One thing I’ve learned over the last four years as a military spouse, is that the military consumes a lot of my husband’s time. Even when he’s home, he isn’t always there because of work calls or stress. When we have time to take a break and get away from the installation, we always jump on the opportunity. Whether it’s a weekend to New Orleans or a week-long trip to the beach, we’re ready to pack our bags and get traveling!
Two weeks ago, we returned from a two-week “vacation.” I put vacation in quotations, because only part of it was an actual vacation. As with many military families, my husband and I often use leave days to visit our families in Pennsylvania, where we were born and raised. Probably many of you do the same thing. It’s always great to visit family, but it never really feels like a vacation.
Our families are more than two hours apart, so it meant we were driving back and forth between them. We stayed in a cabin near his parents for part of the trip. It sounds romantic, right? But when your in-laws are coming over every day since they live two minutes away? Not so much. Don’t even get me started on shacking up with my parents for the other part of the trip. At least there wasn’t a curfew involved. There wasn’t much time for us to be alone!
Don’t get me wrong — I love seeing my family, but it never feels relaxing like a vacation should. Traveling between families, trying to fit everyone in and catching up with friends really fills up time. You’ve probably been there. You’re excited to see your family, catch up on what has changed since the last time you saw everyone. But after a week, you may be ready to be alone with your spouse! Uninterrupted time rarely comes around.
Before we went on leave, we made a decision: One week with family and the other week a romantic vacation at the beach. I’m glad we did it that way. It’s so important to find time alone with your spouse — whether or not you have children. That can mean one date night every two weeks (child-free) or short, weekend getaways as a family.
I’ve always been interested in reading books designed to make a marriage better, such as Fireproof, His Needs Her Needs and Fighting For Your Marriage. (Speaking of which, where is the military edition of these books?) No matter how great your marriage is, these types of books can direct you toward areas in your marriage that need work. For a lot of military couples, this means making time for each other.
While you live together at your installation and see each other every day (or most days), how much of that time is work set completely aside? How much of that time do you focus on each other? Let’s face it: We’re all busy. Whether you have your own career or are a stay-at-home-mom or dad, plenty of things come between couples connecting. The book, Fighting For Your Marriage, suggests “making the time by taking weekend vacations from time-to-time without the kids, turning off the phone and walking away from the computer.” While military couples can try these things, they aren’t always feasible due to late work days, after-hour phone calls (because that phone can’t be turned off) and sometimes having to run back into work. The workday is never really over just because our service members leave the office. This is why taking leave and going away is good, but you need to set aside time to be alone — even if it’s only one or two days.
My husband and I packed a ton of visits into one week and then we were off to South Carolina for our beach getaway. We had couples massages, went out for nice dinners, laid on the beach and pool and cuddled up for movies after a long day in the sun. Not only do these vacations (even a mini-vacay) act as a break from work, but they also help you reconnect as friends and lovers. You’re alone with each other, forcing you to have conversations and talk — you’re reinforcing a friendship. Fighting For Your Marriage by Scott Stanley says, “To keep your marriage strong, you need to invest in your relationship by making friendship a major priority.”
Friendship isn’t the only important part. There’s also focusing on your family unit — you, your spouse and your children. When was the last time you did something as a family unit with no work interruptions? Even taking one day over a weekend to hit an amusement park, see a movie and have dinner or spending a day at the beach (if you’re in a coastal area) can be that perfect focus on the family unit you need.
The next time you and your service member discuss taking leave or a free weekend, think openly about your options. Did you just see family a few months ago? Is it possible to see family later in the year? Do you have extra cash to take a weekend, just the two of you? Are you able to do a full vacation, just you and the kids? Or take only a weekend? Or even a day?
Answer those questions along with your spouse to figure out your next plan. Bonding as a couple or a family unit can give you the vacation you really need and allow everyone to get closer. Deployments and time in the field can happen so often that things can sometimes drift apart. Taking time to truly be together and focusing on the family unit just might be the change you need.
Sarah Peachey is a 20-something journalist from the northeast and living in the Deep South in Fort Polk, LA. She and her husband have two fur babies: Sasha, a fun-loving Dachshund, and Josie, their crazy cat. She began a career in journalism with The Fort Polk Guardian, an installation newspaper, winning two local awards for her work, and now is a freelancer for military spouse support sites. She is an active blogger on MilitaryOneClick and her blog, “Stetsons, Spurs and Stilettos”. She enjoys spending her days on the shooting range or at home with a good book. She considers herself a bookworm, pianist, wine enthusiast and an artist.