How Can We Work on Our Relationship When We Never See Each Other?

Computer mouse with the lead in the shape of a heartBy Jacey Eckhart

Last week USA TODAY published a story about how military members with three or more combat deployments were more likely to report marital problems than those with fewer deployments.
One Army wife whose husband has spent a total of 38 months in combat tours hoped that her husband would receive the promised non-deploying billet.  “We need this time to work on us and our family,” the wife told the reporter. I knew what she meant. Yet those words in black and white made me worry for them. It made me worry for all military couples who think that we can wait to work on our relationships when the service member stops deploying.  No way that’s gonna work.
So I called Pat Love coauthor of How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About it. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist who understands military folks. Not only was her dad career Army and her Mom a WAC and her grandmother a WAVE, but her son went to West Point and became a helicopter pilot.

This is a real tough one,” she told me when I related the story.  “There isn’t any substitute for face-to-face, skin-on-skin contact.”

No need to tell us that.  But what can you do when Skype and email and videoconferences and texts and Facebook and letters and skywriting and mind-melding just ain’t cuttin’ it?

Love suggested that military couples could add a simple ritual to their day no matter how far apart they are.  On each of the four transitions of the day (morning, beginning of work, end of work, bedtime), Love suggests that you purposefully think loving thoughts of your partner.

That didn’t sound like a miraculous fix to me at first.  “Don’t we already do this?” I said.

Loving couples do this naturally,” agreed Love.  “When you ritualize, it gives a daily infusion of love and connection.

I like the idea of more connection.  But how would this work exactly? Love says that all you and your DH have to do is wake up and think purposefully of your partner. “Think of something you don’t share with anyone else but your partner.  Think thoughts only you would understand,” said Love.

So think of little things like how her hair smells or the way he likes to soak up all the extra sleep in the bed when you get up to take your shower.  Think of how much you love the color he painted your bedroom before he left.   Think of the eight silly throw pillows your wife has on your bed at home.

Next, when you walk out of your tent or barracks or stateroom, think another loving thought about your partner.  Think of the concern on her face when your daughter cut her knee last November.  Think of the way your spouse always eats Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch for breakfast. Or mustard on bagels.  How cute is that?

If you are the one at home, when you rush out of the house for work or to get the kids to school think of the way your son’s ears look just like your husband’s or think of how cute the guy was when you caught him playing in the yard with the dog.  Think of what he was wearing that day.  Try to see the weather and the slant of the sun and the grin on his face.

Think it so clearly that you can report that to him or her,” said Love.  “The more personal the better. It shows you really are paying attention.

Then Love suggests that when the service member gets off work and comes back to whatever is home at the end of the day and sits down,  then he or she should think about  their partner and make contact—whether it is a call or a note or a scribbled line, the service member should note that loving thought in that moment.

Then you have something to talk about,” said Love.  “The problem is that you are in two locations, you are really talking about the other people in your life instead of each other.”

This kind of endearing ritual helps the two of you form an ongoing history together no matter where you are.

I love this idea.  Partly because I know it would fill me up when my husband is at sea.  Partly because I know I’m sloppy about rituals so I’d have four chances during the day to think a specific loving thought to report.  Because keeping a long distance love alive takes a little more ongoing effort than civilians bring to the table.

Every morning.  Every evening.  Every night before sleep I know that last I thought I want on my slumbering mind is one about the guy I love.  And I want him thinking of me.

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