Dear Wendy: Deployments Rock Relationships

I am a soldier currently serving a tour of duty in Iraq as an Army Reservist. I have also been with my girlfriend for about 16 months. We had it planned that when I got home we would most likely get engaged, move in together, and get married down the road. This all came at the preconception that I would come home and go active duty, taking her with me.

Well, during this deployment I have found that, utilizing the many programs offered to veterans, it is incredibly easy for me to stay close to home, go to college, earn a degree, and get paid to do so. I made this decision to take advantage of the opportunity, but my girlfriend seems to think that I made this decision without her and our relationship in mind. She got very upset and freaked out, saying I changed the dynamics of our relationship and she wasn’t sure whether I wanted to still get engaged or even continue our relationship and that she was “confused” about everything. She even brought up the subject of “ending it.”

In truth, I hadn’t considered all of this because, frankly, I thought she would be thrilled about not moving and having me closer to home. However, now that she brought it up, I’m not sure if she over-reacted or if I missed something important. I can’t help thinking that life would be easier if I got home, went to school, and didn’t have a relationship to worry about. I don’t want to hurt her because I do love her very much and I don’t want to lose her. I also can’t help thinking that continuing a relationship with somebody with whom I, apparently, am not communicating properly isn’t fair for me. I don’t know what to do with this and she expects an answer about continuing or ending. Please help me. — Iraq and a Hard Place

You may think that you made a decision that was best for you and your relationship, but if you truly plan to spend the rest of your life with your girlfriend it would have been appropriate to discuss a decision that would affect her future as well as yours. I imagine that with you in Iraq, communication with your girlfriend is fairly limited and she’s probably feeling a little disconnected from you. Including her in major life decisions not only shows you respect the bond you share and the future you want to build together, but it validates the importance of her opinion, too. It’s a way of saying, “Hey, I know we’re far apart and don’t get to talk as much as we’d like to, but you’re still very much on my mind and I’m thinking about the life we’ll create together when I get home.”

Now, perhaps you aren’t really ready to make a lifetime commitment to this woman, and that’s totally fine. Maybe you made plans with her before you left for Iraq in an effort to have some stability in your life when you knew so much of your everyday existence would be unstable. Maybe making plans to “most likely get engaged, move in together, and get married down the road” was your way of securing a good thing and holding on to something that brings you happiness. To say it bluntly: maybe it was the only way you knew to get her to wait for you. But because you didn’t think to include your girlfriend in your decision to go to school instead of going active duty, and you’re saying that it may be easier to come home and focus on yourself rather than worry about a relationship, I suspect you aren’t quite ready to make the kind of commitment you’ve talked about, or that in your time away your feelings have changed. And that’s fair. There’s nothing wrong with that — as long as you’re honest about it.

It’s probably time to have a frank conversation with your girlfriend about where you are emotionally in terms of being with her and where you see things going. If you need time while you’re away and once you get home to process the experience of being in Iraq, tell your girlfriend that. If you want to see where your relationship stands when you get home before you make plans for the future together, tell her that, too. She may say it’s “all or nothing” — that she wants a promise you’ll marry her eventually or it’s over. And you need to be honest with her and yourself; if you aren’t prepared to offer her what she wants, it’s not fair to keep her waiting any longer. Remember: her expectations for you are high because you set them up that way before you left. If you don’t feel capable of meeting those expectations, it’s time she knows that so she can decide for herself if she’s willing to wait and see where things go when you get back.

I’ve known this guy for six years and things finally worked out for us and we started dating five months ago. It was wonderful; we both felt as if we’d known each other forever and everything just clicked. Then two months ago my boyfriend got the news that he was likely deploying to Afghanistan in five months (meaning he’d be leaving for training in three). I knew this frustrated my boyfriend and tried to be as supportive as I could. Then, a little less than a month ago my boyfriend broke up with me out of the blue (via a 2 am text message, no less). He cited various reasons: he still wasn’t over an ex, he wanted to be able to have sex with other women before he deployed. Most importantly, he said he didn’t feel anything for anyone anymore. When I pressed him on this last statement he blew up, talking about how hard it was for him to deal with deployment.

I was upset of course, but he’ll always be one of my best friends and after about two weeks of mourning I finally got it through my head that I need to take care of myself. My problem is that I want to wait for him. I want it so bad; I can’t imagine my life without him. I know that a year will change both of us and that we’d have to reacquaint ourselves with each other when he gets home, but am I being foolish by wanting to wait for him after he broke up with me? Am I just setting myself up for more pain if he comes home and doesn’t want me in his life? I’m going to be so worried about him that I don’t think I’ll be able to get over him completely until he’s home safely. It would be one thing if I knew he’d want to try getting back together when he returns but I don’t know anything. Am I being a romantic fool? — Confused

Most likely, your boyfriend set you free because he wasn’t ready to make the kind of commitment he thought was necessary to ask you to wait for him. Perhaps if you’d been together a year or two before he left for Afghanistan, things would be different. But asking someone to basically put her romantic relationship on hold for months and months and months is asking a lot and you need to be able to offer something that carries as much weight in return (see the letter above). He probably just wasn’t ready to offer what would justify the long wait. Does that mean he doesn’t care for you? On the contrary. He cares for you enough to set you free. And he’s smart enough to spare himself the pressure of meeting expectations he’s not sure he can meet, especially given the kind of situation he’ll be enduring.

Why don’t you be as kind to yourself as he was and move on with your life. You’ll only feel bitter if you wait around for him — for someone who broke up with you, let’s not forget — only to find he’s not interested in being romantically involved with you upon his return. Be a friend to him — he’ll need one. And carry on with your romantic life. If you’re single when he returns and the feelings between you are still there, you can try it again, but right now neither one of you needs the pressure of trying to make it work under the given circumstances.

*Do you have a relationship/dating question I can help with? Send me your letters at [email protected]