The transitional stages of deployment, beginning with the anticipation of the departure and spanning the duration of the deployment through reintegration, are accompanied by a series of adjustments that influence family relationships, specifically couple relationships. Communication is key to navigating these transitional periods; however, knowing what to talk about during deployment can be tricky. Do you talk about the frustrating experience you had at the grocery store? What about the fun lunchbreak you had with your co-worker? Navigating conversation topics can be difficult.
Research-based evidence from military couples suggests that there are specific types of communication and conversation topics that have been shown to influence relationship satisfaction during both deployment and reintegration. Conversation topics can include friendship talk, love talk, and problem talk. Friendship talk typically includes positive conversation topics and/or general re-capping of the day; love talk usually includes more affectionate remarks (e.g., I love you, I miss you, I can’t wait to see you); and problem talk includes both major and minor problems (e.g., an annoying co-worker, health problems of the at-home partner). All three of these conversation topics are bound to occur throughout the course of a deployment; therefore, hopefully these four tips can help you navigate communication with your service member during deployment.
1. Talk about day-to-day activities via phone and video calls
During deployments, conversations regarding the day-to-day happenings, or friendship talk, may allow service members to feel more involved in their partner’s or family’s life, and ultimately lead to a smooth transition during reintegration. This is likely because the service members were kept in the loop during their deployment about the daily activities experienced by their families. Therefore, service members may benefit from regular communication with their at-home partners, even if their conversations are just about the seemingly “normal” day of their at-home partners (and families).
2. Send love letters to your partner
One study found that love talk via writing letters and real-time communications were related to higher relationship satisfaction for service members. Although love talk during phone and video calls is important, letter writing can be a private and intimate way to communicate and initiate emotional connection. Writing love letters also provides a tangible connection between partners (e.g., we are thousands of miles apart but we both held this letter) and allows an individual the opportunity to continually re-read the affectionate words from their partner.
3. Discuss problems through letter writing
Evidence has shown that expressing problem talk during phone and video calls was related to lower relationship satisfaction for service members and their at-home partners. An alternative solution to this is writing letters. Through this form of communication, the author may be able to think through the problems they want to discuss in a more thoughtful and productive manner. Problem talk through letter writing may also decrease the likelihood of an escalating argument, which may be more likely to occur in real-time conversations. Of course, some problems need to be discussed in real-time. In those situations, ensure that each partner has time to talk, allow your partner a moment to process the information, and agree to utilize a solution-focused approach to move forward.
4. Develop a flexible (and creative!) communication plan
Partners may have differing perceptions of what communication will look like during deployment as well as different expectations and desires. Therefore, openly discussing and establishing communication goals before deployment and being willing to adapt during deployment tends to increase relationship satisfaction and reduce communication frustration. However, if you did not discuss communication expectations or establish a communication plan prior to deployment, you can still work together to achieve these goals for the remainder of the deployment. Finally, get creative with your communication! For example, you might each watch the same movie and then swap movie reviews via call or letter. The goal is to use communication, whether it is love, problem, or friendship talk, to maintain your connection.