An Ocean Between Us:
Across the Miles
LIVING UNDER DIFFERENT ROOFS
In our global society, it isn’t always feasible to live
near to the people who are most important in our lives.
Globalization has led to increased mobility. Job scarcity,
high living costs in some areas, and economic downturns also lead to more families living separately. Such
families try to maintain their relationships by using
technology and spending time together on weekends
and holidays when possible. Meanwhile, the definition
of family, in both civilian and military communities, has
been expanded in many societies, and now includes a
multiplicity of relationships and living arrangements.
Living separately, either by choice or necessity, is a
common experience for military families. This unavoidable expectation is central to the military lifestyle, and
can occur as result of frequent moves, deployments, or
remote assignments. The decreased size of the military has resulted in an increased number and variety
of deployments. Frequent and repeated deployments
have a cumulative impact, often amounting to separations in excess of two years. A military member IS
expected to relocate for an extended period of time,
including deployments or remote assignments where
the installation is too isolated or small to have services
such as schools, housing, and medical care, for families.
Then the military member moves and the family, or a
single member, may well remain behind. Such separations can occur for other reasons, such as allowing a
child to complete a school year, or for family housing or
spousal employment considerations.
The strains of living separately can fracture relationships, and have led to a rising military divorce rate, even
while the civilian divorce rate has recently declined.
This difference has been partly attributed to the added
stress of being in a combat zone, and to lack of skills to
effectively manage the time and distance apart.
NOT THE TYPICAL WELCOME HOME
Television news often displays heartwarming homecoming images of military members surprising those
close to them upon their return. These idealized
moments and consequent unrealistic expectations
lead many to be unaware of the possibilities for their
transition home. Each time my husband returned home
from a military deployment, he unpacked his suitcase.
When he got to his closet to hang up his uniforms,
he found it overflowing with my clothes. I had stolen every inch of his closet space. That was the
least of the changes. During his long absence, our
family roles had changed and I had broken many
agreements about how we would raise our children. Surprise—and welcome home!
To me, it was nothing personal; I simply took
advantage of valuable real estate. But I now won-
der what my husband thought when he first saw
that there was no space for his belongings. Per-
haps, he thought that, just like the closet, there
was no room in my life for him. Or he could have
thought “Oh, that’s so sweet! The empty closet was
too painful to look at!”
He lived out of his suitcase for two weeks before
asking for some closet space back. On each return
he got a little bit less, as was true for other aspects of
our relationship. His role and responsibilities within our
family changed forever, and he never truly regained
the parental position that he once had. Our children
did not see him as a decision-maker and would walk
past him in order to ask me for permission to do some-
thing. Although he left for his last deployment when
our youngest daughter was four, it took another ten
years for her to realize he had the power as a parent
to unground her. To this day I wonder what he thought
and if he harbored resentment. However, I will never
know because we never talked about it.
WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE OCEAN
Lajes Field is a tight-knit American military community located on the Azore islands in the Atlantic Ocean,
About the Author
is an Organizational
the U.S. Army
has a M.S. in
University, and is
co-chair of the ACR
Health Care section.
worked as the
the U.S. Air Force
at Lajes Air Base,
Azores to engage
as the facility
Living separately, either by choice or
necessity, is a common experience for military
families. This unavoidable expectation is
central to the military lifestyle, and can occur
as result of frequent moves, deployments,
or remote assignments.