Service life can place unique pressures and challenges on even the strongest relationships. Whatever happens, it’s good to talk…
In the first flush of love, nothing will stop you from being with ‘the one’, however, the reality of a relationship with a serving partner can prove challenging, writes Jill Misson.
“Deployments are hard and living unaccompanied can be overwhelming,” army spouse Camille Allen tells Army&You. “The children and house are my sole responsibility and resentment can set in. I’ve been told I knew what I was getting into and that if my husband loved me, he wouldn’t keep doing this but none of us are in a fairytale and sometimes love must take second place.”
Since moving into their own home, Carolyn Aggar’s husband has endured a long commute to work and she looks after baby Isaac alone without the support of the army community.
Explaining how the couple stay strong, she says: “Patience, compromise, organisation, love and making the most of our family time. It helps that we are best friends as well as husband and wife.”
Zoe Goodey, whose husband is in the Household Cavalry, adds: “Another spouse told me I wasn’t a real army wife because my husband hadn’t been in a warzone and he only looked after a horse.
“He may not get deployed but that doesn’t mean he’s back for dinner every night. They have to bounce guard and ceremonial duties, which means being away from home for weeks.”
Reach out early
Knowing that your soldier puts themself in harm’s way can have a considerable emotional impact, according to Lt Col Robert Corrigan, the senior chaplain in Aldershot Garrison. He recommends reaching out for support as early as possible if you’re struggling.
“Padres are there for anyone, no matter whether they have a faith or go to church,” he explains. “Many people do not realise they are available for partners to speak to in confidence.
“They’re used to dealing with personal issues in relationships like trust, guilt, forgiveness, suffering and finding purpose.”
Unit welfare officer, Capt Lorraine Dotchin is well aware of the strain service life can put on relationships.
She adds: “With the busy pace of army life and the need to respond to short-notice taskings, personnel can end up going away repeatedly.”
Soldiers can approach their UWO without feeling worried, she continues: “Everything I hear falls within the welfare code of confidentiality. There’s absolutely no shame and they should never feel embarrassed.”
A commanding officer can offer breathing space to a married couple of up to three months when a soldier moves into single accommodation for a period of reflection to help resolve problems. A referral can be made to the Army Welfare Service, which has military and civilian welfare workers who use their professional skills to support individuals or couples in a safe, non-judgemental environment.
The focus is on improving wellbeing and encouraging you to explore coping mechanisms to manage your problems more effectively. After an initial assessment, a further referral can also be made to Health Assured, who will deliver six counselling sessions. An equivalent publicly-funded counselling service is provided through Staffcare in Northern Ireland.
AFF at the ready
In cases where marital breakdown occurs, AFF can offer advice. “It’s always sad and difficult but separation can be even more complex for army families,” says head of policy and research, Michelle Alston.
“Our specialists can support your queries on housing options on leaving a quarter and your entitlements. We can signpost you to organisations who can make you aware of financial help and how to make child maintenance arrangements.”
Avenues of support
When an overseas posting comes up, it can cause friction whether the spouse chooses to stay in the UK or the family moves together.
Dee Holmes – a counsellor for Relate, which offers face-to-face counselling as well as services via telephone, live chat and webcam to help couples in different locations – says: “When you can’t see your partner for long periods it can be difficult to resolve differences and maintain open communication.
“You may build up expectations for your time together to be perfect so if issues arise, it can feel more upsetting as you feel you should be cherishing it.”
SSAFA runs Solutions in Cyprus, a free and confidential relationship support service.
Senior social work practitioner Chris Leahy says: “At the beginning it can feel like you’re on holiday, but adjustments have to take place to the roles we play in our relationships.
“If you’re used to living separately during the week and find yourselves in each other’s pockets this can create stress. Resentment can build if a partner has given up work and moved away from family. Often what people need is space to talk and explore contentious issues. It’s a chance to press the pause button, take stock and do some thinking with the aim of increasing satisfaction and happiness.”
Aside from counselling, courses are available for serving personnel and spouses. The Warrior Programme uses coaching techniques to enable you to take active control of the way you live your life, boosting confidence and self-esteem and improving communication.
Its regional co-ordinator Rebecca Gallimore says: “It will give you the tools you need to future-proof yourself and your relationships to weather any storms.”
For Zoe Goodey, the key to keeping her relationship happy and healthy is being open and honest.
She recommends: “Make time for yourself, whether it’s going for a bath, a run or a hobby and just keep talking, about the good things, the bad things, just talk.”