It's been pretty craft-tastic around here this week (and I plan on it staying that way next week!) but I wanted to switch gears a bit today. I receive a lot of emails about dealing with long distance and the military. Usually from folks who are just starting a relationship with someone in the military or are in the middle of time apart from their partner and are wondering how to get through it. Everyone wants to know if there is light at the end of the tunnel.
I respond, but usually not with a lot of detail, because it's so complicated and such a difficult thing to put into words. I have been mulling over this post for months and it's still not exactly right. I also feel like it's important to mention that this is my experience and my words reflect me, not "military spouses" in general.
Over the past few years, I have had the pleasure of speaking with a lot of different people (mostly women) who are in my "same" situation with the military. All of us have moved cross-country. All of us have had our spouses deploy. All of us know the pain of missing our partner. All of us know the frustration that comes with not knowing what's next and having plans cancelled and changed in a moment's notice.
We deal with the same stuff and can celebrate and commiserate over the ups and downs, but we have completely different ways of managing the time, dealing with the doubts and making our situations work.
That, I think is the first thing to acknowledge. Every single relationship is different. I feel crazy saying, "this will absolutely make your marriage/relationship with your far away partner work."
Because it won't.
Long distance is hard.
Falling in love with someone who will for sure spend months and years away from you is hard.
Deciding to commit to someone who's career will need to come first is hard.
I struggled with making the decision. And then, once I had made the decision, I still struggled. (And full-disclosure : I still hit the panic button once in awhile, usually when I think about having little ones.)
Six years ago, I would not have chosen to fall in love with someone who spends so much time away. I probably would have picked someone who works an eight to six and has weekends off. I would have picked someone that could live near our families or near our friends. I would have picked someone who could be there all the time to help me raise our kids and wouldn't have to miss birthdays and holidays.
But, and here's the most important part, my life would not be nearly as good.
I love Paul. He's my match. Exactly who I need in my life to make me better, stronger and more passionate. Every bit of it, even the terrible parts (and remember, every relationship has terrible parts), are worth it because we get to design and muddle through this life together.
I mentioned in a post a few months ago that sometimes to be the most creative, you have to get in a box. You have to set restrictions and then work with what you have. It pushes you in a different way than having limitless options.
That's sort of what marrying into the military is like. You deal with the crappy parts because you have to. You move every few years (or every year) which is a hassle, but as a plus, you get to learn a new town and redecorate. You miss your partner while they deploy, but appreciate them so much more when they're home. You have to use just words to show affection and as a result become a better communicator.
You will give up some things for sure.
But it's important to understand that that doesn't make you a weak person.
I think worrying about giving stuff up or looking weak is sort of an underlying fear, and I remember feeling the same way. "If I graduate college and move across the country for a guy, does that make me pathetic?" "Am I becoming a cliche?" "Will this mean my career and my plans will never come first?"
I'll say it again, it's hard. But marriage is hard. It will not always work out. Sometimes the healthier decision is to let go. And sometimes the healthiest decision is to fight for it. It's absolutely not something that a pros and cons list will help you sort out. It's just a gut feeling that for me came down to the simple fact that I loved Paul. I loved him enough to let all the rest sort itself out.
For me, that turned into slowly building my own business that isn't dependant on where we live. When I graduated college, I would have never expected this career path. It's a dream come true I didn't even know I had and it's made possible in great part because of the stability and security that comes with Paul's job. I never take that fact lightly or for granted.
Yes, parts of the military life are rough. Paul will miss big and little moments in our lives and in our kid's lives over the coming years. We'll struggle with separation and the growing pains that come with fitting ourselves back together every time he comes home.
But (and it took me years to learn this) being mad about it and sad about it and worrying about it and stressing over it will accomplish nothing. We both choose focus on all the good. How high we flew at that homecoming. How much we cherish our situation now that we're on the other side. How fortunate we are that he's home safe and has a good job. How blessed we are to live all over the US (and hopefully someday world!!). I believe that the next time we are apart we will both be better equipped to deal. I'll figure more stuff out while he's away (this is still one of my favorite posts of all time) and grow stronger as a person separate from a couple. I refuse to wish any of the next 12+ years away.
Long-distance is about believing in and trusting yourself & your partner. It's about communicating with each other all. The. Time. It's about talking and re-figuring things out before resentment has a chance to build. But really, that's true of all relationships.
If you're struggling, worrying or simply waiting... Hang in there. Or if it turns out, it's really just not the right fit (and that happens), I wish you peace. You have to find the healthiest option for you and your family.
ps... extra reading : I loved the honesty in this post on her 20 year marriage on Cathy's blog yesterday.