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.