Ask the Wife: How do you fill the “Void”


            Picture from: http://randijasmine.com

Marie,

Thank you for writing this blog and sharing so much with the world.  I wanted to ask, how do you fill the void when your husband is away? Thank you for your answer and time. Respectfully, “A Sub Wife”

Dear Sub Wife,

Thank you for the kind words and heartfelt question.

At first I thought since I am a Sub wife, this would be an easy one, yet I find myself a little too close to see the answers at times.  This is a very broad question.  There are so many “voids” when my husband is away.  There is a void in my marriage, friendship, parenting, and family. In addition, my children have their own “voids” needing filled.  I can give you the standard issue of “keep busy,” but that is a broad answer.  Only a wife that has been there, done that, can truly explain what that “void” is.  And even if you know what it is, most of us don’t know how to fill it.  We just keep busy and try desperately to distract ourselves from the reality that it sucks.  Don’t be misled by my statement.  Staying busy is key, but it won’t fill the void.  It fills your time.

The void in my marriage is mainly filled by me, myself, and I. This is where I should give you the, “you must love yourself” line, but honestly when you are alone at night crying in an empty bed, that isn’t going to cut it. Marriage is a partnership. So, when I say that “I” fill that void, I do so by making sure I tell my husband what I need.

I will be honest. My husband adores me, but he has never been on this side of a deployment.  He might think he knows what I need, but he also thinks I like the flowers he chooses which I have been allergic to for 14 years. Sometimes our spouses need a little help.  I’ll give you the biggest tip yet . . They are not mind readers! You are shocked, I know.

Years ago, my husband and I read “The Five Love Languages.”  This was something suggested to us and it was eye-opening.  It’s an easy read if you get the chance. It breaks down what your “LL” is. (LL, being your Love Language, of course)  My LL is “touch.”  That’s how I interpret and feel loved.  My Husband’s LL is “Words of Affirmation”.  There is a huge problem with this.  He can’t touch me when he is a world away.  What was my 2nd Language?  “Quality Time.”  Yep, I’m screwed.  Okay, not really, but this made more sense why I felt awful during the deployments and why my husband felt connected and able to handle it all.  I could give him what he needed through emails and letters.  Sadly, I could not save his hugs in a jar.

I had to learn to ask for things he wasn’t used to doing.  These things may even seem odd or out of his comfort zone.  I explained that even if he had nothing new to tell me in an email, write simply, “I love you.”  Most Sub Wives know there aren’t a lot of new things to hear about from our Sailors.  They can’t tell you where they are or what they are doing and lets face it, the scenery doesn’t change.  It’s completely normal for a Submariner to run out of things to share just days into a 6 month deployment.

You need to be engaging.  You can help take your Sailors mind off where he is and start asking questions.  Do not ask questions on how the reactor works or where they are.  That will only get your email suspended and possibly some “suits” at your door.  Instead, look up some fun questions.  There are books out there with fun and flirty questions to ask your partner.  Flirting is key.  It’s something so many of us stop doing once we are married.  Tease with him.  Add a little romance. Remind him why he asked for your hand in marriage.  Just remember others are reading it too.  There is nothing wrong with flirting and a few innuendos, just don’t paint the full picture for the Radiomen .  They don’t need visuals.

I know I need hand written notes, his dive hoodie and his cologne.  My husband will make sure I have these things for the next deployment.  He might have to handwrite 100 notes, but it’s what I need.  I’m also a needy sleeper and like to be touching my husband at night, even if it is just my foot against his leg.   So, I take his dive hoodie, spray his cologne on it and put it on his side of the bed with a lot of pillows. For some reason it helps. It’s what I need and I sleep better because of it.

I write every day. Whether I have something to say or not. I write an email (numbered, so when they are sent in the wrong order to him, he knows where to start) about every day life.  I write about my mornings, getting the kids off to school, running into an old friend, how I tripped over the dog and we both barely made it without medical care. . .I know he wants to visualize my day, me walking through the house, the kids, our life together, etc.  So, I give him just that.

I think so many of us want our husbands to know what to do for us.  And some may be able to pull that off, but most can’t.  You have to let them know.  Take the time to think about it and consider writing it out for them. Most service members have a lot on their plate before a deployment.  Make it easier and write it down.  This is a great opportunity to ask what your spouse needs from you.  Living separate lives that every once in a while overlap is a challenge, but you can make it easier.  Staying married through it and in love is even harder.  Consider it a job that constantly needs your attention.  Invest in it and your “retirement” will be a life well spent and love that will truly last forever and a day.

