How do I survive my future marine's enlistment?
January 11, 2012 4:51 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend and I are madly in love. We want to spend the rest of our lives together. He is my best friend, my lover, my confidant, my conscience, and a continuous source of strength and love. The problem is that he is leaving for the Marines in August and I have been seriously questioning my ability to survive his enlistment term. I am absolutely terrified of what is to come. I feel as though there is no possible way I can survive being away from him for so long. How do I find the emotional strength to deal with his absence?

We’ve been together for two years and living together for a year. Joining the Marine’s has been a life long dream of his and I knew this when we first started dating. For weeks at a time I will be happy and excited for this new part of his life to begin, and then suddenly, almost of nowhere, it’s like a bomb goes off inside me, and I start to think that there is no way I can do this. We’ve been working very hard on having an open dialogue about how our relationship will change and how we will manage when he is in the service, but I can feel myself starting to push him away as a sort of defense mechanism. I know this is exactly the wrong thing to do, but it is starting to be easier to keep him at an arm’s length and nurse this growing resentment towards him than it is to deal with the reality of what I’m feeling. How do I find the strength inside of myself to survive this?
posted by OsoMeaty to Human Relations (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

Do you have an ambition of your own? Having exciting goals to work toward is the healthiest way to work through a tough time.
posted by oinopaponton at 5:02 PM on January 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you are the kind of person that needs him to be there most days for you, this will likely not work out in the long term, even if you manage to survive this one instance.

I, for example, could not handle dating someone go goes in frequent business trips. I want a every day relationship for my future family, not someone who can only be with me on and off, on and off.
It simply wouldn't work for my needs, and those of my children to be.

Maybe this guy simply isn't for you, no matter how great he is.

Support groups are good, so try those.
Also, is either your family or his family nearby? It may help to become closer to his family. You won't be the only one who will miss him, so be there for his family and his family will be there for you.

Hobbies, keeping yourself busy, etc, are very nice in theory, but it will not make you miss him any less. Nothing can replace his physical presence.

When you notice yourself puling away from him, be honest. Tell him "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to do that. I'm just scared... I hope you understand..."
This way he will now that you're just scared, and he won't take it personally, avoiding hurt feelings.
posted by midnightmoonlight at 5:07 PM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a newly wed military spouse, so I can sympathize. Right now I'm facing the fact that my husband will be going to training 2 weeks - month after our first child is born. It's not easy being a military spouse, and it's not for everyone, but somehow you survive. I miss my husband terribly, even when he's just gone for weekend training, but it makes our time together that much sweeter. We cherish our time together more than your average couple I think so we end up letting a lot of the petty everyday things go, because it's not worth it when you only see each other in stretches. Sure we argue, but infrequently and we make up with gusto ;) There are a lot of support groups/ ladies lunches/ get togethers for military spouses, and I'd encourage you to check one out. It's scary taking the military plunge, but in my experience it has been so worth it.

Sorry if this was a little rambley, I'm posting from my phone. If you have questions/want to talk, feel free to memail me.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 5:30 PM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is such an extraordinary and specific stressor, I'm sure there are books and I know there are support groups (though the officially-sanctioned ones may be limited to spouses, but I'm sure there are non-married partners groups) and you should take advantage of them if you can. Therapy might also be to your advantage - start now and start building the tools you're going to need later.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:35 PM on January 11, 2012

Another newlywed military spouse here, although we were together for many years before marriage so I've been through this quite a lot.

Will you be near a base? If so, join a spouse's group. If you are not anywhere near a base, find an online spouse's bulletin board & join.

Can you get a dog? I would never have gotten through the year-long separations without a dog. Seriously, this is my #1 tip. You have a fuzzy animal to sit on the sofa with you, someone you're responsible for to keep you going, someone to talk to (this was tough for me, I couldn't just call him up to talk whenever I wanted - having a dog to chat to helped immensely).

Make sure you have a lot of hobbies. Join a yoga class. Do you have family nearby? I am happier now that we're not 3000 miles away from my sister & I can hang out with her while he's gone.

Get very familiar with IM if he'll have internet access. I have often joked that our marriage could be due to many years of heavy AIM and gchat usage.

Good luck - it can be horrendously stressful to be separated, but you can learn to work with it. Honestly, it's not even the part of military spouse life that drives me the most nuts (that honor would go to the move move move move move part of it (; ).
posted by lyra4 at 6:03 PM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

And I went light on the "how do I find the emotional strength to do this" part of my answer. I went through the same type of response to his first deployment - he was already active duty when we met. I knew, therefore, that he was scheduled to be deployed at some point in the future, however it was supposed to be so many months down the road that I didn't particularly think about it at the time. Then he found out that he was leaving in 3 weeks for a long deployment.

Honestly, it was pretty devastating. We hadn't been together very long, I wasn't sure that we should wait for his return sometimes, and it felt incredibly unfair. Hugely unfair from my perspective. Our last week before he left was horrible - we fought, it was no good for either of us.

I don't really remember how I made it through that first separation in much detail. As I mentioned, having a dog was key. My friends were very supportive, they made sure I had lots of places to go so that I didn't sit at home and mope. And I've always been a "OK, this sucks, toughen up lady" type of person. I thank my dad for that one - while he's a fantastic dad he doesn't exactly put up with feeling sorry for yourself. When we were kids he would always acknowledge that something was upsetting or felt unfair and then tell us that we were strong kids and we could manage. So. I don't know, I made it through that first deployment.

They get easier as you go along. I don't so much buy into that "you're doing your part of the country" patriotism stuff but I am incredibly proud of the job he does, so that does help.

