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Should You Keep Secrets While Your Military Spouse Is Gone?

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"Don't tell them anything. There's nothing they can do about it, and hearing about problems at home will stress them out and distract them."

"Tell them everything, just like you would if they were home. They'll feel lied to if you don't, and married couples are supposed to endure together these burdens together."

These are the most dominant schools of thought for couples when one is away from home for an extended period of time. I can speak only to the military experience, but military spouses definitely get told not to overshare.

Personally, I'm a tell-it-all person. I wouldn't be in the writing-things-for-the-world-to-read profession if keeping things to myself was my strong suit. It's just not in my nature.

I'm perfectly capable of keeping a real secret, but I've never kept anything, good or bad, from my husband. Not when he's home, not when he's gone, not on a boat, not with a goat.

I do not like secrets. I do not like them, Sam I Am.

There have been plenty of things that have happened while my husband was gone that he couldn't do one thing about. Everything from the house flooding to a kid in the hospital to all the little work dramas and stresses. Some people would say I shouldn't have burdened him with all that information, but (to quote Al Jarreau -- sorry/not sorry for the ear worm) we're in this love together, even when we're not together.

But I get the other viewpoint too. I think this is a relationship-by-relationship issue. What works for one couple may not work for another.

On every deployment and every other trip, my husband has been able to call me nearly every day, often twice or more a day, and we Skype or Facetime too. If I held things back, I'd very quickly run out of things to say.

Plus, because we talk so much, I'm able to update him on the outcomes of all the problems. He spends very little time wondering and worrying. And, as an individual, my husband wouldn't like thinking that I was keeping secrets from him -- even humdrum daily life drama secrets. He wants to know every detail.

Finally, my husband is deployed a lot. And when he's not deployed, he's often traveling. If I didn't keep him posted on what was happening in our life at home, he would miss everything.

He wants to know about the little dramas our kids have with other kids on the school bus. He wants to know when my work isn't going well. He wants to have a proverbial seat at the dinner table, even -- and especially -- when he can't have an actual seat there.

But if he had had only one deployment, or had only the occasional work trip, or wasn't able to call home daily for updates, would we handle it differently? Probably.

Telling everything or not telling everything aren't the only options, though. Others find success in taking a hybrid approach -- telling some, but not all.

Someone who follows this philosophy might tell her spouse about the ER visit and the cast on Junior's arm, but not tell about the ongoing fight with the electric company over mistakes on the bill.

The rationale for this approach is that the Must-Do spouse probably can't help with the electric company fight, but will want to know about his child's injury. (And the kid is likely to show Dad the cast the next time they FaceTime anyway.)

Or the same idea but different priorities: Tell him about the electric bill because you just need to vent, but don't tell him about the ER visit because you don't want him to think that you're a bad parent or that the kids are at risk.

Likely, you already have an idea of which approach will work best for you. Maybe you've already settled into a habit that works.

The only wrong approach is one on which you both don't agree. If the Must-Do spouse wants to know everything that's happening and you hold things back, especially big things, you're going to have problems when the Must-Do gets home and finds out about all the secrets.

And if the Must-Do spouse feels overwhelmed by the daily dramas at home, both the big ones and the small ones, but you keep unloading everything on him or her, it won't be long until the calls start coming less frequently and troubles start brewing.

So talk about it. Find an approach that works best for both of you, and then try to respect that.

And never be afraid to revisit that method if and when it doesn't seem to be working anymore.

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Contributor

Rebekah Sanderlin is an Army wife, a mother of three and a professional writer. Her work has been published numerous places, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, and in Self and Maxim magazines. She currently serves on the advisory boards of the Military Family Advisory Network and Blue Star Families.

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