My husband is my best friend.  I don’t say that lightly.  I mean that I tell him things I don’t tell my girlfriends.  He knows everything.  That is a “huge void” when he is away.  If you have a friend that is truly your best friend, that is wonderful, if you don’t, you need an alternative.  I’m not going to tell you to replace your spouse with a desperate attempt at a new BFF.  I am merely going to suggest that you embrace the friendships you have and learn to trust them.  They may be new due to a recent PCS, or the friendship could be a sibling or even a parent.  I know this isn’t the same as your spouse.  Nothing can replace that level of intimacy.  But, you have  to find a safe place with others.  You can’t go for 4-9 months not speaking about your worries, fears, and sharing your successes.  Just remember that your friends have feelings too and they don’t want to become, “deployment friends.”  These are the friends you have and only really speak to when your spouse is deployed.  Invest in friendships.  It’s something that returns tenfold.

Parenting, Family, & The kid’s “void.”  That is a topic some of you can skip and others will scan down to find.  I made the regrettable decision to “baby” my children during my first few deployments.  I knew they were sad and I wanted to do anything to make them smile.  I hurt for them.  Then, I realized they were manipulating me.  They didn’t know it.  Ok, maybe they did.  I say this with love and many years of experience.  Our first deployment, they were 4 months and 4 years old.  Now, they are 10 and 14. I made the mistake of trying to replace my husband with, “extra understanding.”  I know this is normal, but I found myself rationalizing with a 2-year-old. I mean trying to talk a two-year old out of a tantrum in the middle of Target kind of rationalizing.  I quickly realized I was making a mistake.  1. My two-year old could care less what I was saying and was acting out to get what she wanted.  2. I was the parent and obviously forgot that between the time we entered the store and five minutes later when my daughter was scream-crying that she wanted “down”.

Sure, my children were hurting and needed as much love as I was capable of giving, but what they didn’t need was for me to “fold” to every tear and outburst as a reaction to their father’s absence.  I quickly learned that I needed to be both Mom and Dad. I had to play both good and bad cop.  I didn’t get a day off and my children at this age didn’t understand time or where Daddy was.  They did understand that every time they got upset, Mommy gave them whatever they wanted. Me <–SUCKER. I had to realize that I was doing this because it made me feel better, not that it was better in the long run for them.  I love my children. They are my world…and they worked me for at least three deployments before I woke up.  If this is you now, that’s ok.  Only you know what is and isn’t working for you.

Today, there is no difference in parenting when my husband is home or away.  I realized very early on that consistency was key.  Now, that seems like a no brainer, but in that moment 10 years ago, I thought extra love would fix everything.  Today, they still get extra love and more one-on-one time with me, but they are also expected to behave the same whether Dad is home or deployed.  No excuses.  We are a family. . .a team.  When Dad is away, we all step up our game to fill his void.

This is why I took the time to learn soccer.  My husband coaches my son’s team and I knew my son would need someone to practice with.  I also do all the voices when reading books with my daughter.  Daddy always does the voices.  It’s these little things that my children need.

Important conversations are rarely with just Dad.  Not because he shouldn’t have them, but because we realize he isn’t always going to be there to have them.  I’ve been part of 99% of the talks with our teenage son.  Luckily, I’ve always been the one “home” and have built up to this.  I’ve talked about puberty, sex, drugs, first kisses, you name it. In a lot of families, Dad would initiate and follow through with these conversations.  We don’t have that luxury.  To make it the norm for our son, I try to stay as involved as I can.  I act like it is no big deal, even though I have been known to walk out of the room and feel the air leave my lungs, but it’s working.  My son comes to me to talk about pretty big stuff, including his first kiss.  In some ways, I feel lucky to have this.  The connection between my son and I may not have happened if it wasn’t for this life.

The voids left by our spouses deploying are huge.  We underestimate just how much our life is affected by their absence.  The empty chair at dinner every night is enough to bring so many to tears.  We have to be vocal and let our service members know what we need.  In return, ask what you can do for them.  I couldn’t do what they do.  I know that I am meant to be on this side of the deployment.  But, for our service members to keep going and for us to run parallel on the home front, we must first understand who we are and what we need.  Only then will we be successful in this life and our relationships.

