Communicating the bad with your husband during deployment

As we get into this first week of the Tour of Duty study, one of the common threads I’ve seen in the comments as women are sharing and discussing has been the challenge of communicating with husbands while they’re away. There’s a fear that if a wife shares the hard or the negative that’s happening at home, that will add more stress and worry to already stressful situations husbands are facing overseas. Worst case for sharing all the negative is the husband stresses more and is distracted from his mission. Worst WORST case is the wife pushes the husband away entirely and the marriage falls into serious trouble.

This is certainly a legitimate fear. Our husbands, particularly if they’re in combat zones, are facing serious life and death situations that, in context, mean a lot more than the fact the washing machine has broken down or the baby refuses to sleep through the night or the kids are coming home with bad report cards.

But, the wife, conscious of this fact, often goes to the other extreme – sharing ONLY the good and none of the bad. She becomes a plastic copy of her true self, and while her husband sees only the pleasant, there’s a simmering volcano of resentment and her own stress that often can build. By the time her husband does come home, to what he presumes has been an easy and stress-free deployment at least for his wife, there’s a whole lot of talking things out that’s going to need to take place and maybe some work on the marriage that at least one of you hasn’t realized is needed.

There needs to be a balance. Your husband should understand that a deployment doesn’t mean he no longer has a role as a husband or father. As a wife, you should understand that his role as a soldier or sailor or airman is going to take priority. Figuring out how to strike this balance for you both can save you a lot of grief and heartache in the long run.

Here are a few suggestions when it comes to communicating the bad with your husband during deployment:

1. When sharing bad news, have a solution. The same week my husband headed out of the country was also the week my car decided to die. Something was draining the battery, and it died three times in less than 10 days. It was tempting to want to pick up the phone and call him on his cell and pour out all of my frustration and helplessness to him, but I knew that wouldn’t help him, and ultimately it wouldn’t help me. I still had to figure out what to do. So I figured it out with help from Facebook friends (the best advice I got was to check out AAA). Cliff didn’t even hear about the car until he got on FB and read my statuses and when he asked me about it, I was able to tell him AAA had come out, recharged the battery and I was taking care of it. Hearing the confidence in my voice gave him confidence that everything was ok and that I would be ok while he was gone.

2. Find someone else you can vent to before you talk to your husband. Maybe it’s your mom, a trusted friend or other military wives you talk to on websites like Wives of Faith or other message boards. But when something sends you into an emotional tailspin, and you need to release all of that worry or stress, get those initial feelings out to someone else you can trust, other than your husband. (I always recommend a female friend or family member.) Then, when you do talk to your husband, you can tell him what’s going on in a more calm state of mind, minus the tears or angry voice. He’ll be a lot more likely to respond with support.

3. Write it out. One of my military wife friends became pretty upset with the lack of communication between she and her husband while he was deployed. She felt like he’d shut down completely and in her perspective, he wasn’t making any effort to really call or keep in touch with her. So she wrote her husband a letter but wrote it from the viewpoint of their DOG! By writing it out, and then using humor, she was able to communicate to her husband what was bothering her without making it extremely personal or putting him on the defensive. He listened, got her point, and she started hearing from him more regularly.

4. Talk it out for the purpose of finding a solution that works for both of you. Often, it’s really tempting to talk something out only because you want your side, your perspective, or your view heard (and followed). But talking it out to find a solution that works for both of you can take away a lot of tension before it can start. For example, if you’re wanting to hear from your husband more often than you are, than first ask him what’s reasonable with his schedule – don’t just demand you hear from him every day or get angry because you don’t. Let him know what it means to hear from him – you get encouragement from him, you want to encourage him – and then find a solution that will work for both of you. Understand the solution you agree on  may not be your ideal answer but keep in mind the military isn’t exactly in the relationship-building business. Take what you can get and make the most of it.

5. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. And remember you don’t always know everything. A few  weeks ago I got really upset with Cliff when I didn’t hear from him. Keep in mind as I explain this that he isn’t in the Middle East in a war zone as he was when he served in Iraq a few years ago. He’s in South America on a ship with a pretty regular amount of downtime. This was after we’d already had one “conversation” where I’d talked about how I needed to hear from him after he’d gone an entire weekend without me hearing from him and I didn’t know I wouldn’t hear from him – (they’d been sightseeing) - I told him that whether it was just a text or a quick email, that  it helps to hear from him and he’d agreed and had said he’d try to be more conscious of that. But after not hearing from him even after we’d talked about it, I got upset and sent off a hasty email expressing my disappointment with him only to get a message later saying he’d had a pretty bad day and why.  I suddenly felt reallybad, and definitely wrong to assume the reason I hadn’t heard from him was because he just hadn’t felt like it. We talked it out that night and it helped for both of us to understand we don’t always know what’s going on where the other person is. It’s important to 1) not assume, and 2)give the benefit of the doubt.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your husband occasionally hearing your fears and your tears if need be. But if that is all he hears, it can get old really fast. He needs to know you’re able to function without him. And function without getting mad at him or blaming him. If there is ever a season where your spouse needs a lot of grace, understanding and selflessness on your part, it’s deployment. Doesn’t mean it’s easy to do, but it definitely helps. You and him.

