November 9, 2013
No matter which military branch’s insignia graces your
uniform, spending time away from home is one of the prices of freedom that’s
hardest to pay — and distance is never worse than during the holidays. There’s
good news, though. If done right, long distances apart actually can refresh and
improve relationships, giving you an opportunity to hit a sort of relationship
reset button and get back to basics. These 10 ideas can put you on your way
toward making sure the distance between you and home ends up being a good
1. Decorate together.
Whether you’re on a
short tour holed up in a hotel room or deployed somewhere hot and sandy, put up
a couple of decorations. Take pictures of your work and share them with your
personal home front — it’ll help them feel like they’re a part of your
celebration. Getting your favorite ornaments sent from home adds a familiar
touch and reinforces the message to your family that you are all still a
2. Show your face.
Texting and talking on the phone
is great (try to talk every day), but there’s no substitute for face time. Use
video chat to talk about your day, but don’t stop there. Set up a webcam while
you open presents on Christmas morning or have your family wire you in for a
special holiday dinner via a laptop at your seat.
3. Send snail mail.
Email is quick and easy, but it’s inherently impersonal. Send a
handwritten letter with your top three favorite holiday memories with your loved
ones. Handwritten letters feel more special, and talking about your previous
experiences together will reinforce your history — and help solidify your
4. Make presents personal.
Expensive gifts say,
“I love you” in one way, but thoughtful gifts say, “I care about you
enough to pay attention.” Both messages are important! Along with your regular
gift, try giving your spouse a present related to a special event in your
relationship, like a CD of music from a concert you attended together or a
framed picture from a family vacation. For kids, give a photo ornament or a
“Daddy pillow” that’ll help them keep you in their mind each night.
5. Give them some sugar.
Let’s be honest, it’s not Christmas
without baked goods. Bake treats yourself if you can ship them quickly (and you
have a kitchen available). Plenty of delivery services also take online orders.
Try to pick something your family traditionally eats so they know you weren’t
just hungry — you were thinking of them.
6. See the lights.
Take a virtual tour of lights wherever you are, using a video
camera to record the decorations and add your personal commentary. Send it home,
and ask your family to reciprocate. It’s not quite the same as being there, but
re-creating these special moments will make the holidays feel at least a little
7. Experience the holiday together.
experiences can be a very powerful intimacy-builder, and losing them while
you’re gone is one reason being away is so hard. Combat this over the holidays
by sharing experiences that don’t require physical proximity. Read the same book
as your spouse, or have the whole family watch the same Christmas movie and then
talk about it afterwards. It will increase intimacy and give you something to
talk about besides boring day-to-day minutiae.
Keep your cohorts at home guessing with unexpected bonus
gifts or thoughtful “just because” gestures. Catch a spouse off-guard by having
something fun delivered to his or her workplace. (Enjoy those bonus points for
letting them look good in front of their friends, too.) For the kids, an edible
arrangement delivered to their school will show you’re thinking of them. (Just
check with the school first to ensure it allows special deliveries.)
9. Get real
Don’t just communicate during this season —
communicate well. Daily phone calls are great to maintain intimacy, but
just talking about any old thing isn’t going to cut it. Even if you don’t feel
like it (or you’re worried about being a downer), share difficult emotions. Find
a balance between staying positive (very important!) and being real, which is
necessary for true intimacy. It can be difficult, but it couldn’t be more
important for your relationship.
10. Keep an eye on the finish line.
The holidays are a great reason to take time to discuss your
impending return. If you’ve been gone a while, consider arranging a romantic
getaway to go on when you get back. If that’s not feasible, spend time together
planning a special homecoming date. Focusing on your return will help you
visualize it, and visualization is a powerful tool that can help you make it
through the holiday season and avoid the mid-tour doldrums.
About the author: CWO2 Marc Acton,
ARNG, is a Blackhawk pilot and freelance writer based in Tennessee. This is his
first article for MOAA.