Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Your Questions: What to Do if Your Sailor Stops Writing


To help those currently going through a situation like this, Navy Girlfriend contributor Elise, U&E Founder Stephanie Carroll, and former Navy Chief Jonathan provided answers to your questions to help you find your inner strength. This is the second of a two-post series, the first being: Elise's story: Finding Your Inner Strength When You Don't Hear from Your Sailor.


Meg Wills via Flickr cc

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The Q&A

If I've stopped hearing from my Sailor, how long is too long?

Elise: The best advice I can give, if you experience this is to take a few deep breaths and realize that this is nothing personal against you. Trust me he knows you are worried, and he is not purposely being vindictive or trying to hurt you in any way.  Just listen to your heart, there is no right or wrong answer in this circumstance.


Stephanie: It is normal to go several days without hearing from your Sailor and can be normal for up two weeks. 


Jonathan: Every Sailor is different but more than a week or two without contact usually indicates they are incredibly busy or there may be more to it.


Why is it normal during a deployment to go chunks of time without hearing from my Sailor? How hard is it to send an email?


Jonathan: It’s actually pretty hard. Why?



1. Logistics. Sailors cannot use their personal laptops to write emails. They cannot plug in devices to transfer emails to government computers, so they have to actually write the email on the government computer if they want to send it. Government computers are often tied up with work that has to be done, and internet connectivity is not on 100 percent of the time.



2. Fatigue. Sailors get tired working all day. It’s hard to sit down and compose an email of any significant value, so they often skim emails they receive, write back as quickly as possible, and only write a couple of sentences. Or they just don’t write that day.



3. Privacy. While he is writing that email, the rest of the shop is probably sitting behind him. If he waits until just the right time, he can manage to write when there are less people there.



4. Separation-coping. Often times, when he is deployed, he feels like he is living a different life than the one he left behind. It’s painful to break down the compartmentalization that Sailors learn during deployment, and sometimes, not writing makes the time seem to go by faster. Plus, it’s easy for days to go by without even realizing you haven’t written.



What if the lack of communication is ongoing, longer than two weeks, what does that mean?


Jonathan: It could be a whole range of things from he’s having emotional problems to he’s being an asshole, and there is a whole lot of room in between those two things. It’s difficult to say one way or the other.



It is common for Sailors to have a personal crisis because they go through sequences of extreme stress and emotion. Their job, after all, is to wage war and destroy the enemy. Every service member has varying degrees of moral distress over what that means, and sometimes a person who is okay with what that job requires can be hit all at once with the ramifications of their reality.


In other words, he might be going through something. That something could be an existential crisis or a negative response to some bad news such as the loss of a friend and family member or could even be a result of problems in the relationship.




Assholes. I’m sad to say that yes, some Sailors use silence as a way to break up with their girlfriends or boyfriends. It’s less common with spouses but I’ve seen it happen.



How do you know he isn’t trying to end the relationship or how do you not let that doubt overwhelm you?


Elise: I’ll admit I was scared and I did let it overwhelm me at times. After a while I realized it was OK to recognize that fear, which is what I acknowledged it to be...fear.


Fear can be very paralyzing if you let it, and it thrives off of the feeling of helplessness or the unknown. To counteract those feelings I tried to focus on what I knew. I knew my boyfriend’s heart, promises we had, and the love and respect we have for one another.



I threw myself into the word and prayer, not for just myself but also for my Sailor and I stayed very busy. I also took down anything that enabled my fear or invoked more emotions, like pictures and mementos. Fear and faith can not co-exist, so I made a conscious effort to choose faith.



Stephanie: I recommend having this conversation with your Sailor before he deploys. I know it’s awkward and uncomfortable to bring up the words “break up” when you are both mentally and emotionally planning on not breaking up, but it’s important that you know for a fact that your boyfriend wouldn’t end it that way. Have this conversation even if your Sailor says that would never happen because it is not the kind of think people think they are going to do. It’s better to be prepare than to not be prepared. There are many, many cases of Sailors who stop communication for far different reasons, and it would be horrible to find out later that he wasn’t breaking up with you at all.



However, I understand that most of you reading this are probably in the midst of it happening and can’t go back in time, so what I suggest is for you to be honest with yourself. How has the relationship been going? Is breaking up with you by cutting of contact within his character? What was his last communication? Was it a fight or harsh words or could it have been a break-up letter?



These are difficult questions to ask yourself and I am truly sorry that you have to ask them. Just remember to be kind to yourself when you do so. Call a friend or your mom or have someone come over to be with you. Be supportive and understanding of yourself.



I know many may ask those questions and come up unsure. In that case you have to decide how long you are willing to wait. If you don’t know if he would do this, or if you just can’t get over that doubt, you have to ask yourself how dedicated you are to him and how long you are willing to be loyal to him in spite of not knowing. You have to be true to your heart because not everyone will support your decision. You need to be confident with it.



