To the MilSpouse Who Is Struggling

Dear Struggling Spouse --

When you wrote me to vent about your Army husband's field time absences and how lost and lonely you are, my heart broke for you. Ongoing field time and no schedule flexibility with your employer had forced you to leave your job. You are pregnant with your second child. You have no family nearby and your best friend just PCSed. When you admit to struggling you are warned "deployment is worse!" You are searching for an understanding shoulder, but you feel like you can't find one. All you want, in this moment, is for someone to say "it's going to be OK."

Oh, sweet girl, I wish I could hug you. Because we have all been there. Every single one of us has been you. Some of us still are you. Maybe we have found ways to cope, to push those feelings down to the bottom of the pile. But deep inside? We still feel those things.

Some of us have been doing this for so long, have worked so hard to no longer feel those things that we have forgotten what it's like to be you. Some of us don't want to admit that we still feel that way.

Dear Struggling Military Spouse: We hear you, we see you -- we have been you.

But we have and do,  and we know how hard it is. We know that right now, these things you are facing seem impossible to climb. Maybe you feel lost, like you don't know who you are without your job to fill your time and mind. Maybe you are looking at the field time and deployment and thinking "really? why DID I sign up for this?" Because even though we all will say "I'm proud to serve," no one gets married to spend their life away from their best friend. No one in a healthy relationship actually likes that part.

What you are feeling isn't just normal -- it's all but universal. When my husband left for his first long field exercise three weeks before our wedding I not only bawled my eyes out as if the world was coming to an end, I made a mix tape of sappy pop love songs. In retrospect it was pathetic and kind of funny. At the time my heart felt like it was broken into two million little pieces that would never mend.

But can I tell you something?

You are going to move through this. You are going to find yourself and redefine yourself in ways you cannot possibly imagine right now. Every day you are going to wake-up stronger than the day before. And your heart will mend.

You are going to find a new best girlfriend -- maybe not immediately, but it will happen. You will find ways to enjoy spending all your time with your children, if only for a season, and you will be surprised by the fulfillment you find in it. And if you decide to go back to work afterward? That's OK, too.

You will learn to move through your husband's absences. It won't seem easy, but you will do it. You will be creative and find ways to feel connected with your spouse even while he is gone. Homecoming won't be easy either, but you will learn that absence really can make the heart grow fonder.

It's not just OK to cry -- crying is a good thing. It shows that you care. And when you have had it out (maybe even every day) you will stand up, you will take care of yourself and those babies, and you will find joy in the little things.

Deployment will not conquer you. Unemployment will not conquer you. Babies, crazy things that break only when your husband is gone, pens that explode on uniforms in the wash, moving across country to a crappy location and confusing amounts of useless paperwork all will not conquer you. You are stronger than you think you are, even when you are feeling weak, even when all you want to do is sob.

Sob, friend. Cry on our shoulders. We are here to hold you up.

Because in the end you will find a community of other spouses somewhere you didn't expect -- maybe your church, or a playgroup, or your unit, or a book club or the gym -- and you will learn that friends sometimes come from the most surprising places. You will open your heart and mind to other people who are nothing like you, and you will find that they give you immeasurable joy.

But please, when it is all over and you have conquered these months, I beg you to do one thing: don't forget the struggle. Don't bury the journey deep inside you. Let yourself remember the pain a little and, more importantly, the triumph. Because in seven years when it is all a distant memory, someone might look to you for an understanding heart.

Make sure you can give it to them.


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