Colossians 3:12-14 (The Message) -
So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

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About Sara Horn

Sara is wife to Cliff, mom to Caleb and founder of Wives of Faith. An author and speaker, she's written more than six books for the wife and mom including a couple specifically written to military wives: GOD Strong: A Military Wife's Spiritual Survival Guide and Tour of Duty: Preparing Our Hearts for Deployment. Her next book, How Can I Possibly Forgive? Rescuing Your Heart from Resentment and Regret, releases this fall. Visit her personal website at sarahorn.com.

Comments

  1. I love these thoughts!
    I've also struggled with letting my soldier (now husband) in on things while he's been deployed. Especially when it came down to my feelings of depression and anxiety. I would send him happy e-mails and then when he called I would lose it and cry all over him. Very stressful for the both of us! He told me he wants to be encouragement for me and that it made him feel better knowing I was being honest with him rather than hiding the truth.

    • Isha, so glad your husband made a point to say what he did! I think most husbands understand that the job back home is tough too. Being honest with each other is so important. Thanks for commenting!

  2. gosh, I was hoping these posts would help me out, but I only feel like things are just so unfair and I feel somewhat resentful. I rarely get to communicate at all with my husband. I get a random phone call once every week to ten days and only get about 10 minutes to talk. no skype, chat or anything. I wish I had to worry about whether or not to discuss the bad things or how large the phone bill is. sorry to vent. this is just so hard.

    • Candace, if we were sitting together right now, I'd give you such a big hug! I am so sorry you aren't able to hear from your husband very often. And don't apologize for venting – if you can't share how you really feel with your sisters in Christ, than all of this would be pretty pointless, right? There were weeks during Cliff's first deployment I wasn't able to hear from him especially when he was in certain locations where communication access just wasn't available and it was very hard. It felt like he'd just disappeared and I was expected just to suck it up and deal with the big black hole where my husband once was. If I thought about it too much it just made me crazy! (see next comment)

      • A couple of things I learned from that first deployment – deployment is different for everyone and and even your own multiple deployments will be different. There will always be someone who has it better – a husband who has a desk job and his own personal computer who can skype for hours every day – and there will always be someone who has it worse, like someone who's husband has been extended multiple times and is in such a remote location or has such a hectic schedule or physically demanding job it's impossible for him to call home or get computer access. (see next comment)

        • I think the question then is how do we handle it? How do we deal with it? I think first, when we're living through deployment, we have to avoid comparing to others deployments because all that will do is make us crazy. Just like life in general, each of us has challenges and joys that come with it and they're going to be diffferent for everyone. One thought I have about your situation is is it possible for your husband to call more and he just isn't? Have you talked to him about it? Just like every deployment is different, every husband is different too and sometimes guys, in an effort to stay focused on their job and their missions, make the choice to limit their time connecting with home. I remember talking with another wife in our unit during our first deployment, and she knew nothing that her husband had been doing because he just didn't tell her. My husband, on the other hand, kept me updated at least in general with what they were doing. So sometimes it just depends on your husband and what he needs to stay focused where he is… (see next comment)

          • If it isn't possible for your husband to communicate more, and it sounds like it isn't, then it comes back to you to figure out how to make the best in a really tough situation. Because resentment and frustration will eat you up if you let it.

            Here's what I would do if I were in your situation. Not sure if you have mail with him or not, but if you do, I would keep a running letter going and mail it off once a week, along with occasional special cards. I'd ask him to do the same. Send him cards he can write in and mail back to you. I'd take time each day to read my Bible and spend time talking to God because ultimately He's the one who can take all our hurts and heartache and turn them into something malleable He uses to grow us closer to Him. (A great devotional that's one of my favorites I recommend is "Jesus Calling".) (see next comment)

          • Spend time with friends who are going to encourage you and get involved in a good local church if you aren't already. The biggest thing? Remember this is just a season. This deployment will not last forever but your marriage will. Your husband will come home and you will have lots of time to talk and be together. What helps me is to remember the couples I've met who have lived through previous wars like the Korean War and Vietnam, whose husbands served for 20 or more years in the military and they're now celebrating their 50th wedding anniversaries! Your life in the military won't last forever, but your marriage can.
            (see next comment)

          • Let me pray for you: "God, I just come to you right now Lord on behalf of Candace. It is so hard when we don't hear from our husbands – they're our best friends and it hurts to not have them near. Be with Candace today and give her strength and hope. Remind her she is not alone, that You are with her at all times. Send friends to her side who can give her encouragement. And God, if it's possible, and we know with You all things are, let her hear from her husband soon. We love you and we thank you for always being there. Amen."

