I was chatting with a good friend and fellow military spouse at a military base Starbucks recently (see more about Starbucks in this previous post) when she said something that struck me as really profound.
"Yeah, it sucks that our guys are gone so much of the time, but if you think about it, in a way we're lucky," my friend said. "How many other people get to fall in love all over again with their husband or wife all the time?"
She was referring to what's commonly known in the military as the honeymoon effect, that period of time after a soldier returns from duty and you're both ridiculously happy to bask in each other's presence--much like the giddiness of a honeymoon. The amount of time this lasts depends on how long the soldier was gone, and of course, on the intimate dynamics of the couple.
My friend certainly had a point. Maybe it's just my reporter tendency to hear everything as potential pull-quotes, but she really summed it up well. Not all relationships are made of sunshine and roses, obviously, but if you ask anyone who's been in a serious relationship with somebody in the military, they should be able to wax eloquently about having experienced the honeymoon effect at some time or another. My husband and I have experienced it more times than I can count. He often remarks, only half-jokingly, that all the times we've spent apart will probably prolong our marriage. Frankly, he's probably right. Having him gone frequently means we have less time to bicker about small things, and we truly do get along better and are generally nicer to each other during the honeymoon periods after he returns. When you don't know how much time you'll get to spend together, you tend to focus more on the bigger picture of what's important. Who left the cap off the toothpaste is no longer an earth-shattering issue.
What people may not realize, though, is that the honeymoon effect isn't just limited to deployments. Soldiers in the Army--as well as service members in the military's other four branches--often spend significant amounts of time away from home even when they aren't deployed overseas. Depending on the service member's particular job and unit, he or she could be working nights, weekends, or a variety of other arrangements where they're on the job for days or even weeks straight. And that's not taking into account the times they're away for schools or training. The Army in particular has a wide array of internal schools to teach soldiers everything from how to jump out of an airplane to proper operation of a Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle (which looks sort of like a small tank.) Schools range in length from several days to several months, and communication with soldiers in these programs runs the gamut from frequent to zilch.
All of this produces couples who are skilled in goodbyes, and whose emotions and schedules remain on a near-constant roller coaster. It never becomes easy or fun, but as time passes you learn how to deal with it, and absences of only a couple days are no longer such a big deal. You cherish the times you do have together, and ride out the roller coaster together.
Photo credit: WTL Photos, flickr.com