So many couples are now separated part- or full-time because of military deployment and/or work travel and schedules, I get a lot of questions about faithfulness. Your marriage vows may have said, “'til death do us part” but no one said anything about what happens when a military career or traveling job makes it necessary for you to part, and you want to maintain the closeness in your relationship. Not only does the war take husbands away from their wives, but the greater involvement of women in the military means that more husbands are also left behind during wartime deployment. The following excerpts from my newest book,The Commuter Marriage: Keep Your Relationship Close While You’re Far Apart will help you keep your marriage healthy and problems of infidelity away.
Mistrust and Jealousy
“O, beware... of jealousy; it is the greeneyed monster” wrote William Shakespeare in the sixteenth century. In four hundred years, we don't seem to have been able to tame or conquer this monster. Nothing will harm your relationship more than jealousy, suspicion or mistrust. Especially when you are apart, you need to find a way to trust each other. Jealousy is still very present with us, and rears its ugly head often in all relationships, and when you are not together, your imagination can run wild and make it even more of a problem. It's very valuable during a military separation to keep your communication open, uptodate, and as frequent as possible.
What Happens When One Of You Becomes Jealous Or Suspicious?
Gail, whose husband Charles is an officer in the merchant marine and away for weeks or months at a time, says “I used to get very jealous, but then I realized I had a choice: I could choose to feel scared, angry, or even to feel generous and loving instead of jealous, if I thought about it. I don't regard jealousy as a desirable emotion, and when it comes up, I work to overcome it.”
Most jealousy arises when someone feels insecure or threatened either you’re afraid of losing your relationship, or that someone else will get the attention, love, or affection you want. The most important thing you can do is to remember that when you handle jealousy properly, it will be a passing emotion you discuss with each other, not a disaster. Gail, whose husband is far away in the Navy, says, “I found that when I had more of a sense of humor about my jealousy, I could talk to Charles about it, and he was happy to reassure me. When I saw a model in a bikini on TV, and then looked at my pregnant belly and got worried that he’d find a hot babe who looked better than I do, and I told him, he said ‘Hon, your belly is very beautiful to me, and I can’t wait to be there beside you and to hold our new baby daughter after she’s born. Nothing is more attractive to me than that.’ And I felt much better.”
Jealousy is usually less about your partner’s behavior than it is about what you’re afraid the behavior means. Jealousy can lead to upsetting arguments, tears, resentment and accusations, even when no actual infidelity exists. You can be fearful, selfprotective and jealous as a result of being hurt in a previous relationship—acting as if you believe your partner will hurt you the same way you were hurt by someone else. You’ll have much better luck if you remain calm, treat jealousy as a normal, human problem and work it out together.
How Can You Communicate Effectively When You Don’t See Each Other Often?
Communication while you’re apart is vital, but how you do it depends on what works best for both of you. Obviously, military personnel stationed at a base will have more opportunities for contact than soldiers at the front. If contact is very difficult, keep a journal and write things in it, to be sure they won't be forgotten when you do have contact. Problems communicating can be frustrating, so try to keep your frustration from hampering your conversations.
You may be physically far apart, and if you can’t see, feel and sense each other’s “vibes,” you’re missing a lot of nonverbal communication clues. In order to compensate for these missing cues, your communication skills need to be better than just OK. You’ll be much easier understood if you compensate for the absent vibes, touch and visuals with new tools:
Tech Tools: One advantage you have over longdistance couples from years ago is new technology. Today, there are all kinds of amazing communication tools, satellite connections, and more innovations coming up all the time:
Here’s how to use several of these options to enhance your communication:
1. Email: Think of email when you need accuracy and want to save time.
2. Instant Messaging: Think of IM when you want a quick chat to share some good news or just update each other on a change of plans.
3. Cell Phones: Think of your cell phones when you want to connect to each other away from home, briefly hear your partner’s voice, or suddenly change plans.
