Thriving During Deployment

I receive a lot of questions about how to survive deployment. After experiencing 4 deployments within 4 years with my husband, I first want to say that if you’re just looking to survive, you’re looking at deployment all wrong. There are a lot of blogs and social media accounts that buy into the idea of “woe is me, my boyfriend/husband/whatever is deployed and I’m going to cry everyday and wallow in self pity”. If you’re looking for that, this page isn’t for you. If you’re looking for a way to THRIVE during deployment, this page IS for you.

This post is all about my favorite coping strategies for deployment. You must learn how to cope with hard things if you’re going to have a successful marriage to someone in the military. Start now, where ever you are.

I believe deployment should be viewed by us significant others as an opportunity. Hear me out. So much of our everyday life while they’re home is all about them and their commitment to the military. We move when the military tells us to. We rearrange our lives every few years on behalf of the military. Our social life can become dictated by the squadron. We endure so many separations for training and work trips that it’s easy to lose yourself in the day to day grind and work of keeping it all together. We are voluntold to do so much on behalf of their squadron. When they leave for deployment, they’re leaving for months … sometimes up to and exceeding a year. Yes, they leave us at home and it can be lonely and isolating, but also they leave us time to be ourselves without having to live for and by the military. Deployment is OUR time to live for ourselves (and our kids, dogs, or whatever kind of dependents you have) 😉 Therefore, this is our time to THRIVE.

Is it sad that they’re gone? Absolutely. Is it nerve-wrecking worrying about their wellbeing? Ohmygosh YES. Do I cry? Yes. I try to have at least one, big, definitive cry. I’m always sad for at least the first day or three. I HATE walking back into the house alone after I drop off my husband. Sometimes I sit in my car for an hour or more avoiding going into the house alone. I find, though, that once I get back into the house, I’m okay. I might have my big cry right then, but I also might have it in me to do something else – *distract myself* for a little while.

So how can you thrive during deployment? Thank you for asking. Here is my go-to game plan for thriving despite my husband being deployed:

