Deployment is tough on any family and relationship. The challenges are amplified for someone who is "just" a girlfriend as the military does not provide the same treatment of a girlfriend as they would a wife. While there will be challenges, you will be able to find ways that will enable you to get through these times that are a part of your boyfriend's career choice.
Expect that at some time your boyfriend will be deployed. Do not treat the possibility as something that, if you don't talk about it, won't happen.
Talk about what it will mean to each of you for him to be deployed. This is especially important as the relationship moves into new stages. Consider both emotional and practical implications. For instance, if you are living with him, you will need to have a plan for paying the rent.
Gather ideas of how to deal with the separation. Look to others in the military, to local resources but also to people who have lived through distant relationships for other reasons.
Develop a strategy that will help you get through the deployment. Use all your available resources, including an understanding of what will work for you and him, and modify the next sections of the plan.
During the Deployment
Know the reasons why you are with your boyfriend. Provide reminders to yourself about why you are maintaining this relationship under these adverse conditions. You may want to provide yourself with a weekly note to open or to hang these ideas on a tree so that you can regularly have reminders, especially during the times that you will find to be the toughest.
Communicate regularly, especially if this is the first real separation that you have had. Use all available means to facilitate communication, but be prepared that at times he may not be able to respond in the way you desire. Be honest about what is going on while still continuing to be positive.
Know that no news does not necessarily mean bad news. The first time that there is a period of time where you are not able to hear from him will be especially tough. However, being deployed does not necessarily mean that he is in a really dangerous situation. If there are people that are friendly and open to you in the local military community, these are good times to reach out to them for their support and possible information.
Focus on yourself and your needs. While you want to remain supportive of him while he is deployed, this is also a good opportunity for you to take care of yourself and to explore things that you have not been able to explore with him here. This will help to make you stronger as a person as well as in the relationship. Keeping yourself active will also help the time to pass more quickly.
Following the Deployment
Celebrate his return. From your communications, you wil probably be aware of some things that he has missed - besides you. Find a way to welcome him back home and to enjoy that embrace you have been longing for.
Expect that he will have been changed by this experience. Hopefully, you have also been changed during this separation. Take time to get to know each other again. Be patient in this process.
Trust him even if he cannot tell you about everything. He may have experienced things that he is not allowed to talk about. He may have experienced things that he does not know how to or want to talk about. Of course if things are more extreme you may need to help him realize he needs some help. The Army has reported that about a third of soldiers returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom will require mental health services within the first year back from deployment. Support and understanding that this is normal is exactly what he needs from you.
- As you consider these pointers you may believe that your boyfriend's deployment might be a lot easier if you were married. Be very cautious about using his deployment as a reason to get married if this is not something that you had already been seriously considering and discussing.
- As you plan for the possibility of deployment, if you believe you will not be able to tolerate the separation, carefully consider your relationship especially if your boyfriend is intending to have a career in the military.
Based in New York City, Christopher L. Smith has been writing since the 1998 publication of "Honest Talk About Serious Mental Illness." Smith brings professional experience in education, religion/spirituality and mental health, including as a licensed marriage and family therapist. Among Smith's graduate degrees is a M.Div. from Yale.