Separation is painful and scary and stressful-- for everyone. I am inclined to believe that it's actually more difficult for the partner staying at home, even though they're not the person doing the work per se, because the person who leaves is going to something while the person at home just has something taken from them, but I think my husband would tell you a different story. I suppose everyone is biased toward their own experience. So, in the spirit of fairness and equity, let's assume it's just shitty for everyone, though it's shitty in different ways.
Contrary to what the mythology would have you believe, it is incredibly difficult to find connection before and after a separation. My theory is that this is because each person experiences the separation so differently. It's hard to find common ground when you're in pretty different spaces emotionally. Before the separation, the person who is going away has anxiety about the upcoming mission, as well as missing their partner and life at home. They also have some excitement about the job ahead and the camaraderie of the team. The person who is staying home is anxious about the void on the other side of the bed and the silence over dinner and the palpable absence at parties, as well as about managing the household solo... and, if you're me, you also harbor some resentment because the person you love most is choosing to spend time away from you because there is something else that they want to do that requires it. They want to do that other thing enough that it's worth the trade-off of weeks or months without you. It's hard for me to not take that personally sometimes, even though I knew this was my husband's life when we met. I am aware that this isn't completely fair or rational, but it's very much how I feel sometimes.
I'll be honest, folks-- we have not yet cracked this particular nut. The night before my husband left for a month-long field exercise with zero contact, and we were up far, far too late in an utterly pointless, dramatic, overheated argument. I was being very emotional (read: sensitive and then sobbing inconsolably), he was frustrated that I couldn't mellow out for our last few hours together... match to the gas tank. This is not the first time that we've hit the skids right before a separation. We made up, more or less, by the time he left, and for that I am grateful. He asked me to promise that we wouldn't have another night like that, and I want to be able to promise him that-- it's not like I wanted that type of night in the first place-- but it's also not me alone who is creating the situation, so I feel like it's something we need to work on together. After all, it does take two to tango.
I'm in a Facebook group with some other army wives at our post, and I posed questions as to whether anyone else experienced these fights and what suggestions people have for breaking the cycle. I was heartened to see quick responses that, yes, other people go through this too, but unfortunately the only advice was to just decide that you're not going to fuel the fire, which is far easier said than done. The best concrete strategy I've come up with so far is to just keep it light in the days leading up to the separation. Have fun together. Don't try to problem-solve. If you're watching a movie, make it a comedy. Plan something fun that you'll do together when you're reunited. Devote your energy toward the parts of your relationship that bring you joy and make you feel close-- the parts around the separation-- and maybe you'll avoid directing it toward dwelling on the impending separation.
The thing is, we were both trying to do exactly before the last separation, but the conversation meandered into the woods. It is damn hard to censor yourself around the person you are closest to. This isn't foolproof. But maybe it's a start.
Do you have any suggestions for things you can do to make the transition into a separation a little smoother?
xo - Kilo