The On and Off Switch of Military Marriage

The more separations, long or short, that Husband and I endure, the rustier my on and off switch gets.

Now, lest you think I’m speaking in kinky euphemisms here, let me explain (yes, I just used kinky in a blog post.  I can’t wait to see the list of incoming search terms now!).

I’ve spoken before about the numbness that comes into effect when you are dealing with a deployment or a detachment or a military separation of any sort.  A part of me shuts off.  I miss Husband.  I unavoidably miss him.  But most of my being is involved in consciously choosing not to miss him, because that’s the only way I can survive and stay up and functional and able to take care of my babies.  I feel numb.  Some days I will even feel highly disturbed because I am not sad enough in the missing of Husband. 

My independence also necessarily flourishes when he’s gone.  How could it not when I am entrenched in situations like the one I was in last night:  Holding tight to Little Miss’s hand, reassuring her, as she howls and screams and cries while her poor little forehead is being stitched up, while simultaneously juggling Baboo?  Even just figuring out how to get us all out the door and into our respective car seats last night while keeping the bleeding under control was an effort in independence. 

It’s not just situational independence that separation brings.  It’s also emotional independence.  Like it or not, what happens in my days, inside and outside of my heart and soul and mind are primarily mine to deal with.  I can share with friends, but friends have their own lives to sift through.  I can send an email to husband…  But I always have to wonder if my sending an email about how crappy I may be feeling is going to distract him and cause him to make a mistake on the Flight-deck that could cause him to be injured or worse.  And practically, writing an email once or twice a day just doesn’t allow me to get into the nitty gritty of my emotions and thoughts and feelings and hopes and fears.  Something special happens in the real time, real life exchanges of husband and wife that emails and letters and even phone calls just can’t capture. 

So I deal with things on my own.  I have to.  I have no other choice.  He does the same thing on his end.  So we are two numb people, married and in love as we always have been, but not feeling that fully because we have to protect ourselves and go on with our lives and dealing with our own high-stress situations completely separately.

And then, Husband comes home.  And suddenly, we are expected to switch ourselves back on again.  I have to be switched on and ready to share household duties, to remember how to function with him as a couple, to remember how to share my physical, mental, and emotional burdens.  I have to let the Novocaine wear off and feel again.  Suddenly he is there and we hope to have that instant depth of marital interaction just all of a sudden.

Now, I’m dealing with depression.  And part of the reason I’m dealing with depression is, ironically, because I’m so freaking functional when the ‘fit hits the shan.’  I get by fine.  I handle things fine.  I ‘deal with it’ fine.  But I’m finding that because I’ve so long been in a situation of having no place for my emotions to go, of believing that there isn’t room for them, that I’ve simply just released them inward.  As a result I find that I’m essentially emotionally imploding.  I’m still getting by, but the cost of that getting by is higher and higher.

The more separations we handle, the more effective the Novocaine to the heart seems to get, and the harder it is to just ‘switch things  back on’ when husband is home.

I’ve seen and have been seeing strong marriages (not my own) end at the end of long military related separations.  As I’ve grappled with the whys of this I’ve come to believe that this is partially because of things like PTSD…  Partly because one person in the marriage has literally been eating and sleeping and breathing only to stay alive in a war environment, while the other held down the homefront, and the changes those things bring about in the human psyche are difficult to reconcile into the marriage relationship.  But I think it also has to do with this flipping of the ‘on and off’ switch.  We turn ourselves relationally off for so long at a stretch, when we are together again we have to learn how to function in the ‘on’ position.  And sometimes the switch sticks, and we continue to just ‘deal,’ because that has been our default position for so long.

It’s a scary and fragile thing to deal with.  It is a scary thing to realize in myself.  Husband and I are, hopefully, coming to the end of our season of extended separations.  I am looking forward to having him home and to be given the opportunity to work on our marriage outside of survival mode.  The first five years of our  marriage have been exclusively survival mode years for many different reasons.  I’m not sure we’ll know how to function outside of it. 

I am recognizing that I am going to have to learn how to switch myself fully back ‘on.’  I am going to have to learn to feel again and I’m going to have to learn how to let Husband fully into my feelings.  I pray that we will grow into an even deeper level of intimacy.  Of course, that both frightens and excites me.

Even with this epiphany, I find that with each new separation the ‘away’ feels more normal.  The  numbness feels more acute.  We hardly skip a beat when he leaves.  We hardly skip a beat when he returns.  We are still so very connected.  We still love one another so very much.  But we have to work through our rusty on/off switches.  And that is often complicated by 12+ hour days and shifts that vary widely.  Sadly, in a lot of ways, sometimes our ‘off’ switches just stay engaged.  When the turnaround between away times is so short (two or three weeks or even less), there really is no way to fully renegotiate our marriage each and every time. 

We only have a few more away times left.  But those few still add up to a significant amount of time spent apart.  I pray that God would help us to stay awakened to one another.  I pray that he would help us learn to more fully enter in to one another’s respective emotional landscapes.  I pray that he would keep our relationship in the palm of His hand until we are together in a more stable way.

I pray too that those of you who have read this post (and bless you for reading this long thing!) would lift the families of our military members up in prayer.  I wish that you would lift them and us up not just in a general ‘God bless the troops and their families’ kind of way, but that you would pray specifically for the challenges this lifestyle poses for the family unit.  While we don’t want sympathy for the path that we’ve chosen…  While we’re proud to have served in our own small ways….  Being in a military marriage really is a whole different animal.  Prayer and support for husbands and wives going through these constant adjustments is so important. 