            Big hugs to you today. I hope your day gets much better. ~Sara

          • Thank you so much, Sara. I wish we could do mail, but he is not able to mail anything nor is he receiving it. He says he hasn't even been able to shower in weeks nor wash his clothes. This is our third deployment in 5 years. The others were so different and so much easier because we could communicate. I am really struggling this time around. We have 4 children, 8 and under. He left 5 months ago when my baby was just 2 weeks old. We are NG, so there is absolutely no one around who is military. His unit is spread out over several states. People at church are supportive, but it seems out of sight= out of mind, and everyone is soooo busy. God is good and He gives me strength. I just hate the military life and what it is doing to my kids and me. I am hoping he will retire when he comes home. I think anymore of this will break me. Thank you for praying for me.

          • Big hug sweetie — but don't hate it embrace it as God's calling for you and hubby right now! My girls took strengths test as part of a Freshman course for college and they both scored totally differently EXCEPT they both scored high in adaptability! (lol gee I wonder why being AD Army Brats!) …. God has good plans for your kiddos too and right now it includes deployment. We are Active but I feel very disconnected from our post and church right now too, was just thinking today how I wish someone would just invite us over for dinner! :) Retirement can seem like the answer in the middle of things but truthfully as we are looking at it it's scary for me — I know how to be an Army Wife! LOL — anyhow cling to God and say out loud Jer 29:11 over and over and over and over…… :)

          • thank you, Holly!

          • You're welcome, and I know how hard it can be not to feel resentful when everyone else seems to have things you don't! I remember yelling at the TV during the Gulf War as wives were crying on tv about how their hubby's had been gone 7 months and how hard it was — mine had been gone 17 and didn't know when he'd be home!!! :) Every deployment is different and we've had varying levels of communication from none to more (never everyday) I struggled last time cause my neighbor was freakin out cause she hadn't heard from hubby that day, I hadn't heard from mine in at least two weeks! LOL …. God will give you what you need and help you reply in kindness when necessary and in suck it up when necessary cause sometimes it is! ;)

          • Kristen R says:

            Praying for you Candace! Hang in there!

          • thank you, Kristen!

          • Candace, you might be interested in this…..I'm part of a wives group in my community, however, most of them went through ww2, Vietnam and Korea. One of them mentioned that when her husband was gone for 15 months and had one-two calls the whole time, they wrote everyday and NUMBERED their letters. I just think that's a great idea!

          • Sorry I am just now seeing that you cannot do mail. I wish you the best and pray that God will provide for you during this time.

          • thank you, Valerie!

          • These are great Ideas, Sara. I may have to implement the weekly running letter/

        • amen to that sara- my hubby got a desk phone about 6 weeks before he came home but some had one all along- actually i think it is better if you only talk a few minutes a -several days a week – but it did get annoying when i knew my husband was working and everyone else talked on phone,did skype,etc.

    • Candace, I'm sending you a big hug too! Your post and Sara's comments made me cry. Also made me realize I need to stop being a big baby! It has been really hard not to compare our deployment with everyone else's. Being new to the military life (and I"m middle-aged…can't teach an old dog new tricks kind of thing), I have been amazed in the differences. Sara is right. Putting our focus and our trust in God is the best thing. And…any time you need to vent, someone here will listen! God Bless you and don't give up!

    • We are a Navy Family and I have found that communication can be very hit or miss. When he's out for short underways like the last few month or six week ones, he will only call once. If at all. We rely on the ships email system and since they don't allow internet access on the aircraft carrier we don't have the skype option either. The email gets turned of when they are doing operations or changing locations for safety so it isn't the most reliable. My Husband left today for a long haul, so I'm still holding up well but recent underways have shown me that I'll get emotional every time I check my inbox (like 30 times a day) and there is no email from my honey. I try to keep emailing every thing that's going on but not on the bad days. I try not to worry about what is keeping him from responding. I'm working on this so I don't cry when he calls. It only stresses him and freaks the kids out a bit to when momma cries on the phone. I feel ya. I'd give you a big hug if I could.

    • Praying for you Candance and sending you a great big ol virtual hug.

  3. This is definitely a helpful post. I haven't had to tell my husband any really bad news (KNOCK ON WOOD) while he's been gone, but we are using this deployment to get better with our communication. Thanks for posting, Sara!