How do you remain faithful and loyal when people around you doubt your relationship?


Elise: It’s hard. You feel alone. I don't have many friends that understand the military lifestyle, so I got a lot of: “Girl, what the hell are you doing?!” looks or responses like: “You're pretty—you will have no problem finding someone else.” I was even asked by a family member if I considered myself single. Though the looks and opinions of others hurt, I understood their responses, but what they didn't understand was I didn't want anyone else.



I mean isn't that the whole point of why we do this? I have always been stubborn and hardheaded, which has turned out to be a major asset—haha. Basically, I wasn’t going to stop until I knew that I had done everything I could.



Eventually, people got tired of hearing about it, which wasn't offensive to me, I just stopped talking. At one point I had to tell a close relative that though I respected and appreciated her opinion, my stance was not going to change, and I just simply needed her support. :-)



Who can you reach out to initially? How do you know he is safe, at least?


Elise: As just a girlfriend my resources were limited, so I reached out to his parents. I knew that if anything were to happen to him they would be notified. I was definitely reluctant though, it took some coaxing. I didn’t want to sound like I was a blubbering mess all, “why isn't he talking to me?!”



When I did contact them, they were both very warm and understanding. His dad was a great outlet for me because he too had a military career and has a close relationship with his son. He helped remind me that this kind of thing happens. For other girlfriends, if you aren't acquainted with his/her parents or person of contact I encourage you to introduce yourself on Facebook or ask your SO to acquaint you with them before they leave.



Safety of course was a big concern. I found comfort not only from his parent’s assurance that he was alright, but also from my accidental discovery that he was surfing the internet and on social media. Though this was helpful in my knowing he was alive, it obviously invoked some frustration.



I highly caution against those Sherlock-like impulses. As tempting as it may be, it only leads to unnecessary assumptions and or obsessions. Stalking on the internet will drive you insane, so be careful!  



Stephanie: I highly recommend you talk with your Sailor about who his emergency contacts are and ask him to introduce you to them and even discuss plans of contact and action in case of a drop in communication. You will feel so much more comfortable if you have already had a conversation with his mom about the possibility of you calling her and knowing that she will call you as well.



Also discuss with your Sailor his option to place you on his “Also Contact List.” When your Sailor deploys, he fills out paperwork discussing his wishes if he were to be injured or worse. In addition to the emergency contacts, he can also list a non-family member in his “Also Contact List.” You may not have access to all his information but you can take comfort in the knowledge that if something bad happened, you would be notified.



What can you do to try to do to get him to talk to you?


Elise: I was persistent and kept constant contact through the weeks, I attempted to do so in a way that wasn't threatening or overwhelming though.



The first couple weeks I would just simply write “babe?” or “I'm getting concerned, are you alright?” Every three or four days, I sent a short message or email like that. I tried to put myself in his shoes, if I was overwhelmed or stressed out I would want my significant other to be supportive of my feelings and need for space.



Knowing my Sailor as well as I do, I also knew that frantic tantrums or ultimatums would only push him further away from me. After about five weeks I stopped and started only sending snail mail in the same pattern. I refrained from sending long letters. Instead, I sent care packages and cards that would just read “I love and miss you.” I knew logically, this was something that he couldn't just delete or ignore.



Jonathan: Be Patient. The military rarely loses service members anymore, so while he or she is deployed, they are captive to that deployment schedule. While considering your feelings about the deployment, remember your Sailor is also coping with their deployment.



Continue sending emails and never decide to play the silent game. I have literally seen marriages quietly end because neither side was willing to give ground and both remained silent for months.



Monitor your own behaviors too. Ranting or hysterical emails or ultimatums aren’t going to get you a response. Insane moves to get his attention, such as emptying the bank account, selling the car, taking the children, or getting put in jail will not help (and yes these are things I actually saw happen to Sailors who stopped communicating. No, it did not help.)



When Should I Contact My Sailor’s Command Ombudsmen and How?


Stephanie: This is a another situation in which I suggest you try to get this info before he deploys, but if you haven’t, you can track it down online through his command’s website or social media pages. Usually the Ombudsmen runs the social media pages so a message there will either take you to the Ombudsmen or someone who knows that information.



Again, I stress the importance of only contacting the Ombudsmen if you really need to. This is not someone you contact over little things or for something that might be an overreaction. Doing so could mean not being taken seriously, not being helped, or negatively affecting the Sailor’s standing in his command.



Again, I stress that it is within reason to not hear from your Sailor for up to a period of two weeks.



When you do write, do as Elise did and be calm and brief. Stick to the facts and don’t ask for personal information they can’t provide. Be reasonable and stress that your main concern is his wellbeing. They will do what they can to help you.



