I don’t normally answer phone calls from numbers that I don’t recognise, but this morning I did. I was in the mood to smack down whichever tele-marketer was stealing my time in the middle of a busy workday. On the end of the line was a very cheery gentleman letting me know he had a delivery for me and asked me to meet him down in the foyer of my office building. Hmm curious! I hadn’t ordered anything, wasn’t expecting a delivery. When I arrived downstairs, I saw a smiley, bearded fellow in high-vis gear that seemed to be very happy to be the one to deliver a huge arrangement of a dozen red roses to some lucky woman. He looked like he enjoyed his job. I couldn’t help but smile in response as he handed them over, but even more so because I knew that my husband had taken the time to send me an armload of stunning blooms.
Flowers are a special treat, and anything but routine – though Mr Collier does send them out of the blue quite regularly and I always feel thoroughly spoiled anytime they arrive! A gift like this is not something to be taken for granted, because they are a symbol of my husband’s love and care and a message to let me know that he misses me. That part IS routine. We are in a long-distance relationship and have been for several years. We spend the vast majority of our time missing each other!
Mr Collier is a serving Royal Marine, so we see each other for a week or so every 6-18 months depending on his schedule and deployments. We have just returned from a wonderful 8-night stay in Hong Kong to reconnect and top up our tanks and we started missing each other again the moment we said goodbye at the airport and bolted for our respective gates and boarded our flights. You do get used to it, but it never gets easier.
The life of a military spouse – and indeed any long-distance relationship – dictates that you need to be self-sufficient to a large degree while your partner is deployed, so you build routines and habits to help you cope and allow life to flow smoothly when it’s only you in the house to do what needs to be done. It always takes some effort to get back into that routine after a visit, regardless of whether you meet at home or at a holiday destination.
To compound matters, in the first days I find that I don’t want to be back in routine, I want to be back on holiday with my love. I want to burrow into a blanket with a block of chocolate and a bottle of red and hide from the world. It doesn’t feel good to need to get back into the routine. It’s a reminder that our team has been separated again, and that hurts. It’s like an old wound has opened up, but to stay sane you need the wound to heal, and the best way to do that is to get back into your normal routines as quickly as you can manage.
Here are some of the ways I have found that can help.
1. Allow yourself a couple of days to mope and be sad, but don’t get stuck!
Having ALL of the emotions when you are first separated again is normal and natural, don’t deny them or push them away. If you didn’t love the other person, it wouldn’t hurt this much would it? Let yourself have a cry if you need to, but don’t stay there for too long, that will not help either of you.
2. Unpack your suitcases as soon as possible.
There’s nothing worse than tripping over a suitcase full of clothes that need to be washed and bits and pieces that need to be put away for weeks on end. Having a tidy living space makes for a more content mind, so unpack as soon as you get home…and you won’t be constantly reminded that you were just on holiday together.
3. Get your blood pumping!
Take advantage of the happy chemicals that are released during vigorous exercise to help exorcise the post-trip blues. This will not only help you take control of your moods but will help you sleep and get on top of jetlag too.
4. Return to your normal day to day habits ASAP … gently!
Most of us have a fairly standard set of things we do each day and each week. The familiar is comforting! Start doing these things again, but don’t beat yourself up if you miss a workout or order food rather than cooking a little more often than normal. Be gentle with yourself while you are still sensitive.
5. Settle back into your normal communication routine.
Long-distance relationships require a lot of communication to keep them healthy and sustainable over the long haul, but an email or a phone call is not the same as being able to chat through the day with a cup of tea while you sit on the couch as you have been doing. Make sure you remember to purposefully express your love and appreciation for each other verbally, it’s easy to forget when you have become accustomed again to being able to touch and take non-verbal cues.
6. Schedule something nice within the first couple of weeks.
Having something to look forward to is one of my secret weapons for getting over the initial hump. Book a facial or a manicure, or something you will enjoy, something to look forward to so that you have a near-future event to focus on.
7. Spend time with friends or family.
Take the time to reconnect with your local support structures, be it friends or family or work colleagues. This not only helps pass the time in the initial readjustment time but is good for your heart and soul.
8. Know when you’ll meet again.
Set an approximate timeframe for when you will see each other again. This can be more than a little fluid with military relationships, so be patient; but if you can set a target date or define a vague date range for your next meet up, do it. It really helps to have a beacon on the horizon to aim for and something to count down to!
Above all practise self-compassion
It’s important to recognise you will feel vulnerable and exposed immediately after a visit until you hit your stride again, so it’s important to ramp up the self-care and manage your mindset. No-one else is going to do it for you and it’s unhealthy to rely too heavily on your partner to do it for you. Treat yourself as though you were supporting a friend in the same situation and be gentle and patient in the early days. Know when it’s time to put on your big girl panties and get on with it.
…and if your partner sends flowers to let you know he misses you, well that’s an added bonus 😊
Hang in there. You will get through this … we always do.
What strategies do you use to get back to ‘normal’ after a visit?