YDU: “How Long?” is a Line in the Sand

Lately I’ve noticed that there seems to be an imaginary line between MilSpouses drawn in the proverbial sand.

One side says, “Yes, you may have negative feelings in these situations.” The other is “Don’t even think about having negative feelings in these situations!”

No where is this more pronounced than in the course of our military spouse story swaps at playgroups, Zumba or FRG meetings when one shares that their spouse is not home and immediately is asked “How long will he/she be gone?”

It seems that we often ask this question for more than just curiosity, Instead, we ask it to determine which side of line that person gets to stand on. Has their servicemember been gone long enough, in our opinion, for them to be sad? Or is their separation so “short” that they should just be dealing with it?

It’s the difference between compassion and eye-rolling. And even we don’t say it, we think to ourselves “oh good grief, get over it. Mine was gone way longer than that.”

Have we as a community become so jaded by war that we have lost our ability to find compassion for our fellow spouses?

I know that there are many, many families suffering due to war time injuries and death and they live in a somewhat frozen state trying to dig out to the light at the end of a very long tunnel. But, does that mean that unless you are walking in those shoes you can’t miss your spouse or be angry that they are missing important family events for any length of time?

On the one hand, it is hard not to silently chuckle at the 20-something newbie who is complaining about the one-week training that ends tomorrow while your spouse has been deployed for 10 months.

But what about remembering that this young thing has no idea of what lies ahead of her. Don’t you remember being her? That one week seemed like forever to you, too.

Why would a seasoned and salty spouse want to belittle her feelings? Why not instead remember back to those days and sympathize and offer encouraging words?

Maybe we don’t sympathize because the stress of our own lives can be so overwhelming that we are simply in survival mode. Perhaps we ask, “How long will he/she be gone?” hoping the other spouse  is going through the same length of separation we are.

But maybe it’s time we start asking ourselves why we are asking the “how long” question. Is it just curiosity or is it judgment?

Instead maybe we should ask with the aim of sympathy. Knowing “why” might just give us better perspective and just maybe a little more sensitivity.

Military life can be hard and unfair and it’s time we stop the one upping and support each other.


Kate authors the blog Tips From The Homefront where she shares tips and resources on all things related to military life. She and her husband have been married for over 10 years and have two boys. Together they have been to four duty stations and survived multiple deployments and TDYs. Recently she was named the NAS JRB New Orleans Spouse of the Year 2013 for her tireless efforts as their Ombudsman. She continues to serve command families as an Ombudsman as well as being a Chapter Coordinator for Stroller Warriors.  Kate’s life mission is to ensure that all military families are empowered to live the best life possible while serving in the military through connecting them with the resources and entitlements they need and deserve.

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