I remember the first time my husband called me after returning from Iraq. I was a military girlfriend and living long-distance at the time. Hence the phone call.
So, we were chatting away, and I was feeling all sorts of happy butterflies because he was finally home. And we were—finally—going to see each other and spend time together! Woo!
Then he dropped the bomb.
He said, “I can’t wait to go to Afghanistan. I’m looking to volunteer for the next rotation.”
In a single instant my butterflies disappeared and a gaping hole burned into my heart. Seriously. For real. He just got home. I was speechless.
What military spouses won’t tell you.
Finding the good in the bad is key to thriving in military life, and this is something strong military spouses do insanely well. But…
While most military spouses confide in close friends and family members, they typically hold it together and put a smile on their face for the rest of the world. There are several things they won’t tell you about deployment.
- They worry even when “they’re fine.”
Even the safest deployments carry risk. No matter where a service member is in the world, there is always a pit deep down in the stomach of the military spouse.
They carry a deep secret fear that one day there will be a knock at the door. When she looks at you and says, “I’m fine,” know better.
- They would love an invite to coffee or lunch.
Military life gets a little lonely sometimes. Whether the invite comes from a civilian or a military spouse, it doesn’t matter.
Most days, distraction is a welcome change. And coffee is an added bonus.
- They struggle to ask for help.
More than likely, they won’t go out of their way to ask for help. It doesn’t mean they don’t want or appreciate help.
It just means spouses are stubborn and independent and want to stay strong for their service member. Keep trying. Eventually they will accept help. And help always helps.
- They don’t appreciate dumb questions.
If you ask dumb questions, they will respond graciously even though they kinda want to punch you in the face. Examples of dumb questions are as follows:
“Are you scared he is going to die?”
“How do you do it?”
“You’re used to it by now, right?”
Those types of questions. Yes, skip those.
- They do appreciate encouragement.
If you see a military spouse, and you don’t know what to say, and you’re afraid all your questions will come out entirely wrong, a simple phrase of encouragement will make her entire day.
“I admire what you are doing as a military spouse.”
Or, you can just give her a hug.
- They don’t equate deployment to all separations.
They don’t want to hear about how much you miss your spouse who’s away for a week on a fishing trip. Common sense, people. Combat zones and fishing trips are not the same thing.
- Their phone means everything.
A fellow military spouse once said service members live inside the phones of military spouses, and this is so true.
To military spouses, phones are more than a place to mindlessly scroll Facebook or send emojis to your third cousin in Cali.
When military spouses are separated from the person they care about most in the whole world, they want to be there when the service member calls. Missing a phone call can ruin their whole day.
- It doesn’t get easier. Ever.
It’s a complete and total misconception that being apart gets easier over time. It doesn’t. Do military spouses learn to use tools and resources to get through it? Absolutely.
But there isn’t a day that goes by that a military spouse doesn’t wish her service member was home.
- Being faithful is the easy part.
Trust me. Military life and keeping a strong military marriage is complicated enough without bringing another person into the mix.
Of course, there are a few bad military spouse apples, but they do not make the whole tree rotten. Military spouses love, adore and respect their service members, even when they are away.
- The uncertainty is the hardest part.
You never know when they are going to call, leave or come home. There is some ballpark of an idea, but dates typically change. Everything is ambivalent, not just deployment.
Where you’ll live, your career, your friendships—all of it is a big fat question mark. The only thing certain is that the plan you start with will always change and change and change.
Afghanistan did happen.
At a loss for words, I hung up the phone trying to make sense of our conversation. It took me a while to adjust to the idea of another deployment. Okay…a good long while. I can’t say that I ever got comfy cozy with the idea, but I did reach a place of acceptance.
Since then, I’ve learned to brace myself for the surprises of military life. And he’s learned there are just certain things best left unsaid to a spouse immediately after deployment (like that you’re leaving again on another deployment).
This article originally appeared in Military Families Magazine.