintegration, click here. Remember, adjustment takes a while and that is ok. If this isn’t the core issue you’re working on, it may be helpful to use the problem solving activity in the Strengthen phase to make a plan for how you can each contribute to a smooth transition back with set expectations for communication, shared house work, and day-today decision making.

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Funding for these programs was provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Grant Number 90FM0063

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