If you’re seeking advice about how to make a long-distance relationship work, ask a military husband or wife. Marrying ― or dating ― a service member, whose career often involves deployments overseas, lots of travel and other time away from home, has made these men and women experts in long-distance love.
Staying in touch can be especially challenging for military couples: Cell service or internet access can be spotty in certain locations and living in different time zones can make it difficult to find a mutually convenient time to chat.
“Over our marriage, there are years we’ve been apart more than together,” Jen McDonald, who has been a military wife for 30 years, told HuffPost. “Between deployments and TDYs (temporary duty—i.e., travel required by the military), we’ve been apart for literally years. The longest stretch of time at once was a yearlong deployment. It takes effort to stay connected over the miles.”
It’s hard to be away from the one you love most. A piece of your heart is constantly missing.
Jen McDonald, military wife of 30 years
On top of that, the partners of service members are tasked with managing day-to-day life more or less on their own. If the kids get sick or the washing machine breaks or the car won’t start, it’s on them to sort it out. And, of course, they’re constantly thinking about their spouse.
“It’s hard to be away from the one you love most. A piece of your heart is constantly missing,” McDonald said. “Especially when your spouse is somewhere dangerous, life can seem surreal. While you must carry on with normal life and take the kids to soccer, go to work, grocery shop, and all the other little daily things in life, there’s a constant undercurrent of worry ― wondering where they are and if they’re OK.”
We asked military spouses to share some of their words of wisdom about how long-distance couples ― military or civilian ― can keep their connection strong while they’re far apart. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Celebrate every holiday ― even the little ones
“I hate missing holidays together. I make sure my husband gets a card for every holiday, even the silly ones. If he’s deployed he’ll get something for Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day and anything else we can’t do together. I usually try to find personalized stationery on Etsy to be more meaningful. It’s a nice way for him to have something physical to hold onto and look at when we’re apart.” ― Julie Zack Yaste
2. Read the same book at the same time
“I love to pick the same book to read while my husband (a submariner) is underway. Even though he is oceans away, reading the same book at the same time makes me feel close to him.”― Candace McKenna, blogger at McKenna On The Move
3. Set a goal and work toward it together
“It helps the time pass and gives us something to talk about. For this deployment, we’ve set a goal to pay off as much debt as possible. I want to say we are close to $30,000. About every two weeks, we chat about the goal, look at all the bank accounts to see where we can pull out a few extra dollars, and update our spreadsheets to show how much we have paid off and how much we have left to go.” ― Heather Aliano, blogger at Only Passionate Curiosity
4. Say “good morning” and “good night,” even if you’re in different time zones
“Something we found special was the morning and the nighttime text; letting your partner know they are the first and last thing you think about in a day is an easy and reassuring gesture that goes a long way in making the distance less painful.” ― Stephen Maraffino
5. Fill each other in about what’s going on in your corner of the world
“When you’re far apart, always keep them informed on everything going on at home and with the kids: like how things are going at the kids’ school or college, their soccer games and at your job, etc. I do this as we transition into being together again to make it easier for everyone.” ― Danisa Garcia-Esquilin of Esposas Militares Hispanas USA
6. Make up fun games to pass the time
“My husband is very creative in creating coded messages, so he’ll use keyboard symbols like &, %, and € and will send me the key so I can decode the message.” ― Trista Laborn, blogger at A Purpose Driven Wife
7. Leave cards and little love notes for each other
“I’ll put sticky notes with simple love notes on them in his luggage for him to find later. He leaves a note on my coffeemaker (where I’m sure to see it!) or on my mirror. And if a holiday is coming up where we know we’ll be apart, we plan ahead. Either go out beforehand or make plans for after the return. We’ll leave Valentine’s or birthday cards where the other is sure to find them.” ― Jen McDonald, author of You Are Not Alone: Encouragement for the Heart of a Military Spouse
8. Try to be understanding of each other’s busy schedules
“You have to be open-minded and understand that your spouse may not always have time to speak to you when you’d want, so keep in mind that nagging doesn’t help your situation.” ― Melshary Love-Arias, YouTuber
9. Send care packages to make your partner feel loved
“Send them care packages without a reason, such as a birthday or other holiday. It makes the service member feel closer to home.” ― Lina Irizarry-De La Cruz of Esposas Militares Hispanas USA
10. Or postcards so your partner can keep up with your travels
“We have a tradition in my home: my husband sends me a postcard of each city he visits. It’s already part of my routine to wait for that little note every time he travels. That makes me feel part of that tour.” ― Lina Irizarry-De La Cruz of Esposas Militares Hispanas USA
11. Surround yourself with friends, especially those who understand the LDR struggle
“For us, the hardest part of being apart was social events, whether with family or work or even just friends. We quickly realized how integral your relationship is in your social life. When your partner isn’t close at hand, social situations, especially with new people, can make you feel single, alone. Every conversation seems to require a sometimes painful explanation of why you and your partner aren’t together at the given moment. Maintaining and nurturing strong friendships goes a long way in helping make a long-distance relationship feel less isolating.” ― Stephen Maraffino
12. Dream big when it comes to making plans for your future together
“We have a lot of ‘hypothetical’ conversations. We talk a lot about what kind of vacation we would go on when he got home if we had unlimited funds. We talk about the pros and cons of each location, look up hotels and restaurants and sights to see, and even price out plane tickets. Currently, we’re daydreaming about something in South America. Considering we’re trying to get out of debt and are in the middle of adopting two more kids (bringing the grand total to six), it won’t happen. But planning it is a way for us to imagine ourselves ‘out’ of the current situation and look forward to being together again. It gives us something to talk about. It’s fun.” ― Heather Aliano
13. Remember that the two of you are a couple, even when it doesn’t feel like it
“Even though you’re independent and must carry on while your partner is gone, help your spouse feel involved with what’s going on back at home. Discuss upcoming decisions, fill them in on what’s going on in your life, and ask for advice or input like you normally would.” ― Jen McDonald
Some responses have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.