I can’t think of something I have a greater love/hate relationship with than phone and skype calls during deployment. On the one hand, I live for those calls, walking around with my Blackberry practically glued to my hand -- you know, just in case it rings.
In fact, the whole I reason I got a Blackberry can be blamed on deployment. I wanted to know the very second my Solider sent me an email or other message. That way I could immediately rush to the nearest computer in a desperate attempt to chat with him. I was the rude girl who looked at her phone every single time it buzzed no matter who I was talking to or what meeting I was in. Don’t deny it -- you’ve been there too.
There is also a not so flowery or exciting side of things -- the actual conversations. He hasn’t called in several weeks and yet 15 minutes into the conversation you are out of constructive things to say, but certain you’ve forgotten to ask him some vital question you’ve been saving since you last talked. (You’ll remember it as soon as you hang-up.) It seems like you spend all of your time wondering (at least in the back of your mind) when he is going to call, and then when he does, the conversation seems trite and unsatisfactory. The whole process is stressful.
For others there are the too frequent calls. While many service members are out in remote areas, others are places with better connectivity. In those situations it can seem like the calls come (dare I say it?) too often and there really is nothing to say that hasn’t been said. He always manages to call during a bad time. Etching out time to talk about nothing more important than what he ate that morning is annoying. Both parties hang-up feeling unhappy and just as distant as ever.
In short, communication during deployment is really, really hard.
While plenty of resources give ideas of how to make those calls more purposeful through scheduling and topic list making, knowing what to talk about is still a challenge, and sometimes can seem more stressful than it is worth. Because during our poll 16.5 percent of you said communication stresses your marriage more than any other part of deployment, it's obvious that figuring out how to deal with it is vital.
Elizabeth Allen, a researcher with the University of Colorado at Denver, recently did a study on marital stressors during deployment. Her paper, “On the Home Front: Stress for Recently Deployed Army Couples,” took a scientific look at the same subject as our poll. While doing research for the study she noticed that there is no data out there on the best conversation content.
“As I read the literature it seems to me that there’s absolutely no empirical research on helping couples decide what to talk about during deployment,” she said. “There’s a lot going on for each partner and there’s really not good recommendations of what spouses are supposed to do.”
The military, she said, needs to ask couples what works best for them and from there form recommendations that others can use in their communications. Couples are confused, for example, as to whether it is best to only focus on the positives of life or let their spouse know everything that is going on. As it stands, the military gives plenty of guidance for listening techniques and problem solving through courses like PREP, which Allen has worked on. But it fails to give ideas as to the best way to communicate.
“What’s hard is that everyone wants to be doing the right thing, but not knowing what the right thing is is hard,” she said. “We need to be giving them some guidance. ... I feel like we need more information on how the couples who are doing this really well are doing it.”
Photo by Flickr user Editor B.