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Communicating With Your Partner On Deployment

Service members using computers.

Hopefully, you and your service member had a discussion during pre-deployment about how often you'll communicate while he's gone. If you didn't do this before he left, it's not too late to try to establish these expectations now. However, even with a tentative calling or emailing schedule, both you and your service member may struggle to maintain the routine. As much as service members would like to establish a schedule for reaching their loved ones, their missions in a combat zone or operational activities may interfere. As a result, many spouses and partners carry cell phones with them at all times to avoid missing their service member's call.

Communication Tip

Try to avoid comparing how often you speak with your service member with how often somebody else says they are speaking with their service member. Focus on what works for you and your service member and don't worry about how other couples are communicating.

Schedules Can be Hard to Maintain

If you don't hear from your service member at a pre-determined time, don't worry and don't take it personally. Your service member is probably as anxious to communicate with you as you are with him. Once deployed and actively engaged in his unit's missions, there's little that your service member can do to control when he'll be able to call. This unpredictability can be a source of frustration for some loved ones, particularly since there's not a phone number at which they can reach their service member. This is where Internet access is truly helpful for most service members.

"I try to understand that although my husband does miss me, he may not want to spend his whole deployment on the computer with me. It can make it harder for him. He needs his ways of dealing and to get his mind off of the deployment. If the chow hall is having a themed dinner he may spend more time there with co-workers and friends than on the computer with me. He may spend more time with his friends at the gym. This doesn't mean that he does not want to talk to his family."
–Air Force spouse

Communicating 24/7 via the Internet

Some duty stations have Internet access with varying degrees of reliability. Many service members don't take any
chances and choose to bring their own laptops so they can use email and instant messenger (IM) while they're gone. Spouses and partners report that they derive a great deal of comfort from being able to contact their service member online whenever they want. Another advantage of having Internet access is that it generally allows the service member and partner to communicate for longer periods of time.

Beware, however, that there is a risk of misunderstanding when communicating online. For example, you cannot read body language through an email and tone can be mistaken, causing confusion and conflict. Whenever possible, both you and your service member should give one another the benefit of the doubt when something that is expressed in writing just "doesn't seem right." This can save both of you a great deal of frustration. Understanding the limits of the medium goes a long way toward preserving harmony while apart.

The Internet also enables service members to free video and voice software–such as Skype (www.skype.com)–for face-to-face talking. Sometimes, unreliable connections can make video-conferencing difficult, in which case you can switch to voice or text chatting only. Many military installations overseas also offer free video conferencing to their service members.

"Usually we just Skype–that is probably the biggest tool deployed families have. Skype has probably saved marriages and families. It takes away so much separation."
–Air Force spouse

"My husband got to see our daughter crawl for her first time by chance–she was on the floor in the background while video chatting and she started crawling. He got to see her walk for the first time (for him) while on video chat, too."
–Army spouse

The Power of Social Media

Facebook and other forms of social media can be terrific vehicles to communicate with your service member, family, and friends. Posting photos and deployment updates can streamline and personalize all communication. Just remember to maintain operational and personal security while enjoying the benefits of online technology!

The Limits of the Phone

If your service member does not have Internet access, be prepared for brief phone calls. Your service member may be relying on the Defense Satellite Network (DSN), which limits call lengths to fifteen or thirty minutes. During these calls, it's important to use that time to convey positive and supportive messages to one another, encouraging each other to persevere in the relationship. Any problems that you may be having as a couple are not likely to be resolved while your service member is deployed. Think about the meaningful issues you'd like to discuss and focus on those.

"Make the most out of every chance you do have for communication. Don't spend the twenty minutes you have to talk on the phone arguing over small stuff; you will regret it in the long run."
–Air Force spouse

Four Steps to Constructive Problem-Solving

Step 1: Gentle Start-Up Step 2: Perspective
Bring up issues gently so your partner doesn't feel defensive.
  1. Start with "I feel" or I'm concerned"; share how the problem affects you emotionally.
  2. Describe what's wrong in objective terms. "I'm concerned that the bills didn't get paid on time this month."
  3. State what you need in a positive way. "I need to know that someone is paying close attention to our family's on time."
In every argument there are two ways of seeing things–yours and your partner's. It is important to understand your partner's point of view.
  1. Set aside your own agenda and learn to hear and respect what your partner is saying.
  2. Validate what is being said. For example, "I can see how you would feel that way…"
  3. Ask questions to clarify what your partner is saying: "Could you explain what you're thinking in a different way?"
Step 3: Compromise Step 4: Recover from Conflict
Compromise is an agreement you and your partner can both live with and get behind without reservations.
  1. Describe your core need–what you cannot compromise on.
  2. Listen to your partner describe his core need and validate why it is important to him.about.
  3. Describe what you are flexible about.
  4. Listen to what your partner is flexible about.
  5. Come to a compromise by paying attention to the places where your flexibility overlaps.
Recovering from conflict is fixing things between you and your partner after a disagreement–after you have both calmed down.
  1. Describe what your feelings were during the argument.
  2. Listen to and validate your partner's feelings.
  3. Take some responsibility for your own part in the argument and share it with your partner.
  4. Discuss ways to improve the conversation the next time you talk about the issue and share that with your partner.

Choose Your Topics Carefully

Use this time apart to focus on what you love about your service member. Any negativity conveyed in the phone call may linger and haunt both of you. The last thing you want is your service member distracted or distraught when he's headed out on his next mission. And, you definitely don't want to worry about or regret what was said, or not said, the last time you were able to talk to your service member on the phone.

"You have to communicate as often as possible, be honest with each other about what you are feeling, and be sensitive to the circumstances. You have to remember that your deployed service member is not sitting on a computer all day chatting, and emails and calls may be slow at times. They have to be sensitive to the fact that sometimes we forget that back at home, too. Care packages with a little bit of a personal touch help and always say, 'I love you.'"
–Navy spouse

When communicating with your service member, try to focus on sending him uplifting messages of love and support. Before you launch into a new topic, ask yourself if what you're about to discuss accomplishes this goal. If your topic of conversation doesn't strengthen your service member or your relationship, consider changing the topic, unless it's an emergency.

"We talk a lot about what we would like to do after deployment, like taking a vacation with his block leave time."
–Army spouse

Try to stay within the parameters you established with your service member in your pre-deployment agreement about what you two would share with one another while separated.

Touching Base With Others

It is important to maintain your communication with friends and family, as they can be a source of strength and support. Conversely, you can provide support to them through checking in periodically with your service member's extended family and friends to update them and keep them involved in your own deployment experiences. You can also touch base with a mentor or other confidantes to make sure that your perspective on the deployment experience is accurate.

This excerpt is provided courtesy of the acclaimed free digital resource "Everyone Serves." Download your free copy with additional media content today at everyoneservesbook.com.

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