Military life is hard, especially when spouses are deployed to far off places and communication with them is extremely limited. From my previous experience - and that of husbands and wives with loved ones deployed across the Middle East, Africa, Asia and even in Antarctica (yes, there are Kiwi soldiers in all these places) - here are a collection of the worst things to say to military spouses.
You knew all of this would happen when you married him/her
Yes, we knew we married someone in the Army/Navy/Air Force. We knew deployments would forever be a part of our life. But nobody removed the emotions for loneliness or despair from our genetic make-up when we got married. Just because we accepted military life as part of the deal, doesn't mean it's easier to manage during the hard times.
Also, nobody told us they'd be gone so damned often - even our spouses only get a few weeks (or days) notice. Ships are constantly underway in the Pacific, the Air Force is ever moving supplies to the most recently hit disaster zone, and soldiers seem to be deployed to zones long forgotten by the inattentive public, such as South Sudan. Not to mention alliance-building exercises in India, the ships patrolling the horn of Africa for months on end...
It must be so hard... I don't know how you do it
This is intended as a compliment, but it just makes us crazy on the inside. We don't know how we do it either, okay? We manage every day. Some days we don't manage at all - we throw our toys completely out of the cot (we just do it in private). Just because we keep up the appearance of keeping ourselves "together" when in public, doesn't mean we are superhumans that don't miss our beloveds uncontrollably, every hour of every day.
Do you have an "agreement"?
When people ask this, they're inquiring as to whether we're able to sleep with other people while our spouses are overseas. First of all, is that really anyone else's business but our own? Do we ask you if you do S&M weekends to spice things up? Secondly, while there are likely to be exceptions, no, no we don't have an "agreement". We just go without. Just like you have to when you're going through a rough patch (except ours are enforced by distance). Our marriages are no different to yours.
I just saw this on the news. Are you worried?
Here's the thing. When our spouses are deployed, we don't watch the news. We go from BBC addicts to living under a rock in an instant. We do this because there is too much sensationalised (and usually incorrect) information about military operations in the media. No, we weren't worried. But now we are. And we're going to have to wait 72 hours for our next phone call to be reassured there was no insurgence/explosion/coup in the first place. Cheers for that.
Do you send sexy photos and videos to each other?
Everything sent and received via a military system is monitored, just like everything you do at your office is monitored. So no, we don't send a full-frontal selfie now and again because it'll probably be intercepted by our spouse's boss. Not so sexy anymore, is it.
Skype must make things so easy. It's practically like being there
Yes, sometimes Skype is a wonderful gift. It's amazing to be able to see a face we haven't seen in real life for months. More often than not, though, Skype is glitchy, pixelated, and drops out 15 times in 20 minutes. A static digital photograph and hearing only every fifth word of each sentence is nothing like being together in real life.
My husband often goes overseas for business. I know how you feel
Sorry to rain on your empathy parade, but you really don't. Your husband's three-week trip to Asia, staying in nice safe hotels with a healthy per diem (and phoning home every day) is nothing like knowing your spouse is stuck in a 16-person room in the most dangerous part of the world, working 20 hour days in 40-plus degree heat. All the while, we're at home alone, managing two people's lives (or if you have kids, three, four, five...) without an end-date.
It's not our war. How can s/he go over there?
It's not the place of military personnel - or their spouses - to take a political stance on the location of a deployment. The job is the serve our country, period. Our spouses are just doing what their job - and our nation - requires them to do.
Are you afraid s/he's going to die?
Just as you don't leave the house every morning worried you're going to be hit by a bus, we don't spend our days worrying our spouses are going to be killed in action. Like being hit by a bus, there's a theoretical possibility, sure. There's also a theoretical possibility of a volcanic eruption engulfing Auckland's CBD. We're about as worried about our spouses dying as you are being burnt alive by a lava pit.
Finally, the perennial favourite for all military spouses: Will you go over and visit?
Yes, that's exactly what we do. We'll charter flights to Afghanistan to airports that civilian planes don't fly to. Then we'll rent Humvees, traverse the desert for hours whilst carefully swerving past the occasional Improvised Explosive Device, then rock up to military camps and exclaim to the guards, "I'm here to surprise my husband! Do you think I could hide in his barracks until he finishes work? I'm sure his superiors won't mind if he takes a week off so we can be together because I missed him so much!"
No, we do not - nor cannot - visit. We must wait the full six, seven, even eight months of every deployment out. Can we talk about something else now?