Newlyweds live together. This seems intuitively obvious. No bride magazine on Earth would think it was necessary to interrupt a discussion of sailboat-shaped wedding favors in order to mention building a newlywed life together when the bride and groom live oceans apart.
Military life can be a little different. If you married your servicemember right before a deployment, or if you have a few months to wait before you are approved to live overseas, or you are a member of a dual military couple who are not co-located, you might be starting your newlywed life alone -- which requires a little extra finesse from both of you.
“The first year of living together is all about adjusting to each other,” said Marie Donlan, a licensed marriage and family counselor who works with military couples. "We all have routines, and now you have to put two routines together and see how that fits.”
Part of that routine is building a new way to communicate. Before the wedding, communication between you and your partner was probably easy. That is one of the reasons people get married. When a military honeymoon is interrupted by a deployment, communication has to become more deliberate. More focused. More thoughtful.
That kind of communication needs to start before the deployment begins. “Start talking about expectations,” Donlan suggested in a recent interview. “Young couples don’t often talk about their expectations. What’s the plan when the spouse is gone?”
Donlan advises couples to sit down before the deployment to discuss everything from how the deployed spouse will be able to keep in touch, to when to discuss big issues, to how the spouse at home is going to handle the finances. Using a website like SpouseBuzz.com to identify potential challenges can be especially helpful before a first deployment.
Joan Vail, a licensed clinical psychologist, agreed that communication before the deployment is essential. “Before the spouse leaves, there needs to be a negotiation in the roles,” Vail said. She noted that the bride and groom both need to acknowledge that they will change as individuals as a result of the deployment. The relationship won’t be the same as it was at the start of their marriage, and they should put policies in place to address issues that could potentially be a problem when they ultimately reunite.
If you are headed into a combat deployment, Vail advises newlyweds to think about seeing a family therapist both before and after the deployment. Pre-deployment counseling or coaching helps prepare the couple for the separation ahead and provide methods of coping and protecting the relationship.
Vail believes the couple should work with the same therapist before and after the deployment if possible. “Have the same counselor when the servicemember comes back,” says Vail. “Somebody who knew both of you before would be able to pick up those subtle things that changed along the way.” Seeing a familiar face will also bring a level of comfort that might make it easier for the couple to return to counseling.
Once the deployment begins, newlyweds need to be as reliable as possible when it comes to communication. Often, newlywed couples are limited by the availability and affordability of phones, email and Facebook. Having an understanding and agreement to how often you communicate can help a lot.
“Talk and talk and talk, even if it seems trivial,” Donlan advises. “If you can talk about the little things as it happens, it makes the long run easier.”
Little things during a period of separation can include events of the day, but little things also include adding telling your deployed partner the "whys" behind your events. Take your little popcorn for dinner habit. Do you eat popcorn because you don’t like to cook for one? Is it because you are crazy busy at work? Is it because your apartment is so empty you are trying to avoid it? Or do you just like popcorn that much? The "whys" add a layer of intimacy over your newlywed days spent apart.
Making communication a priority before, during, and after a deployment is one way for newlyweds to build a life together while they’re apart. What else can newlyweds do during the deployment? Here are four tips to help newlyweds get to know each other and help their relationship grow during a deployment:
1. Throw a laptop party. “Technology has made it possible for the active-duty spouse to remain a presence,” says Donlan. Phone calls, emails, Skype, Facebook and text messages are all easy ways for couples to maintain communication over long distances. Be cool about which methods of technology are most available on this particular deployment. Every unit is different and availability differs widely.
2. Write a love letter on paper. Even if every form of technology is available at a moment’s notice, handwritten letters bring a more romantic feel to communication. Unlike quick phone calls and emails, letters allow you to take your time to express your feelings. They also make special keepsakes to reread years later and relive your earliest memories of being man and wife.
3. Zing up your care packages. Care packages are like home wrapped in packing tape. In addition to the usual items, include things that remind your spouse of home, the two of you as a couple, and the life you started together. Get new ideas for care packages from SpouseBuzz.com.
4. Celebrate "Us." Servicemembers say that they don’t just miss their spouses. They miss the “us” the two of you are when you are together. Appreciate the time you’ve spent together, the moments you’re able to share while apart, and the role each is currently playing in the marriage. “Both sides should express appreciation for what each is doing,” Donlan advises. “People don’t voice enough appreciation. Deployments are tough on both parties.”