Nat’s fiancée is leaving for his first tour of Afghanistan. “I’m going out my head already with worry,” Nat wrote in a recent email. “I keep having recurring nightmares about him out there.” Which is pretty typical for first timers. Nat is handling it.
The problem? Her Marine ain’t talking. “He has not spoken much about going away. He says he’s fine, but I know he’s not,” says Nat. Without words, Nat doesn’t know how to help her or himself even though she is proud of him 100%. Why won’t the guy talk?
Good question. So I asked my husband: “Doesn’t he know she loves him? Doesn’t he want to feel closer before he goes? Doesn’t he want to rest his head on her bosom and reveal his deepest darkest secrets? WHY WON’T HE TALK, DAMMIT???”
“I can’t talk about that,” said my husband. So I went to Dave Reeder and the guys at KitUp for answers. They talk about combat stuff over there. We didn’t get any female warriors discussing whether or not they talk about deployment with their significant others before deployment, but here is what the KitUP members had to say about why men don’t talk. Read the rest of this very insightful discussion here.
He doesn’t know what he is doing. “He doesn’t talk about it because he doesn’t know what to expect because he’s a newbie,” wrote Oscar. Many readers agreed. Being new at the military means that you don’t know what you don’t know. Speculating about what you don’t know or imagining yourself going through the events you’ve been told about or seen in the news or in a movie was viewed as unproductive. The consensus was that newbies needed to get their head in the game and focus on what they are supposed to be doing today.
He is getting very little information from the command. Sometimes military members don’t talk because they don’t actually have anything to talk about yet. “During the time before my first trip to Afghanistan there was not much dissemination of information within my chain of command to the lower enlisted soldiers,” wrote Charlie who is currently in the eighth month of a nine-month deployment. “There was much to do and it seemed as if the hoops we had to jump through to deploy never ended. When our NCO’s talked about the deployment it was geared towards getting us ready to leave. I had no type of accurate information until we made it into the country, went on missions and made an assessment of the general situation ourselves.”
Talking doesn’t help. Although this is a broad generalization, there was consensus in this group that men aren’t as verbal as women. “Men aren’t typically hardwired to discuss those things,” said Travis. “I know you imagine that we sit around with each other sharing our feelings and talking about those things, but we don’t, because we don’t have to, because we went through it together. We enjoy each other’s company because those things don’t have to be shared, they are already understood.” Brendan agreed. “His emotions right now are so focused on what he needs to do in the upcoming months, and where his focus should be. As much as you want an answer it may not be there, and you may need to accept that and just be there for whatever time it amounts to being. A lot of times nothing needs to be said.”
Talking makes things worse. Instead of resolving feelings and building warm feelings, talking about deployment worries might actually amplify worries for the service member. “Talking about things for men more often than not, makes things worse,” wrote Pastor Dan Westrund. “It may help alleviate her worries, but talking about it will trap him in a cycle of staring at it. This will increase his level of stress significantly and at this time, that is not a good thing. He will in all likelihood be talking to his mates about this as there will be diffusive humor and like.”
He is worried he won’t meet his own expectations. Several readers mentioned fear in all its forms. While spouses and fiancées and parents and girlfriends are afraid for the safety of their military members, these soldiers and Marines have their own worries. Majrod remarked, “Men don’t typically communicate emotions well. Men don’t want to talk about fear especially to a woman. Even more so, men don’t want to discuss their fear that they might not meet their own, their buddies or their unit’s expectations (that personally scared me more than anything and I don’t think I’ve talked about it more than twice in the 20+ years since).”
He wants to protect you. I know that you are a modern woman and that you can take care of yourself. But the kind of person who joins the military is often the kind of person who sees himself as your protector. He worries about your safety during the deployment. He worries about how he would take care of you if anything happens to him. He worries about your worries. Pastor Dan Westrund perceives it this way: “Another element is that in talking to her about it he now has to carry her concerns and worries without being able to provide a solution, something that is critical to men as a general rule. In not talking about it, it remains somewhat intangible whereas talking about it makes it concrete and amplifies it” Keeping firm boundaries between you and his worries feels like he is protecting you.
He’s torn. The prospect of deployment offers mixed feelings for everyone. “Of course he doesn’t want to be away from the ones he loves. He wants to go out to the bar, play video games, stand-by for word, eat edible food, and sleep through the night,” said Travis. “On the other hand, what he can’t really articulate is how jazzed he is to actually get to do a job he enlisted to do. He’s trained and studied and it’s all pretty much worthless until you deploy and actually get to perform the job.”
He doesn’t want to think about what he will be missing. By talking about being away from you, your service member is cornered into thinking about just what he has to give up. “ He’s not scared, yet,” said JC. “It has more to do with just being away from home and family and country for eight months and being confined to crappy digs when you’re not out there burning the mother down. It’s probably that simple. I didn’t talk to my wife beforehand for all my deployments, not because I was scared, but because it sucked to think that you were being pulled out of life for 3 or 6-8 months and the world was going to spin on without you for all that time. You avoid thinking about the stuff that gets you down.”
He isn’t your girlfriend. Several readers pointed out that what Nat was looking for was some comfort about her own worries about the deployment. “Your wanting to talk to him about his deployment might be your own need to process this huge change in your life and how uncertain and anxious it makes you feel. He’s your other half and he’s going far away to do something very dangerous, so his deployment affects you, too,” explained one reader. On SpouseBuzz we hear from women every day about how they need a friend or a family member to let them talk about their deployment fears and experiences without being judged. Although your own service member seems like the logical person to talk to, sometimes support for a marriage comes from the friends and neighbors and counselors outside our marriages.
He must acknowledge the risk. Some of the responders worried that by not wanting to talk about deployment certain absolute necessities would not be taken care of and families would be at risk. Yes, we spouses can understand the many reasons a service member doesn’t wanna talk about deployment. Yet the rule ought to be that the deploying service member invoke the men-don’t-talk rule without providing 1) accurate contact information for the command; 2) a firm plan to pay bills, and 3) a will that is signed, sealed and delivered.
He will talk later. I was struck by how many of the writers stressed the idea that what the soldier wants is for you to be there for him during the deployment a lot more than he needs you before deployment. Pick up the phone whenever he calls. Send care packages. “Write. Write. Write,” urged one reader. Many of the readers mentioned that stories about deployment will emerge in dribs and drabs over time. Be patient.
The thing we might all remember is that love is long and when you love someone in the military figuring out how to give them what they need and how to get what we need in return takes time. A lot of time. The process is made a whole lot easier when we have some insight from those of us who have gone before. So our deepest thanks toDave Reeder and KitUP contributors. Read the rest of their advice for the first deployment here.