Your spouse has given you the news that you dread. He or she is going to deploy to a war zone. The time between that news and an actual departure date can vary greatly within our community… but in the months, weeks, or days following that news there is always a frenzy of activity.
Emotions are running high, lists are made, gear is packed… you are both preparing for the deployment in your own way. It can be a hard time for everyone involved. Still, even though it can be difficult, keeping the lines of communication open during this time is important. And there are some tough conversations you might want to consider having before he or she waves goodbye.
1) How to Communicate
This might seem like a no-brainer. You will communicate as often as possible, right? Well, that is not always what both parties want. First of all, it is important to start every deployment with realistic expectations. Tell your service member to be honest with you about what they expect in the way of communication. Will they have regular access? If so, what kind? And then be honest with each other about how much you want to communicate. For some couples, it can be hard to talk frequently so they choose to mostly use email. Some folks love Skype, my husband and I think we are too old to really get it because neither of us like it. Some people are glad when they can text every single day, some choose only to do so once a week. And you may need to compromise. Sometimes one person will want lots of communication and the other partner prefers very little. Don’t let your neighbors who Skype three times a day be what you base your decision on… do what is right for your family.
2) Who You Should Contact
I will never waiver from this advice. If you are a spouse and you are near an installation… go to every single pre-deployment brief that is offered by your spouse’s command. Period. Doesn’t matter if you have been to every single one for the past seven deployments… no two are exactly the same. Information changes; you might have a new family readiness team and there are probably different people in charge. Hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth is ALWAYS the best option if possible. You need to know who to contact if there is an emergency. You need to know what to expect from the command and family readiness. If you cannot attend a pre-deployment brief make sure you have the appropriate point of contact at the command, the phone number and email for the family readiness leader, and all of the information you will need in the event you have to send a Red Cross message.
3) What to do with the Money
This is a big one. During a deployment, there are usually several different increases in a service member’s pay. It is so important to discuss what to do with that extra pay BEFORE they leave, especially if you are the one who is in charge of paying the bills during this time. Nothing dampers a homecoming like your service member returning with hopes of buying a new vehicle with money saved, just to find out that you paid off student loan debt or used that extra money to surprise them by re-doing all of the furnishings in the house. Whether you decide to save, invest, pay off debt, spend it on something… communicate about it beforehand. Make sure to factor any added expenses such as additional child care or lawn maintenance into the budget conversation. After the decisions have been made make sure to let your spouse know they can trust you to carry out the plan to the best of your ability by following through on what you discussed unless a true emergency arises.
4) What do They Really Want to Know?
Our community seems to be divided when it comes to knowing how much is TOO much information shared during deployment. On one side of the argument are those couples who insist that the healthiest practice is for both the spouse and service member to share every single detail of their lives… good, bad and the ugly. On the other side are spouses who have thrived in their marriages by NOT sharing any bad news during deployments. Some couples fall somewhere in the middle: sharing some but not all of what happens in both the life of the spouse and the service member. If you want to read my opinion on the topic check out “Do We Communicate Too Much During Deployment”. Whatever you decide, talk about it BEFORE they leave and you are left wondering if your spouse wants to know all the kids have the stomach flu, the car exploded in the driveway AND your mother-in-law had a mental breakdown on Facebook.
5) What if the Worst Happens?
None of us want to think about getting that horrible knock on the door. But we all need to be prepared. This is the hardest conversation to have, but sit down with your service member when they fill out that huge packet of papers about wills, pall bearers and death notifications. If the worst happened, at least you wouldn’t have to second guess terrible things like funeral details, how to notify best friends, or what to do with treasured possessions. In addition, make sure your service member knows your wishes when it comes to notification. Do you want a chaplain or another clergy member to accompany the service member making the notification? How do other immediate family members want to be notified… by you or the military?
In addition, make sure you both have a will AND, if you have children or pets, have someone appointed to be temporary guardians in the event YOU are injured or killed. If something happens to YOU while your service member is deployed it will take several days for them to return home and you don’t want them to be taken into foster care while they await the arrival of the other parent. (Wills, powers of attorney, and guardianship paperwork can be filed at the legal office on your installation.) This is also the time for a service member to double check who is named on their SGLI (Servicemember’s Group Life Insurance) policy. If your service member entered military service before you were married, he or she probably named a parent as the beneficiary. It is not automatically transferred to the spouse after saying ‘I Do’. The service member must actually change the beneficiary. This can be uncomfortable for some service members because they may feel they are taking something away from a parent. But it is important to remember that a life insurance policy is intended to replace the income that someone would make and contribute to their family. If the worst happens, most service members likely agree that they would want to make sure their spouse and children have that amount of money as a replacement for the future income they could provide if still living.
Tough conversations. Some of them seem impossible. But they are important ones to have. There are so many things we cannot control when we are married to someone in the military. But we can help avoid some confusion, anger and even heartbreak by being proactive with our communication BEFORE a deployment begins.