  1. Pick a project or two: I’m all about the projects. Projects can take on any form: redecoration, fitness, art, work, scrapbooking, read that huge series of books, take classes, etc. I usually pick one or two things and set some benchmarks to work toward while my husband is gone. I was in nursing school during my husband’s most recent deployment, so my project was doing really well in school – not just grade-wise, but also spending extra time to understand the material and figure out how to apply it in practice. When we were in Japan, a lot of my projects were fitness related. I could get strong AF while my husband was gone because I had hours to work out everyday and I ate based on my goals, rather than socially with him. I’d work out at night during the summer, when the day was cooler. I never worked out at night while he was home because he was home from work in the evening.
  2. Develop a routine: Imagine a life where your life is all about you. This is it: deployment! Now is the time to focus on developing healthy habits and making them your everyday routine. Go to bed early, wake up early, workout 5 or 6 days a week, go for a walk everyday, get your kids or pets in order, email your spouse at the same time everyday, read in bed at night, or whatever makes sense for you. Create a routine during the first month of deployment and stick to it. I’m a creature of habit, so I end up eating the same 4 or 5 foods for all of deployment. I get really good at putting those meals together. I become predictable. I go to the gym. I meet up with friends. I get coffee from the same place. Whatever it is that you incorporate into your routine will help you get through deployment, so choose your routine carefully. Your routine will keep you sane, too. It will add predictability to your day and you can rely on your routine when you hit a difficult day or time period.
  3. Use your network: It’s really important to have a strong network of friends and family you can rely on during deployment – not just for emotional support, but also for day to day issues, like if a babysitter falls through, if your washer breaks and you need to do a quick load of laundry, etc. Building your network between deployments should be your priority, so that when the time comes, your network already exists. I think it’s really important to have a network outside of your spouse’s squadron. Once deployment begins, all of your friends with deployed spouses will be in your same situation. Yes, you can totally help each other (and you may help each other more than anyone else will!), but also they’re going through a tough time too, and they may have moments and periods when they need you to be there for them, and therefore may not be able to be there for you. Your network can include people that you aren’t close with. Get to know your neighbors, reach out to people at work or in organizations you belong to, and ALWAYS include your boss, even if you don’t have the perfect relationship. Letting your boss know that your spouse will be deploying soon may earn you a little leeway if you need it one day.
  4. Quiet the noise: I have spent a lot of time over the last 5 years building a network of strong lady friends. My friends are positive, kind, and driven AF (like me). We get each other and we support each other. We know we can go to each other during hard times. This sounds like the network part, right? Here’s the thing: my friends don’t buy into my bullshit, and I don’t buy into theirs, so I can rely on them to keep my head on straight and tell me hard truths when I get sucked-in to nonsense and unproductive bullshit. It’s super easy to get sucked into nonsense – drama, performative emotional stuff on social media, others’ negative feelings, etc. You KNOW the type: women who literally post everyday on social media about how hard their life is during deployment. Many of those women need that support, and I don’t look down on those women at all. However, I also don’t want to get sucked in. When I get sucked-in, I feel sad, I get spun-up on drama, and I start thinking about things that aren’t productive for my situation as the wife of a deployed service member. STAY FOCUSED ON YOU. Deployment is the time to be selfish. My husband and I make a list of my priorities before he leaves. My list includes things like: stay alive, keep the dogs alive, get my school work finished, go to school, and communicate with him daily. If something noisy (like drama or emotional BS from someone) comes into my range of focus that has no bearing on any of those priorities, I identify it as noise and unimportant, so I try to ignore it. If I can’t ignore it and I need to talk to someone to get my head cleared and back on track, I call one of my girl friends and ask for help. I only bring noise to my husband if it might be of interest to him or if my network isn’t helping me quiet the noisy feelings.
  5. Keep communicating: You probably won’t hear from your loved one everyday, especially if he or she is the new guy in a squadron or if they’re a senior officer. Things get super busy, they work weird hours, and sometimes they get caught up in something that takes all their energy and they just need to go to bed at the end of it. Honestly, they may forget to email you some day, and they may even miss a weekly call. What they’re doing is hard. Give them some grace, and intentionally don’t let yourself fall apart if you don’t hear from them within a timeframe that you expect. Do NOT assume the worst. If you’re not hearing from them, no news is good news. Your routine is so key here – follow your routine, email them regardless of whether they’re emailing you, and keep on keeping on.
  6. Find ways to stay positive: Deployment will have high points and low points, and it’s important to maintain some level of positivity during the low points. I love music, so every deployment I create a deployment playlist. When I’m feeling down, I listen to my deployment songs and I feel a TONNNN better. Reading a book is a good way to overcome emotions, too. Get lost in something. Talk to a friend about HER. Have a good cry if you need to and get on with your day. I’m not against crying. I cry a lot, but I use crying as a way to get out my negative emotions so I can move on.
  7. Create a mantra: This is my last recommendation, but probably the most effective coping strategy for me. I come up with a slogan that I can think about and focus on when I am having a tough moment. I use this in my daily life, too (currently it’s “adapt and overcome”), but I’ve had some good ones for deployment in the past. During our last two deployments in Japan, I used “poise, breathe, shoulders back, stand up straight.” I have social anxiety and I’m an introvert, so sometimes big social events or being in public is especially hard for me during deployment. The “poise” mantra was SO helpful!!! I had something to focus on, like a trigger, to remind myself what I was supposed to do, and it kept me calm. A lot of my friends talk about using mantras, though they don’t always give it a name. A good friend is always reminding herself to smile, since it’s impossible for her to be anxious or negative when she’s physically smiling. A really good friend reminds herself to “say hello” whenever she’s in social situations during deployment. She said that the quote (along the lines of) “be kind, for everyone is fighting a battle” reminds her that everyone else is going through a tough time, too, and saying hello may help them in addition to helping her. She’s an extrovert so it’s interesting that she needs to remind herself to say hello to people, but she said that she never feels like being social during deployment, so she forces herself to be social.

To recap my top 7 deployment coping strategies:

  1. Pick a project;
  2. Develop a routine;
  3. Use your network;
  4. Quiet the noise;
  5. Keep communicating;
  6. Find ways to stay positive; and
  7. Create a mantra

Make it your business to THRIVE during deployment, whatever that means to you. If you focus on just surviving and wallow in self pity, you will miss opportunities for joy and fun.