4. Video Sharing: Think of video sharing when the moving visuals and sound are important.
5. Text Messaging: Think of texting as similar to IMing, but away from your computer, via a PDA or cell phone.
6. Photo Sharing: Think of photo sharing when you want to share how things look.
7. VOIP: (Internet telephoning) Think of VOIP if you’re separated by a long distance, and when the savings are substantial.
8. Blogs: Many soldiers in war zones have written blogs, you can use a private blog to record intimate thoughts for each other. Think of blogging when you time zones are different, and you can't talk when you'd like to.
Talking, but Not Communicating
It’s much easier to talk than it is to communicate. If you’re not aware of what you're doing you can talk for a long time, about a lot of things, and yet never get to the point or be understood by your partner. This is not so much of a problem if you’re just relaxing and having fun; but if you're separated for a long time, communicating becomes vital.
Seven Steps for Turning Talk into Communicating:
1. Communicate with yourself first. If you know a chance to talk is coming up, take a little time to think about it beforehand. Know what you want to say, what you want your partner to understand, and what you want to accomplish. If you’re upset or anxious about the topic; try writing your thoughts down to organize them.
2. Do you understand your partner? Even though you are prepared to communicate what you want your partner to know, begin by being willing to listen. If you are receptive and interested, the conversation will go better, and your mate will be more likely to reciprocate and listen to you.
3. If the conversation goes off track, bring it back. Don’t let the conversation wander to other topics until you’re sure you’ve finished the first topic. If other topics come up, like past events or other problems, say “I’d like to talk about that, too, but let’s finish the first problem before we go there."
4. Don’t argue about who’s right. It leads to endless arguing and getting nowhere. Switch your focus from right and wrong to what will work—it’s not about who’s right, but what solves the problem.
5. Stay calm. If either one of you is getting upset, take a break, agree to let the topic rest until next time, and switch to talking about something pleasant, like how much you care.
6. Make constructive suggestions. For each problem you discuss, offer some possible solutions. If you can’t agree on a solution, agree to try one temporarily to see how it works.
7. Confirm your solution. Whatever you’ve decided you want to do based on your discussion, this is the time to confirm your decision and make sure you both understand your agreement.
When your time together or on the phone is at a premium, you’ll do a lot better if you concentrate on getting the important stuff out of the way efficiently, and still have time to enjoy your conversation. “Ever since we’ve been taking the time to be clear what we want to accomplish when we talk, we’ve been doing so much better.” Gail says. “Now, we get the business done first; then we can relax and just enjoy talking to each other.”
As you probably realize, maintaining intimacy is an issue in most marriages, and most couples are concerned about how to keep affection, emotional connection and sexual satisfaction working well over the years of a successful marriage. Being separated for a long time, as military couples often are, puts extra emphasis on these issues. Because intimacy makes it easier to avoid infidelity, you need to know how to keep your intimate connection strong.
Instead of wasting time arguing and bickering about inconsequential matters, it’s much more effective to be thoughtful and considerate of each other, and try to understand your partner’s point of view. Planning ahead also helps you make the most of whatever time you do get together.
How to Keep Your Intimate Connection While You're Apart:
• Keep the phone as special as you can. Handle mundane business, messages for friends, and reports about how things are going via email, IM or text message, and keep the phone for making that intimate connection. As often as possible, schedule a phone call for some intimate conversation. If you have children, speak to them first; then get some time for the two of you. Have phone sex if you get the chance.
• Use the mail: Nothing is more intimate than a love note. Mail is one of the advantages living apart has over living together. Sending little gifts, notes, cards, postcards or pictures to your partner (whether you’re the one at home or the one away) takes only a moment and racks up a huge score on the intimacy chart. When you’re at the drugstore or PX, pick up a few affectionate or amusing cards, and then send them at random moments. Send a postcard with a scene of where you are, or a cartoon cut from the paper or a magazine. If you have cards, stamps and envelopes on hand, it’s easier to drop one in the mail.
© 2009 Tina B. Tessina adapted from The Commuter Marriage: Keep Your Relationship Close While You’re Far Apart (Adams Media, 2008)