Can Time Apart Be Good for a Marriage? + A Few Thoughts on Deployment

Have you ever spent time away from your spouse?

becca-elliott-commissioning

A younger version of us on the day Elliott was commissioned.

Maybe you were surprised at how easy some things were without him around. I’m betting most of us have. Marriage is hard work!

Earlier this year, my husband was deployed for one month, which sounds long to some and short to others, depending upon what is normal to you. But still, no matter what your normal is, a month is a month. It’s 30 days and 30 nights without your husband going through the rhythms of life with you: greeting you after work, helping you put the kids to bed, spooning you as you fall asleep, waking up with morning breath, kissing you goodbye for the day.

It’s a month without someone checking in on you, hearing the nuances of your day (both praiseworthy and not), parenting with you, and holding you accountable.

Can a break be good for a marriage? Can a deployment be a positive thing?

For us, I think it was good in some ways. Here’s why:

First of all, for us, this deployment was long anticipated. Elliott had wanted to do a “combat” tour ever since he joined the Army, but he’s been in for five years and has volunteered to go many times. And he had never gotten that chance.

For any service member, there is camaraderie in a real deployment, and there is honor in serving “over there.” So when Elliott found out that a SEAL commander needed him, urgently but probably briefly, in the Middle East, I was genuinely and truly thrilled for him.

Of course my next question was, “For how long?!?!”

Elliott said it would be a month at the most. I nodded, relieved. I thought I could handle a month.

That month apart had its really low points. I want to make that very clear! Most of them involved tired children bawling, “I want Daaaadddy! Daaaaaaadddddyyyy!” some time after 7pm. I didn’t always like the person I became at that time of day. I’d rather not ever meet her again.

But it also had adventure and renewed purpose for Elliott, and that was good for him. He is a better soldier because of it, no doubt about it, and a wiser and better man.

And here is my second point about why deployment was good for us.

That deployment had adventure and renewed purpose for me, too.

There was something about being the only adult in the house that was empowering as well as freeing. Gone were the questions like, “Is he going to do that? Or do I have to?” If the trash needed to be taken out, I had to do it. If the diaper was dirty again, I was the only one changing it. If the car or the garden or the kids or the neighbors or the government or the landlord or someone needed something…

… it was all on me.

And it was hard, yes, but in some ways it was so simple. I just had to get it done.

There’s also freedom in letting things go, especially in the kitchen. When Elliott is home, we eat dinner together as a family every night, and I work hard to make healthy, varied meals. That preparation of a main dish and a couple sides, though, routinely takes me over an hour every evening. Because 4-6pm is also post-nap-grouchy time with the kids, it’s often the most stressful time in my day.

Now, Elliott has often told me to not stress about dinner, to serve us leftovers and raw fruit and vegetables before cooking more food, and to eat things before they go bad. He also likes PB&J sandwiches for lunch every day. He’s easy to feed and easy to please. He is not holding me to this full-dinner standard. I am!

Without Elliott home, I didn’t focus quite so much on my role as home chef. As in, I barely turned on the oven. I made a lot of pasta, and I also made this weird sauerkraut and sausage thing he doesn’t like but I love. Mostly, though, we ate a lot of leftovers, a couple rotisserie chickens, and Trader Joes pizza. We cleaned out the freezer, too, which really needed to happen.

“Cleaning out the freezer” is actually a metaphor, I think, for a how a lot of wives approach their husbands’ deployments or long business trips. Just like moving or having a baby, the purging and nesting instincts kick in when your routine is disrupted. I found myself doing things I’d never do in my normal, everyday routine.

Some of them can be good. Some of them can be fun! Like watching chick flicks. I watched a lot of chick flicks the first two weeks of Elliott’s deployment. What is is about lonely nights and chick flicks? They go together like salted caramel ice cream and… me, that’s for sure.

That disruption in routine can also inspire me to take on new projects and start new things. One big change I made during Elliott’s deployment was that I applied for a writing job at a local online newspaper. I think I still would have applied whether he was here or not, but it was fun to share the exciting developments with him from afar, too. He came home to a wife who is now a paid writer for a local paper, an official reviewer of films and critic of restaurants, a local columnist with new co-workers. It gave me a boost of confidence and can-do-it attitude right at the end of his deployment.

I really liked the person I was when I just got things done – rather than the person who waits, calculating, mentally nagging, wondering if and when my husband’s going to step in and help out. I want to have a servant’s heart and a can-do attitude about life. Both of these qualities are beautiful, and I know that such an attitude – when correctly applied and received – is much more encouraging, inspiring, and refreshing at home.

And it’s amazing to make things happen! Like applying for the kind of job you’d like to have. Getting projects done. Becoming the person you’d like to be.

Now. ALL. THAT. SAID!

I have one more, final, most important thought.

It is very easy to walk away from this post (or these thoughts, for me) and think, “Maybe being apart for a month was really good! Maybe I could even be a better person if we were apart more, and I could be a better, more accomplished, more can-do wife when we’re together.”

