Resenting the Deployed
I found this search term in my website stats today:
“resenting husband for being deployed”
If you copy and paste it into a search field, one of the results to turn up is a blog post written by a woman who resents her traveling husband for spending a lot of time away from home. A military spouse comes to her aid in the comments section:
There are LOTS of things you can do!!! I’m an expert at this! I’ve been an Army wife for 12 years. We’ve NEVER lived near family (we are currently in KS and family is in FL). And, during the past 8 years my husband has been deployed to Iraq more than once (he’s there right now). So, I am a single mom for 6-12 months at a time. I have 3 kids (5y, 2y, and 6mo). Here are my suggestions…
It’s not uncommon to read/see military spouses in this role: practiced when it comes to separation, pros at living the all-but-romantically single life, independent and happy to help others learn to be independent, too. But military spouses/significant others surely aren’t born with this quality – they have to figure it out like anyone else. There has to be a learning period, a growing stage.
Yet, there’s little to be found online (with a cursory search) about resenting a deployed service member. Is it because the resentment doesn’t exist, or is it because it’s not popular to give voice to any anger or resentment you feel for a deployed loved one (“loved one” will henceforth be replaced with “lover” to eliminate the need to distinguish between spouse, fiance, and significant other)?
The deployed service members, after all, are the ones living in an unfriendly, often dangerous environment (how consistently dangerous their lives are depends largely on their MOS, but there’s usually a greater chance of being hurt/killed there than there is at home). They’re the ones missing out on “home” things like privacy, comfort, and weekends off. Everything they want or need isn’t as immediately available to them as those same things are to us, and just as we miss them, they miss us.
If they have kids, they have even more people to miss, and even worry about. Not just in terms of schoolyard scrapes or teen dramas, but in terms of the chunk of time parent and child are missing out on, time that can’t be given back.
What’s to resent?
This can’t be approached logically. One of the mistakes I think is made during deployments is that there’s too much trying to make sense of the many feelings – some of them not so pretty – smashing into each other in the course of a week, sometimes in the course of a day. Excitement and lightheartedness after the arrival of a letter, phone call, or email can change in an instant to depression or anxiety with a 3-minute news story.
There’s self-inflicted pressure to be able to “handle” things better by day X, guilt over a self-absorbed moment, and a lot of, “What I feel doesn’t matter, because s/he’s the one who’s deployed. I have no right to complain.”
That alone is breeding ground for resentment.
Not everyone feels it, but I’m willing to bet many do, even if it’s just for a few seconds. In Pretty Much True..., Mia – whose lover Jake is in Iraq during the early stages of the conflict – has her own moments of resentment, writing in an email (before deleting it),
I can’t be mad, can I? I don’t get to be mad. You’re at war, after all. Anything I feel is inconsequential.
In another scene, Mia sits in her kitchen thinking about Jake, but not necessarily consciously. It’s in this moment that she realizes just how much of her thoughts he occupies:
I wipe at a moisture ring with my sleeve cuff, back, forth, back, forth on the table with the wall clock’s tick tick. One in the morning, there, which means he is sleeping.
It’s lonelier when he sleeps. Four more hours, or so, until his alarm goes off, if he does indeed wake up at five. Five sounds right, sounds good. He wrote in his letter that he was up for sunrise, but maybe he was awake before that, since he was already drinking coffee at the time.
Not his face, not memories, but the name, repeating and repeating like a compulsive twitch, a skipping lyric. I whisper—to the air that just might someday reach him—“Sick, sick, sick of you.”
While I’m nothing like my protagonist Mia, I did draw from feelings I had while Ian was deployed. And I’m almost positive I had a “sick of you” moment. I wasn’t sick of him, but I was certainly sick of the ever-present awareness of his deployment.
Sick of not being able to look at the clock without automatically calculating the time difference. Sick of feeling simultaneously thrilled (yay! letter!) and sad (stupid letter means he’s still so far away…). Sick of not being able to control how long it would be until I saw him again. Sick of being afraid I would never see him again.
The emotions that accompany a deployment are weighty even if there’s no danger involved. Not seeing someone for a year is a tough thing to get used to. Add to that the chance that they could die (yes, anyone could die any day from anything, but rarely is anyone in your everyday life actively trying to kill you), and it gets a little more complicated.
The assumption – the healthier assumption – is that everything will be fine and they’ll come home, but it’s hard to ignore the reports of service members killed or wounded in the Middle East. It’s essential to prepare yourself, to some degree, for the possibility of such a thing happening. Which means that the day they leave can sometimes begin something of a mourning process.
The seven stages of grief are very present during a deployment. At least, they were for me when Ian left:
1. Shock and denial (Felt nothing the day he left, and liked to pretend nothing would happen over there and that he’d be home within a few weeks.)
2. Pain and grief (Realizing he was gone and that I wouldn’t get to touch or see him for who-knows-how-long was a blow.)
3. Anger and bargaining (I didn’t care who was in the White House -I hated ‘em. And if I just believed X, or if I just thought Y, Ian would come home safe. I would also, now and then, be mad at him when it seemed like everything over there was hunky-dory. How could he be having a “regular” life while I had latent anxiety every second of every day? Not fair. Also, You chose this/Your choices put us here/Why’d you have to go to war? Which makes just as much sense as, Why’d you have to go and die, you jerk? No one likes things that make them unhappy.)
4. Depression, reflection, loneliness (None of this was constant, but I would cry sporadically, feel generally out of touch, and wish so hard to see him that it would hurt just to think about him.)
5. The upward turn (No longer inwardly fighting against what I couldn’t control was calming. It doesn’t mean there weren’t still bad days, but overall, there was less frustration and the lifting of an intense weight.)
6. Reconstruction and working through (I was able to devote more attention to work, treat each day as its own day rather than as yet-another-day-he-wasn’t-there, and enjoy the fact that, even though he was far away, we were still writing, talking, and having fun.)
7. Acceptance and hope (He’d be back when he was back. If something bad happened, I would deal with it when and if the time came; until then, I would live my life and look forward to his return and the life we’d have together after he came home.)
These are all reactions to an event that impacts us on a deeply emotional level. A lover going to war is no small thing, and the associated feelings are anything but simple. They range from elated to furious, from terrified to supremely confident, from proud to resentful.
And they’re all natural.