If you have a question you would like to see answered on, “They Call Me Dependent,” Write Marie at marieangela@mac.com

4 thoughts on “Ask the Wife: How do you fill the “Void”

  1. Dear JustDontKnowItYet,

    Just make sure you read the part where I said, “Learning to, or learned”. My husband has been too busy. There were times where I had been second to the Navy. Sometimes, I read the comments like yours and think of all the things I should have added to this post. But, then it would be a book, not a post! lol

    You are describing something so very normal. My husband has “learned”, but I will tell you as our deployments start to approach again, I am spelling it out and reminding him that he won’t have a lot of time right before. It may sound almost “demanding”, but like I said, it truly is what I *need* to get through the deployment. Especially after how many we have completed. I love the voicemail comment. I remember saving my husbands messages and listening to them through deployments. It helps. 🙂

  2. Man – I am a little jealous of all you ladies who actually get things (hand written notes, cards, flowers, etc) while your sailor is gone. That’s so special! Treasure it! My Sailor has the best of intentions. When we first married, we talked about it and he had all the intentions of scheduling and pre-paying for a massage for me at a local spa, leaving love notes around the house, etc.

    Now, we’ve been in the shipyards the guys are so busy, they can’t think straight, and have been for the better part of 2 years. He doesn’t have time (or energy) to do any of that for me. Not that his heart isn’t in it, but when he’s severely sleep deprived, stressed to the max at work, and battling whatever the latest virus is that’s going around the ship, little things like that come last.

    How your guys manage to give you all of that is truly a miracle. I don’t doubt my husband loves me, and maybe “someday” that stuff will be in the cards, but for the last 2 years, it hasn’t been. We do our best to make the most of every moment we can together.

    I think the thing my husband is best at is leaving me sweet voicemails. He likes to call me to and from work. Sometimes I can’t get to the phone, and usually he leaves me really sweet voicemails. I save them so that when I need to hear his “I Love You” while he’s underway, it’s right there at my finger tips. 🙂

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  4. I’ve been a submariner’s wife for over 17 years. We were dual military (Navy) when we met and got married. We quickly realized that it didn’t work for us and I got out. We have had the (mis)fortune of doing 2 fast boats, 2 boomers, and now another fast boat (Yes, I said 17 years of marriage. He just went over 20 years in.). He just left, recently, on another 6 month deployment.

    One of the things I have learned that helps fill the void for him:
    We, as wives/spouses, think ahead and do ‘half-way night boxes’ for the guys on fast boats. On ‘boomers’ we send ‘patrol boxes’ that include letters, little presents, etc. that can be opened at random or designated points during the patrol. My sailor and I have combined this for both of us.

    I send a special ‘half-way night box’ for him so he can open one when all the other guys do. But I also give him a separate package that includes cards, numbered by date or week number or holiday, that give him little touches of me. Handwritten for that extra touch. They don’t have to be much, just a reminder to hang in there and that I am thinking of him. I also include a few random cards and write on the cover things like ‘feeling blue?’ or ‘under the weather?’ and just have a little ‘pick me up’ note inside. And I also try to include a little gift or two wrapped in that package so he can open something for a little reminder of home.

    Here is the special part, what helps fill the void for me:

    He does the very same thing for me.

    The night before he left he sat down and gave me my box. I have a stack of cards that I can open during the deployment (and can take with me if I travel), gifts for Christmas and Valentine’s day, gift cards to go to some restaurants I wouldn’t normally go to with him gone (but this encourages me to find someone to go with rather than sitting home alone), and things like that.

    He took my favorite sleepshirt (an oversized tshirt of his favorite college team) and put his cologne on it and put it on his pillow so I can hug it at night. And on his nightstand sits a blue tshirt in a plastic bag that smells like ‘the boat’.

    He bought me flowers the night before he left. Nothing fancy, just some sunflowers and daisies, but enough to give me something to smile at tonight as I’m feeling a little blue.

    And how does he know to do this? I told him. He had a small taste of being the one at home when we were first married and I was on a ship. He readily agrees that I have the harder job. But telling him, in no uncertain terms, what I wanted to see while he was gone? It has saved both of us a lot of frustration and stress over the years. Because it gives him something to do so he doesn’t feel like he is just abandoning me (he’s a true caretaker). Because it reminds me in little ways that he thinks of me even if he is elsewhere in the world.

    Just because we’ve been doing this for years does not make it easier. It just helps us to recognize what is going on and to know what to expect. But there is always something about each deployment that is different. I just try to share what I have learned over the years with the younger/newer wives. And he tries to teach the younger guys on the boat how to help their wives in a similar way.

    I love your blog and shared it on my Facebook. Thank you.

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