I’ve been with my Marine since before Boot Camp, which includes all seven of his deployments. I wish I could say they became easier over time, but every deployment was challenging in its own way. Now when my spouse deploys, I’m still sad and lonely, but I also know the deployment cycle and how to get through it. I’ve found ways to build up my courage and strength so I can ride out those rough days. Whether you are facing a first deployment or your tenth, these strategies make all the difference.
What I can say is that each time I learned more about how to equip myself to handle deployment better.
Here are a few of the things that I have learned along the way that might help you navigate the challenges of preparing for a deployment.
Plan ahead. The more you can get done and take care of before a deployment, the less you will have to do on your own while your service member is gone. This is true for legal paperwork, finances, home maintenance, car issues, and even doctor appointments. Pre-deployment is really busy, but don’t put off these essential tasks. When you get organized, you will save yourself from a lot of headaches during the deployment. Even if you don’t get much advance notice of a deployment (thanks a lot, military!), it still makes a difference and is worth it to take care of as much "adulting" as you can ahead of time.
If you need help with your pre-deployment checklist, check out my Ultimate Deployment Guide.
Pre-Deployment is really hard. Seriously, the weeks leading up to the deployment are usually more stressful than the deployment itself! Because of all the changes, emotions, and the service member’s schedule, this can feel like a terrible roller coaster that is rough on the whole family. Try to be patient and give each other grace, because you and your spouse will be focused on very different priorities leading up to the deployment. And don’t expect the deployment to feel this stressful. Most spouses report that things mellow out and calm down once the countdown begins. So take deep breaths and remember that this stage is temporary.
Build your tribe. No one should go through deployment alone. You’re going to need a little help from friends. Whether that is fellow military spouses, friends and family back home, kind neighbors, or an online community, you want to start now building up the relationships that will keep you strong during deployment. Focus on positive people who encourage you, like the ones in my online Deployment Support group. If you’re new to your area, be proactive about joining local groups and asking people for their phone number. You never know when you might need to call someone to help you out of an emergency, so the more contacts you build, the better.
Things will go wrong. Speaking of emergencies, let’s talk about something called the Deployment Curse. As soon as your service member leaves, things will start breaking, someone will get sick, and life will suddenly feel a lot more difficult. Don’t panic. There’s no way to avoid these inconveniences. But you can make plans so they will be less stressful when they hit you. File a Family Care Plan that names an emergency contact to take care of your children. Think through who you would call for car trouble, home repairs, or getting locked out of the house. And when trouble inevitably comes your way, try to take it in stride. Clean it up, make the necessary phone calls, and then try to laugh about it. At least deployment is good for some crazy stories, right?
Celebrate everything. During deployment, it’s important to stay positive. The weeks can drag by, but things will feel more manageable if you have something to look forward to. Give yourself short-term and long-term goals to work on during deployment. Then celebrate every time you reach a goal! It’s also fun to plan a weekly or monthly celebration to mark off the time that passes during deployment. It doesn’t have to be expensive. A relaxing bath once a week or a coffee date with friends will keep you motivated and moving forward. If you have kids, get their input for the celebrations, then make a visual wall display so they can see when they are getting closer.
Invest your time. Deployments feel like they last forever, but they will eventually come to an end. When they do, you can never get those months back. So don’t hold your breath during the entire deployment, waiting for your service member to return. Instead, try to find a way to invest the time in yourself. Sign up for classes, pursue a new hobby, make friends try out a fitness routine, explore your local area, organize the house, or read books. All of these are positive goals that will help you feel you are making the most of deployment and getting something good out of it. Those silver linings can make the difference on a bad deployment day.
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Lizann Lightfoot is "The Seasoned Spouse," a military wife, blogger, published author, and mom of five. Her mission is to encourage and support families through military life. She has been through multiple deployments and PCS moves and uses her experiences to help others. When she's not writing, she loves baking, reading, and snuggling her newborn baby. Connect with Liz at https://seasonedspouse.com.