And that attitude, I realized, is toxic.

Marriage is about togetherness. In a Christian marriage, it’s a union of two people who, with all their rough edges and quirks, are committed to helping each other become more and more like Jesus, more and more holy. And the process of becoming more like Jesus is not about building ourselves up, having our personal space, having our freedom, having our “me time.”

No, it’s about laying ourselves down.

It’s about becoming one flesh. It’s about loving one another through thick and thin, through all the changes of our lives, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.

When Elliott and I made those marriage vows, we committed to living life together for the ultimate benefit of the other for the glory of God. We knew it would be hard, and that we would both change, and that we would need to adjust and accommodate. We are diamonds in the rough, and by constantly rubbing against each other – over the breakfast table, on long plane flights, through major holidays, in bed at night – we are revealing the diamonds within.

I still think the deployment and the time apart was good. We really did enjoy a lot of things about that month, and we both grew as individuals. I think it genuinely was healthy for us as a unit, too.

But I refuse to think that being away from my husband is better than being with him. I love him, and there’s not much else that compares to belonging to him in this life. And I know choosing him is right, every time. I vowed to do so, to build a marriage with him for God’s glory, and the rewards are eternal.

Have you ever felt this way about time away from your spouse?

Has time apart been more healthy or more damaging to your relationship?

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45 Responses to Can Time Apart Be Good for a Marriage? + A Few Thoughts on Deployment

  1. Jacqueline March 31, 2015 at 9:05 am #

    I really appreciated this post, Becca! My husband is not in the military, but he does work a job that requires quite a bit of travel. It’s always surprised me that while I’ll stress and be anxious leading up to his trips, when it’s time for me to step up to the plate and face some solo-parenting/housekeeping, I really like the person I become! You really hit on on something, talking about letting go of the mental scorekeeping with your spouse and the simplicity of just “getting things done.” I want to feel like that every day, not just when my husband is away! Thanks for sharing so honestly!

    • Becca March 31, 2015 at 9:59 am #

      I’m so glad you agree, Jacqueline! Here’s to being honest, can-do wives all the time. :)

  2. Joy @ Jumbled Up Joy March 31, 2015 at 10:41 am #

    I don’t know… Having done it several times, I think I’d say it depends. My husband’s last deployment actually went okay, all things considered. He even got home a month earlier than planned. I’d just had Wyatt ten days before he left, and my dad had a heart attack at the same time (not related to the birth — lol), and when I think about him leaving, I still feel a surge of the stress I felt. When he came home, I could not stop crying. I guess maybe it was because I’d kept it all in and done a pretty good job (not bragging, just honest assessment) of keeping everything together and everyone’s heads above the water. Also, it was through all the major holidays which I think makes it harder.

    But I can think of other deployments that didn’t seem like such a big, awful deal. And even that one wasn’t so terrible, really. It just… Hurt. It started hard.

    We wouldn’t volunteer much time apart if it weren’t for his work, so it probably is a good thing in small doses. I love what you said about being diamonds in the rough and polishing each other. Such a lovely metaphor to think about!

    • Becca March 31, 2015 at 9:46 pm #

      You have done this so much more often and for such longer periods than I have, Joy! I have so much respect for you for a hundred reasons now, and this is just one of them. Thank you for sharing your greater wisdom and experience.

      If Elliott and I ever have to be separated for six months or more, I know I’ll be singing a different tune most of the time…

  3. Carly March 31, 2015 at 12:11 pm #

    Yes! Time apart is healthy for my husband and me. When my husband goes away for a month for pre-deployment training, it’s great. I get those purging items done, watch chick flicks, and have a little “me” time. It’s these times, when we’re 7 months into a deployment, that the time apart really loses its luster. I’m tired of always knowing that I’m the one to take out the trash, I’m tired of being the person who has to leave work early when the dogs are escaping from the yard, and I’m missing my husband so desperately at this point. But one month away every six months or so? That helps us be more attentive to each other and really focus on loving each other.

    As with most things in life, I think it’s about balance. As for today, I’m ready for my husband to come home and for us to have a nice 6-8 months together before he leaves again. Also, I agree that the togetherness is one of the purposes of our marriage! Great reminder.

    • Becca March 31, 2015 at 9:53 pm #

      You, too, have done this for such longer periods than I have, Carly! I hope the end of your husband’s time away goes well for you, and also that those 6-8 months together stretch into a few more before he has to go again. Military life asks so much of us.

  4. Vicky March 31, 2015 at 2:50 pm #

    I fully appreciate this post. My husband is in the DPS academy (since January and will be until June) and it was definitely taxing in the beginning. I can’t even begin to explain to you how I can easily parallel your ‘alone time’ to my own. I watched so many chick flicks that first month and while it felt really nice to be on my own time, I truly missed my husband. I definitely still do. I can agree with Joy ^ your other comment-er and say that I also feel the weight of ‘being alone’ and the stresses that come with managing all of the responsibilities while my husband is away. Managing them alone, I should say. I knew I wasn’t the only wife (spouse) in the world who had to deal with their significant other being away, but it really helps to see it in print.

