Only one month into our previous deployment, my husband’s ship spent a few days in port. Everyone reveled in the availability of wi-fi for Skype, Facetime, sending photos, and ordering flowers. For a few days, we stayed home and spent hours each day on video calls. The kids and I watched and waved to my husband while he ate lunch. He chatted with me while I cleaned the bathroom. We stared at each other in happy silence before falling asleep.
And then, the ship left port, and we were back to. . . nothing. No calls, no emails, no videos. Not until the next port, which was more than a month away.
The week after the port visit, I was chatting with some of the other wives from the unit. Everyone seemed low-spirited and discouraged. We had just been getting used to the routine and schedules of deployment when the weekend of wi-fi threw us off. The weight and length of the deployment now seemed much harder to bear than before. I called it “the Skype letdown,” and the other wives agreed that was exactly how it felt. My husband later told me that the service members in the unit went through the same letdown stage after leaving a port.
From then on, we agreed to limit the time we spent on Skype or Facetime. Of course we chatted whenever wi-fi was available, but we didn’t stretch the calls into several hours and drop everything we were doing that day.
This seemed to work out better. My husband and I laughed about it: After his five combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, we had never encountered a deployment where the problem was too much communication.
Can a deployment really have too much communication?
For most military couples, the biggest challenge during a deployment is the lack of communication. Service members typically cannot use cell phones during overseas deployments and internet access is rare in some locations. This means that couples who were used to communicating every day with texts and phone calls now have to wait weeks to hear from each other. With the time zone difference on the other side of the world, you never know what time of day a call might come through.
Other times, when the service member has internet access somewhat regularly, the deployment may be marked with too much communication. The spouses at home crave any type of communication with their service member. Most would be happy to talk or Skype or email every day. But remember that the service member has a job to do. They need to keep their focus on their work, not on the family back home. Also, the deployed service members sometimes don’t have much to talk about. Every day can feel like Groundhog Day during deployment. Some service members have to wait in lines or pay out of pocket to use phones or internet during deployment.
When the phone and video conversations are filled with awkward pauses and blurry figures, they may not feel like it is worthwhile. You and your spouse need to talk together and determine what amount of communication will work for you during deployment. Maybe they will be able to check in every few days. . . or perhaps they would prefer one quality phone call each month. Either way, you should make sure you both have similar expectations so neither one will be disappointed.
Should you share everything with your spouse during deployment?
The other problem with deployment communication is knowing how much to share with a deployed spouse. Most military spouses don’t want to trouble the deployed service member with problems that will distract them from their mission during deployment. At the same time, your deployed spouse is probably your best friend with whom you are used to sharing everything. You have to find a balance between staying sane and bothering them with drama. Remember, making your service member feel worried or anxious about family life will not allow them to focus on their job during deployment.
By Lizann Lightfoot
Lizann Lightfoot is an associate editor at Military One Click and a Marine Corps spouse. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.