To tell or not to tell? That is the question.
Picture this. The day starts bright and early, which seems to be the normal state of events during long seasons of separation. Your spouse has had boots on the ground somewhere else for short while, but not too long. You begin the day’s preparation full of hope, making breakfast and shuffling through the morning chores. But, here’s the thing. You know that at some point, good ol’ Murphy will be making his usual appearance.
For those of you who have not had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Murphy, he is chaos embodied. Whenever your spouse is called to duty, whether temporarily for a short TDY or a longer deployment, Murphy’s madness ensues. Things break, like large appliances or the kids’ limbs (no doubt due to the fact that they ignored your several warnings to desist in their dangerous pursuits). Those of us in the military community have named this phenomenon after Murphy’s Law- if it can go wrong, it will go wrong.
The debate is this. Do you tell your spouse when the proverbial poop hits the fan? Or, do you bottle it up for the sake of keeping your significant other focused on their mission?
A couple of years ago, my husband was sent to an undisclosed location for a six-month deployment. Three days in to this joyous season, one of my children came running into my office, declaring that the living room floor was “flooded.” After venturing into the family room, what I saw was nothing short of terrifying. Brown water. Yep. You guessed it, a sewer line which ran directly next to our home on base had ruptured…in my living room.
In the next episode of Murphy’s hilarious hiccups, a sonic boom blew the glass in the back of my house all over my kitchen. That was a fun day. After that, the dry wall hung over the top of my master bedroom shower collapsed on my son while he was using our bathroom. All of this nonsense took place within the first two months of his absence and I felt completely overwhelmed. I shared some of the details, but saved the hard stuff for later.
I bossed up, handled the hardships, and tucked my feelings away.
You see, when I became a military spouse nearly 16 years ago, the instruction to us was simple. “Don’t involve your spouse in all of the day-to-day minutiae. They can’t do anything about it and you will stress them out. Stressing your SO in the line of duty could be deadly.”
However, I have to say that I’m not sure I hold well with the “hold it in and handle it” crowd. Keeping things from your spouse, or not sharing your feelings, can create tension or even resentment. Also, choosing to keep your spouse in the dark of the day-to-day activities of your life may have long-term repercussions. I can say with certainty that the “keep it to yourself” mantra has made me feel isolated and alone in dealing with hard things.
If we fast forward to our most recent season, my husband was sent to Korea for a year. For twelve solid months, I endured one of the most challenging time periods of our entire marriage. I packed our home, moved from Georgia to Mississippi, home schooled our four children, weathered four hurricanes, and made it through the PCS blues…all during a global pandemic.
You can bet I didn’t “keep it to myself.” Here is what I have learned.
First, use discernment in sharing hard things.
What I mean is, timing is everything. Usually, when your spouse is deployed, there is a major time difference. You are either connecting by phone in the wee hours of the morning or late at night. Absolutely share the hard stuff, but “read the room.” Set up the conversation, even asking if your SO is in a mental head space to hear what you have to say. Maybe even send a message beforehand, letting them know you need some support and encouragement.
Second, build a safety net in your trusted friends and family.
Due to the aforementioned time differences and availability of connection, your SO might not always be readily available when you need them. Have a backup plan for who you can call or meet with to support you. Take the time to identify people who brace you up and help you cope.
Lastly, there’s not always a right answer.
When I did some crowdsourcing online, the answers seem pretty split down the middle. Some spouses jumped in all in for spilling the tea. Others held firm to the old school rule to keep it shut. I truly believe it depends on how your and your SO communicate and the way your relationships works. Maybe it would be beneficial to have this conversation beforehand, asking your spouse how they want to engage with the hot-mess express of separation.
Ultimately, deployments and extended TDYs are tough. And, you sometimes have to be tougher. Don’t hear me say that you always have to be strong. We are all entitled to lose it a little. What am saying is that this life requires a certain amount of grit. Draw strength from your loved ones and your fellow spouses. Find an outlet and know your resources. Check out your Family Readiness Group (FRG) or your Airman and Family Readiness Group (AFRC). Every military branch has some sort of support for family readiness. Seek them out, prepare the best you can, and for goodness sake, spill the tea.