Dear Mr. Dad: You’ve written a lot of about how deployed dads can maintain strong relationships with their children while they’re away—and I’ve learned a lot of great stuff. But what about my wife? How do I keep my relationship with her strong too?
A: Excellent question! With all the attention that gets paid to dad-child relationships, it’s easy to forget that military marriages need plenty of care and feeding as well. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Adapt some of the kid-related activities you’re doing and use them with your wife. For example, if you’re making CDs or DVDs to send home, don’t stop with the kids’ books. Record some poetry or a chapter of a novel you’re both interested in reading. Send some R-rated—or X if you’re feeling brave—love notes home (in sealed envelopes) and have your children hide them where Mommy will find them.
- Don’t compare or criticize. Yes, you may be dealing with life-threatening situations every day. Meanwhile, back at home, your wife is going through some pretty intense battles too. It’s apples and oranges, so any comparison will be unfair to one side or the other. Your wife probably has the good sense not to tell you how to do your job, so show her the same courtesy.
- Support her. Your wife truly needs to know that you understand that life isn’t easy for her right now. She also needs to know that you love he, you think she’s doing a great job, and you support her 100 percent.
- Ask her to limit media consumption. If your wife is one of those obsessive news junkies—watching TV for hours and hours every day and consuming every other kind of news story she can lay her hands on or click a mouse at—do everything you can to get her to cut back. This kind of behavior is usually an indication that she’s highly stressed about your physical safety and desperately need sof some reassurance. As guys, we often like to report how tough our living conditions are, or go through a bullet-by-bullet description of a firefight we survived. But some information is best kept to yourself.
- Encourage her to get some support. Whether you’re asking for it or not, you’re getting a lot of emotional and social support from the other guys in your unit. Each of you knows exactly what everyone else is going through, and sometimes just knowing you’re not alone can be very reassuring. Your wife needs to find a similar support network. Fortunately, every unit has some kind of family support organization where wives (or at-home husbands) can get together with others who share their experience. They offer everything from a safe place to vent frustrations to help with babysitting. Unfortunately, a majority of wives don’t participate in FRG activities.
- Encourage her to keep a positive outlook. But be very careful how you do this. Telling a woman who’s overwhelmed, lonely, sad, and depressed to “cheer up” or “look at the bright side” won’t go over well. Reminds me of one of my favorite cartoons. It’s called “One-session psychotherapy,” and the illustration is of a therapist backhanding a patient across the face while yelling, “Snap out of it!”
- Encourage her to relax. Downtime in our society is hugely underrated. And a little goes a long way. A couple of hours off to take a yoga class or just a long walk alone could energize your wife for the rest of the week.