“How can we nurture our marriage and family despite my husband’s absence for military service?” Ensign, Feb. 1993, 31
Daniel Krum, senior chief petty officer, U.S. Navy, and a member of the Virginia Beach Fourth Ward, Norfolk Virginia Stake. Many occupations take the spouse away from home for long periods of time, but this is especially true of the military. The absence of a spouse can place strains on a family that test its very fiber. The spouse may be surrounded by friends while away and still feel lonely and depressed without the intimate support system that only a family can provide.
Firsthand experience has taught me that it is indeed possible to preserve strong family ties during separations. Since right after my marriage, I’ve been called to sea duty with the navy many times; and though those absences have been painful for my family, our ties have continued to strengthen. Recently I traveled more than eight thousand miles from home, having embarked with only four days’ notice. It was more than two months before I received mail. During that time I reflected a lot on the blessing of having a happy marriage in spite of the separations that lead some military couples to divorce or estrangement. You may find the ideas I came up with to be helpful in your situation.
Preparation for absences, whether short or prolonged, is crucial to keeping family ties alive. Both spouses should try to meet the emotional, spiritual, and material needs of their family long before the spouse leaves home. You may want to let priesthood leaders and others know of your concerns so they can watch over your family with extra care. But there is still much that you can do.
Resolve any marital rifts or family difficulties, even minor ones, immediately. You may not get the chance to do so if your spouse has to leave on short notice. Before my last departure, my wife, Barbara, and I were unable to solve a minor family crisis with one of our children. I sought the help of members of our ward, and their calls and visits helped my wife and child get through the rough time.
Since a military spouse’s time at home is usually short, plan ahead as a family to make your time together extra special. In our family, we may celebrate birthdays and other occasions late or early, having worked out the details by mail sometimes months in advance. Fathers and sons’ outings, daddy-daughter dates, interviews with my children, and overnight “getaways” with Barbara help keep family spirits high. As parents, you may wish to call a family council and plan other morale boosters suited to your family’s particular needs.
Family church participation and temple attendance provide the necessary gospel foundation for the family. A family’s spiritual unity, once established, can be a bond virtually impervious to the pains of even the severest trials. As the saying goes, “Families that pray together stay together.” Besides prayer, include family home evening and scripture study among other testimony-building activities.
Material preparation can entail setting aside reserves of money, food, and other commodities as well as doing home repairs and taking care of maintenance items before they pose problems.
Great benefits come to a family from participating in regular correspondence by mail. Mail is the lifeblood of military personnel. Care packages, videotapes, and audiotapes add an exciting dimension to mail call, but letters—whether romantic, humorous, or newsy—can nurture family ties in profound ways. Try weaving gospel messages into your letters, and consider bringing up family problems and concerns with your absent spouse. The forethought going into a serious letter addressing family issues can work wonders. Many times Barbara and I are amazed at how in tune we are, our thoughts crossing in our letters. Through the years, our love has flourished through letters, and we’ve grown more sensitive to our family’s needs.
Personal growth is another key to maintaining strong family ties. With a vital part of their support system missing, separated family members can be vulnerable to the vagaries of grief, depression, anxiety, and frustration. Avoid that by taking advantage of opportunities for growth. We can turn our isolation into a time to draw closer to the Lord, turning to him in all things. Barbara and I take one day at a time, seeking the Lord’s help. We use the time to overcome personal weaknesses and to grow spiritually so that we are more attractive to each other when we’re reunited.
Though it is never easy to endure the absence of a loved one, we can grow from the experience, for with the right perspective and the Lord’s help, we can see things optimistically and be one as partners in marriage as well as in our testimonies of the gospel.