I don’t really know how to close this post.  I’m sure everyone is ready for my verbal ‘off’ switch to engage.  So without further ado, I’ll throw that switch. 




I find it entirely depressing that in less than a month Husband leaves again.  It’s even more depressing when you consider that he isn’t even home yet.  In fact, we’re only half-way through this fun little bit of separation full of trips to urgent care and sickies and stitches (six in Little Miss’s head to be exact). 

Blah to you, Navy.  Blah to you.

Of course, what I really mean is, I proudly support the mission.  Hooya.

Good and Bad

I’ve been pretty down the last week or so.  Two sick kids and a trip to Urgent Care (which prompted me to say that I believe they should put a sign above our hospital doors that says, “Abandon Hope All Ye who Enter Here,” if that tells you what kind of fun that was) haven’t helped.  Not getting the sleep that I need hasn’t helped.  My children conspiring together and staging a nap boycott hasn’t helped.  Husband being gone hasn’t helped.  I am tired, and grouchy, and guilt-ridden for acting like I am tired and grouchy.  It’s not so fun.  For any of us.

But some good things have happened too.  A wonderful, generous friend brought over dinner tonight.  That was so unexpected and was such a blessing.  There were even brownies!  West Wing season IV has been keeping me company.  I actually missed quite a bit of season IV the first time around.  Husband sent ‘just because’ flowers earlier this week.  A new John Eldrege book has been really good stuff to think on and ponder.  I got to snuggle with Baboo tonight in one of those, unusual for this stage, moments when she just relaxed in my arms and closed her eyes. 

There are always bits and pieces of joy.  Always.

And this season isn’t going to last forever….  right? 

I know this is pretty boring blog-fodder, but eventually I’ll have something to say again, I hope.

The Day Will Shakespeare hit on me….

Once upon a time, I was a sugar wench in a bakery.

No really.  For two wonderful summers I had the fabulous fortune to work in Lady B’s bakery at the Bristol Renaissance Faire (and might I add that Lady B is one of the finest women that I have had the privilege to know).

My favorite part of being a sugar wench was receiving kisses on the hand.  How I wish that it was still commonplace to receive kisses on the hand….

One day, Will Shakespeare came in, in need of a piece of shortbread and a spot of coffee.  He was on a break before performing Hamlet all by himself in less than thirty minutes across the street from our little shop.  I served him his shortbread and coffee for a whopping $1.25.  He tossed another $1.25 into my tip jar….  I gleefully breathed, “Thank Thee My Lord,” and he kissed my hand and called me a sweetheart.

It was definitely one of my life’s high-points:  to be called sweetheart by Will Shakespeare….  What can I say?

And so…  at this time in my life when harmless diversions are downright necessary, I am thankful for Google Videos, and YouTube which allow me to relive such wonderful memories. 

I’m blushing all over again….

The Last Call

It’s been a while since husband’s ‘away’ times have been on a boat.  When he’s on dry land, we generally have fairly good phone contact.  When he’s on the boat, we know that the last call before they pull out is the last call for a long time.

We’ve had our last call….  And though I know there is, as always, an ‘only’ factor to the detachment, the thought of not hearing his voice for a month makes my heart hurt.  It is hard to feel cut-off from your partner in life.  Suddenly all the things little and big that I save up to share with him have no place to go. 

It is “only” a few weeks, hopefully the Internet contact will begin soon, and every away time is one more closer to the last one.  We can do this.

The Goodbye Days

Husband left this a.m. for another detachment.  As detachments go, this one is a longish one.  He’ll be out for a month (Detachments are ‘short’ trips that are taken, usually in preparation for deployments).  Taking him to the air terminal always stings even if he’s only going to be gone for a couple of weeks.  It’s even more heart-wrenching the older Little Miss gets.  Each time she understands a little more deeply what the “gone” part means, but she still has very little concept of WHY Daddy has to be gone.  The rapid-fire comings and goings of the work-up cycles make it even more confusing for my babies and can be just plain emotionally confusing and exhausting for all of us.

The goodbyes are ALWAYS bittersweet.  So much love is shown as you sneak in every last hug and kiss and hand-squeeze that you possibly can.  The tenderness of it all wraps around you and brings you that much more comfort when the goodbye actually happens, but also that much more pain for what you are already missing.

I hate the goodbye days.

Still, they are strangely normal for us.  So, after dropping Husband off, we headed into town for a little retail therapy.  We all got new books.  Little Miss got new PJs and…  We might have accidentally gotten some jelly beans too. 

The second part of the “Goodbye Day” wasn’t so much about me.  A friend of mine–my very first friend out here in Washington–had a little baby girl this morning.  It was a “Hello Day” for her, but also a “Goodbye Day.”  Her husband deployed today.  He missed the birth of their precious baby girl by mere hours. 

I’ve thought and thought and thought of her today.  And prayed and prayed and prayed.  To have your husband miss the birth of a child and the first months of her life is terrible always, but to have him miss it by a few measly hours just seems like a cruel trick of life. 

My friend is amazing.  I was able to visit her today.  She is revelling in the preciousness of her new baby girl, and she says that even though the circumstances were so much less than they should be, that she is happy for the blessing in her arms.

I hate goodbye days.  But we get through them.  We get through the days that come after them.  And so many times we get through those days because we have these beautiful blessings to spur us on and to remind us to laugh and to distract us from our own loneliness.  And whether they come in a month or seven months, I hope that the “Welcome Home Days” are quick in coming.