  4. Thanks for the post! I have always felt the "only share the good, never let em see you cry" mentality just wasn't realistic! Our job is hard and tough and hubby has freely said he couldn't do it! Of course I don't tell him every little thing (he was mad at me for not telling him our son broke his arm right away instead of waiting til our next phone call — this was in Germany — but I told him honey I took care of it, and was going to tell you, if he would have needed surgery I would have called! :) ) …. sometimes though he needs to hear that I need his help still — ie email your son, let him know we agree on rules still cause I'm about to kill him! They need to know what to pray for us as well while also knowing we can handle it and most still want to be our shoulder to cry on just not all the time — big diff between whining and needing to cry and move on! :)

  5. Sara, thanks for another great article. I especially love the bible verses. One of my main goals of this bible study was to learn more about the bible. You are definitely a great teacher. I particularly love this one. Thanks so much for all your work!

  6. These are really great tips. I had wondered what to share and what not to. I did call my husband in a panic yesterday because our shower door shattered for literally no reason at all! I was able to hande it and have lined up someone to replace it, but it might have been better if I had come up with the solution before I called him!

    • Shannon — it's ok, learning curve for everyone! Maybe next time, have solutions/options in place and see which he prefers if possible, that way he knows you can handle it but are keeping him in the loop. Sometimes though you just have to make those decisions and then discuss it later …. and it's the little things that get ya, I was so annoyed yesterday that mine wasn't home to help with the snow and ice (like he would have been home to help when I needed it anyhow?! ) sigh…..

    • Eeep! I would have called my hubby right away too! That is crazy. If you are able, maybe use the experience as an excuse to laugh ith your husband next phonecall. I love to make my deployed soldier laugh but sometimes the best way to do that is to laugh at myself. Asuming ofcourse that no one was hurt!

  7. The struggle I have, is I am a step-mom with a 17 yr old has done everything opposite of what her dad (who is deployed), and wants to be emancipated. She has decided to go do her own thing not respective of anyone's feelings. So unfortunately, I have had to keep my husband informed of such negative news. It's tough. Deployment is tough for both sides. But as a couple, it is important to remain honest, faithful and communicative with each other.

    • Judy, have you read the book "The smart stepmom" by Ron L. Deal and Laura Petherbridge? It offers Chritian based advice and insights into the madness that is step-motherhood. My "new kids" as I like to call them are 11 and 13 and praise God their mother is a wonderful caregiver so I don't have to assume that role! I will pray for you and your 17 yr old. Sounds like a really hard time in your family's life.

    • (((Judy))) of course you do! Don't feel bad for keeping hubby in the loop when things are out of control with the kiddos! That's a major thing and a big difference from just everyday things that happen and are "bad" or annoying, feeling overwhelmed of alone — I still say it's ok to share even those things once in awhile as long as he knows you're then pressing on. Do you have a group of ladies you can talk to? PWOC? Council from your pastor or Chaplain? If not I would urge you to get it! I know our son was giving me major fits when Dad was deployed the last time and I so needed outside help! Dad needs to also be telling her you are in agreement….. blessings and prayers

      • ps… it's not a failure to ask for outside help either, especially during deployments, it takes great strength to admit something isn't working and change it!

  8. Thanks for this post…I cried just reading it. He won't leave for a little bit but it's already driving me crazy about what if this, what if that…and our communication has basically come to a complete halt already and we're just preparing for our 1st deployment. People I've tried to mention it to say 'oh it's normal don't worry about it' but um I do worry. We've been together for almost 14 years and have 4 children and I already have a million worries and fears that I have no clue how to handle. I don't have anyone I feel I can trust and just say anything to around here and I absolutely dislike it. I just need that one close person besides my husband and I just don't think that is soon to happen which makes this even harder. UGH!!

    • Did you just move? I have felt really alone and isolated before when relocating where we live now. I had 3 kids at the time and now we have 4. My hubby's job requires crazy long hours and this was even before the word deployment was mentioned. I felt so alone and on the verge of depression so I started to pry like a mad woman for a friend that would get where I'm at and I could really confide in during these crazy times. God delivered! I posted some things on freecycle and the woman that would be my new friend and fellow sister in Christ to come along side me showed up on my doorstep. I new it was God because it's hard to find a 2 something, homeschooling, mother of 4, with a deployed Navy hubby that also loved the Lord but , God is awesome! Kept me from the loony been on a particularly hard six week back in 2008! lol. Point is to look beyond this moment, trust God to provide exactly what you need to get you and your kiddos through this. Pray, pray, pray, and the pray some more. He is faithful!

  9. Thank you for posting this Sara. I am so guilty of only sharing the "good" and I am working on that…it is so important. so thank you for sharing these tips.

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