Lisa was gone for good three days before Thanksgiving.
In the months that preceded her sudden departure from Norfolk, it was apparent Lisa was extremely stressed. She was trying to strike a balance between married life as a new Navy spouse and the never-ending demands of her husband’s actve duty career.
Still, she seemed to be adjusting reasonably well. For all intents and purposes, Lisa, 23, had successfully settled into military life. She had landed a good job, made new friends, found her way around Norfolk, knew how to get to the base.
When she suddenly announced early in November to friends that she was leaving to visit her family back in Kansas for two weeks at Thanksgiving, she insisted she would definitely return in plenty of time for her husband’s homecoming today with the USS Harry S. Truman battle group after seven months of deployment to the Middle East.
Lisa never came back
Sound familiar? Chances are, it’s too familiar. Everybody has heard stories about new military spouses over the years, spouses who use trips to visit family members back home as an excuse to make a nice, clean getaway from deployment and separation- stressed marriages they simply can’t emotionally handle any longer.
It isn’t necessarily that they have married bad partners. It isn’t that they are bad spouses themselves. Those who cut and run are merely too young, too inexperienced and far too insecure when they whisper those “I do’s” to survive what are destined to be challenging marital commitments to active duty service members.
By the same token, many up and marry soldiers and sailors who are realistically too immature to capably juggle the responsibilities of marriage with their own demanding obligations to the Armed Forces.
As such, these spouses take what they perceive to be the path of least resistance. They fall back on that classic “I’m just going home for a short visit” excuse that droves of those who came before them resorted to as soon as their own fairy-tale military marriages rounded that same harsh curve onto Reality Street.
The solution for these up and leaving military spouses?
Those like Julia Pfaff from Militarymoney.com who recently completed a three-year period as Executive Director of the National Military Family Association,”The Voice for Military Families” says that what is key to military marriage is, “A realistic perspective of military life. The successful couple sees their military journey as one chapter in their life together.”
Sometimes it may seem hard to believe, as Pfaff explains, but most couples – even those who make a career of the military – will spend more of their married years out of the service than in it. All lifestyles encompass certain benefits and challenges; accepting both the positive and negative aspects of military life helps maintain a realistic perspective and avoids unrealistic expectations.
Military One Source, a Department of Defense website, stresses, “Each couple experiences and handles stress differently. Although it’s clear that deployments can be stressful, so can the time before and after deployment. During these times, one or both spouses may experience feelings of sadness, irritability or other emotional distress.”
As such, Military One Source urges, “The Department of Defense is taking steps to improve access to a continuum of counseling support for married service members and their families, and to inform service members and military families that seeking marital support is a sign of strength.”
They offer service members and their spouses free, non-medical counseling with a licensed professional counselor in the civilian community at no cost. They also offer private help 24/7 on the website.
Master Chief Jacob Hindsman stationed at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, who has spent nearly 30 years serving with the Navy, offers this advice, “It also helps tremendously to refrain from getting married or starting families too soon when you’re on active duty and at the mercy of frequent deployment.”
Bottom line, he feels, is that military members owe it to themselves and the families they will one day create to work hard to build a solid foundation for themselves – and their futures – first. Once they’ve accomplished that, marriage and family will fit nicely into place.
An informative book written by Meredith Leyva, “Married to the Military” is available to preview online.
Enough of the book is available free of charge for the viewing, offering military spouses plenty of resources to tap and a host of tips to help military spouses get the most out of their marriages.
Lisa’s husband faced a heartbreaking homecoming today
Deployment doesn’t have to end this way. Reach out to the help that’s available if you happen to be a spouse enduring separation during deployment and you find yourself standing on shaky ground. There’s more help than you can imagine all around you.
Running out on your partner isn’t the answer.
Hopefully, other military spouses like Lisa here in Norfolk will take advantage of the many resources available to help them cope so they won’t find themselves following in her footsteps and leaving before their mates come home to face an empty pier.
They owe it to themselves – and the military members who love them – to give their marriages a strong, fighting chance to succeed.