    Also, reading that you took the plunge and applied for a job you’ve wanted – that gives me a lot of faith. I’m leaving the same job I’ve had since college and with our move to his new duty station, I’ll be starting all over! That is really daunting, in my opinion. It’s nice that posts like these can bring encouragement. It is definitely needed!

    All of that said, I think time apart is healthy but has potential to be damaging. Having the mindset that you’ve finally ‘made it’, but without your spouse is what makes it toxic. I had to dismiss that thought the first good week I had without my husband home. It’s small things like taking out the trash or mowing my own lawn that make me think being home alone is no problem. I really feel like he’s one of the main reasons why I do make it. We’re believers, too, and I put my faith and trust in God, but also in the God that resides in him. I sincerely miss my husband while he’s away, even though I know he’s working for us both. This definitely challenges me to think on how it has affected our relationship. Thank you, Becca!

    • Becca March 31, 2015 at 9:54 pm #

      I am so glad that this post resonated with you, Vicky, and that you could relate so well. It is encouraging to see your faith as well and how that affects your perspective on time away from him. I hope the rest of his time at the DPS academy goes quickly!

  5. Janet April 1, 2015 at 7:49 am #

    My husband is retired from the Army after 21 years. I hated every time he was gone, even if it was overnight pulling duty. Most of all I hated the 13 months he was in Korea which was an unaccompanied tour at the time. I followed him everywhere I could including Turkey which was not a place I particularly want to go to—though I ended up loving it. To me being together trumped everything.

    • Becca April 6, 2015 at 1:53 pm #

      Yes, yes, and yes. We also had to go through an unaccompanied assignment (my husband’s was to Egypt, and began just 4 months after we got married), and we tried every angle to spend time together that year. It was hard to be apart, but it made our honeymoon last longer, I think!

  6. Julie April 2, 2015 at 12:51 am #

    I’ve just found your blog through another, sorry! can’t remember which one… But I just wanted to say that this post really hit a nerve with me, especially in regards to your last thought. I’m new to the military lifestyle (and looking to connect to seasoned military spouses to help me out!!), but the catch being, we live in separate countries, so I haven’t been fully exposed to the military ways. And because I’m so used to being on my own and not only doing it MY way, but also not having to think about someone else, I realize I do need to take a step back and reconsider my actions as it affects him too now. Thanks for the post!! I look forward to reading more from you. :)

    • Becca April 6, 2015 at 1:55 pm #

      Hi Julie! Glad you’re here. Learning to live and work together is a unit is a lifelong adjustment process, so every spouse will be able to relate to what you’re saying. It isn’t easy to move from doing things *my* way to *our* way. However, the testimony of so many that I respect affirms in me the importance of valuing our marriage relationship above all others, even my relationship with my own independence.

      After all, we all would like to be that sweet couple rocking on their porch and watching the sun set together. It’s going to take a lot of love and sacrifice to get there, but it’s worth it!

  7. LaMesha April 19, 2015 at 2:41 pm #

    I’ve been apart from my husband so much in the 2 years that we’ve been married, the longest being 2 3-month stints. I think I’d handle it better if I was in a familiar place and not here in California away from everyone I know. That part hasn’t been good for our marriage; me being whiny, frustrated and bored, him promising me date nights when he gets home. It’s tough. When my husband is gone, I braver and get so many things done but I didn’t get married to do those things alone. Great post.

    • Becca April 28, 2015 at 9:58 pm #

      Thanks for your encouraging words, LaMesha. I definitely think being in a supportive place is key. During Elliott’s first assignment overseas, he was in Egypt for 12 months on an unaccompanied assignment, and I don’t know how I would have managed being alone and then having a newborn without so much family nearby. It is so trying to a marriage to feel so alone. I hope you don’t have to face this again without a lot of support around you!

  8. Caryn April 19, 2015 at 6:58 pm #

    Hi Becca! I am a UVA grad too and I think we may have crossed paths in the Guide Service before! My fiancée is a Navy pilot and this post was so nicely written. We are a month or so in to a 9-10 month deployment and I appreciate your positive spin to this period of time. There are a lot of things to learn about yourself! Best of luck to your family – I really enjoy your blog!

    • Becca April 28, 2015 at 9:57 pm #

      Thanks for your kind comment, Caryn, and yes — I remember you from UVA! I am thinking now that I might have put too positive a spin on my own productivity during his time away because he was just gone for a week and I definitely didn’t get any special projects done — I barely kept the house clean! Still, there ARE positives to every situation, and I do like to focus more on those than the negatives. I wish you luck and joy in the wonderful journey ahead of you and your finacee!

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