But yeah - get a cute dog. They'll keep you sane. ;)
posted by lyra4 at 6:21 PM on January 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

The success of long distance relationships has, in my experience, a lot to do with the attitude with which you approach it. You can choose to view it as a potentially relationship-ending change or you can view it as a part of the relationship's trajectory and prepare for it as you would any other. Part of preparing for this is recognizing that the way in which you give and receive affection will take a different medium, but it need not be less meaningful. For instance, I once had long distance relationship, in the tech age, in which both myself and my partner were fully committed to sending snail mail and those letters became a very beautiful and substantial part of our relationship. Two things:
1. Most disappointments are caused by unmet expectations. So you two should, if you choose to proceed, be able to communicate very clearly about what each of your expectations are, e.g., How often can or will you communicate? How long will the times apart be? Are there circumstances that would be deal-breakers for your continued relationship? etc.

2. It's wonderful that you have found someone you connect with so well, but it seems a bit unhealthy to expect that you would not be able to function without this person in physical proximity. I suggest that you explore this as much as possible before the move. If you decide to stay in the relationship, try approaching this time as an opportunity to learn to be your own friend, to find satisfaction in your own self, trite as it may sound. Good luck!
posted by sb3 at 6:23 PM on January 11, 2012 [9 favorites]

This sounds hollow now, but his time away sill seem like nothing once it's over. Time flies.

Use the time to work on your own pursuits. Start or finish school. Join a gym. Make plans with him for his times back that are concrete, as opposed to just "iI can't wait until you are here again." More like "when you come back in April, let's go to the zoo because the elephant baby will be born by then."

And get into the letter writing habit. Write actual letters on paper to each other. Phone calls or web chats are awesome, but you can keep a letter in your pocket all day long.
posted by gjc at 7:06 PM on January 11, 2012

Response by poster: We live with my parents, and together we care for our three dogs, two cats, and an iguana. I go to school fulltime (three semesters left, two of which are clinical rotations) and I volunteer at an animal shelter. I'm presently in therapy with a psychologist I have an incredibly connection with. My therapist and I have discussed the situation with my boyfriend but we're both at sort of a loss as to how to deal with it. I think I'm a pretty well-rounded person who has learned how to deal with hardship and loss. This logical part of me says I should be able to deal with this. I have a support network, ambitions, and passions that are distinct from my boyfriend. But I can not get over how terrified I am of being away from him in this manner.
posted by OsoMeaty at 7:12 PM on January 11, 2012

Keep listening to that logical part of you. Million of women have dealt with this, ( including my mother.) You will too.
posted by COD at 7:52 PM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Army brat here raised by a Vietnam veteran and the woman who waited for him to come home.

I think her response to his absence was very much of her time - i.e. before therapists and supports groups were common currency - so take this as my general caveat.

When I asked her about that time in their marriage she said "You suck it up because you have to. What other choice do you really have?"

She worked, puttered, went to school, took care of the yard, the dog, the mother in law. She did all these things with the constant simmer in the back of her mind that her husband might not come home. She didn't sit still long enough for that simmer to boil over too much. She bracketed. She never forgot that he was gone or that she missed him desperately or that he could die, she woke up in the morning with the simple plan to just get through the day. Over time the days got easier.

The fears and loneliness never went away, but her ability to live with them got better with time. That's how loss works, sometimes the pain does not get better, but your ability to carry it does.

It sounds like you already have everything you need to deal with this. What you don't have is practice. The only thing that will teach you how to deal with his absence is his absence. That and perhaps the faith that you can. You'll find a way to cope because you have to.

The only caution I would offer is to be careful how you frame it. Saying that this is something to survive suggests all of the self-protective arms-lengthing you are doing. Try thinking of this as something to adapt to...with all of the improvisation and learning on the fly that comes with it. You'll figure it out. You don't how just yet because you don't, right now, need to.

Enjoy him now because he's home. Worry about dealing with him gone when he's gone.
posted by space_cookie at 8:16 PM on January 11, 2012 [7 favorites]

You don't how just yet because you don't, right now, need to.
that's supposed to be don't know how....
posted by space_cookie at 8:20 PM on January 11, 2012

Honestly, the military has realized how much of a problem this is with people in the armed forces and their spouses missing each other, so especially on regular deployments they make it a priority to insure that people can call home and have access to computer to chat, etc.

I think you'll find doing things like that will make you feel better. You'll still miss him, but you'll be able to talk with him pretty regularly.

As others have said, you need to find something do to with yourself during the time(s) he's away so that you're not focusing so much on him being gone. If you do that, it will really help the time go by. I wish you the best.
posted by Fister Roboto at 8:37 PM on January 11, 2012

Former Navy brat here. (Dad was a submarine COB --- you know that cranky Master Chief in sub movies? Yep, that was my Dad.)

Seconding Cool Papa Bell's military spousal support groups, as well as perhaps a talk with one of the base chaplains about resources --- even if you're not a member of their congregation, just about all military chaplains will help, that's what they're there for. Plus you seem to have quite a large support network already in place, too.

I take it this will be your first separation, while he's off at boot camp? And if I recall correctly, Marine boot camp is three months; while Marine boot camp is longer than the other services, deployments tend to be shorter (I believe a lot of their Iraq/Afghanistan deployments have been 8 months, compared to the Army or Air Force's one year --- the Navy is a whole 'nother kettle of fish.) You've got to make sure YOU have a life while he's gone: whatever works for you, whether school, work or volunteerism. Don't just sit home moping!

The good news is that nowadays, what with better snail-mail delivery as well as skype and email and everything else, it's MUCH, much easier to maintain contact with the folks on deployment (although I don't think he's allowed a lot of contact during boot camp): back when I was a kid, my mom was able to send Dad just two, fifteen-word messages per 3/4 month deployment!
posted by easily confused at 3:04 AM on January 12, 2012

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