How can reaching out to the command negatively affect my Sailor?


Jonathan: Matters that are trivial or beyond the scope of the command to intercede on are extremely difficult for command leadership. It can also interupt those who truly need the commands help. It’s difficult for a command leader to focus on someone having a family emergency if someone else’s SO is taking up their time with a series of bitter complaints about something frivolous and dramatic, like a picture posted on the unit’s social media site without permission (again yes this happened).



Most commands are happy to help a Sailor keep his personal life personal, productive, and pleasurable, but trivial matters still have to be reported to the Sailor with the same diligence as matters that are grave. If those communication channels are abused, the Sailor will be told to educate and or correct the spouse’s or girlfriend’s behavior and perception about what those channels are actually for. This is not a conversation anyone wants to have.



The potential for damaging a career versus the benefit from actually helping a Sailor in need means, when in doubt, call it out. If a Sailor does need help, you are going to put them on the radar of the command to monitor and make sure they are okay. If they don’t need help, the spouse’s/girlfriend’s concerns will still be relayed to the Service Member so he or she can alleviate those concerns.



If my Sailor is depressed or going through something similar, will that hurt his career?


Jonathan: Everyone goes through hard times in their life, including Service Members but Service Members are especially taught to keep their feelings and individuality to themselves. It becomes very hard to express one’s self after the level of behavioral training that new recruits go through.



However, it is extremely important for Service Members to be helped if having a crisis as this could lead to the Sailor endangering him or herself or others. If a person has a legitimate need for counseling, that is no different than a physical illness. It should be treated by the proper people. If it’s a false alarm, it’s not considered a big deal. Remember, if in doubt, call it out.



What should I have done differently to prepare for this possibility?


Elise: During a discussion about what to do if I hadn’t heard from him in a few weeks, my boyfriend’s response was “why wouldn't you hear from me?” I kind of wrote it off thinking it would never happen, which made it even worse when it did. In his defense, I think that when or if something like this does happen, it’s very unexpected for everyone involved.



I’m thankful that I knew his parents before he left, but really the worst of this experience was honestly my own emotional responses. I was my own worst enemy at times, and I'm not really sure how you can prevent that.



Educate yourself as much as you can before a deployment and be psychologically prepared to survive off of your own strength and not rely on him because you never know what you may have to do on your own.



Stephanie: You can’t prevent that. There will be times, even in the best of deployment circumstances, when you become your own worst enemy, when you let your doubts and fears take over. All you can do is to treat yourself the way you would treat a good friend going through a rough time. As Jim Loehr would say in the Power of Story, put on your supportive voice and talk to yourself in an understanding and kind way. If you can’t, call a friend who will.

About Elise


Hola! I am a God fearing 28 year old single mother who lives to love, and loves to live. My journey started almost 2 years ago, when I met my boyfriend online. Despite the hour and a half distance we made it work! I grew up in a patriotic home, but I didn't know anything about the military lifestyle, this was all new to me. He however, had been in the Navy for 12 years upon us meeting. About 6 months into our relationship we found out he was to be transferred early overseas. That is when I quickly grew accustomed to the demands of the service. Any plans to move in together were put on hold. We continued our long-distance relationship in anticipation of him leaving.

He’s only been gone a few months and we have at least 22 to go… Its been a roller coaster of emotions. During this short time I can certainly relate to the feeling of being unhinged. Coping with these emotions would often be followed by disappointment for allowing myself to be affected and seemingly weak. Its very lonely, which is what encouraged me to reach out to the internet. Given that we had never shared a home, it has made sleeping alone a little more bearable. It also gives me something wonderful to look forward, for when he returns home.

When I'm not holding down my man or my household, I work full time in the medical field serving others. My son is diagnosed with ADHD and has a mild intellectual delay; it poses its own challenges but I wouldn't trade it for the world. I love to learn and ask a lot of questions! I am outgoing, expressive and a bit feisty. I've still got a long road ahead and a lot more to learn, but I am hopeful of the outcome!
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About Stephanie Carroll
U&E Founder & Author
Buy Her Book A White Room!
Photo by Randy Enriquez
I dated and married my husband in 2004 when I was 19. I felt like an outsider for the first half of our marriage. He didn't understand what I needed to know about the Navy, and I didn't know what to ask.

After ten years of learning in the Navy, I founded Unhinged & Empowered. I wanted to spread the knowledge that I needed when I was new, to reveal what took years for me to learn.   
Cover Design by Jenny Q
  
In addition to being a Navy Wife, I am also a novelist. I write historical women's fiction.

My first novel A White Room debuted in 2013 and is about a woman forced to sacrifice her own ambitions of becoming a nurse to marry a man who can save her destitute family. He moves her to a strange, small town where she slowly succumbs to madness until she stumbles on an opportunity to nurse to the poor despite the fact that her husband prosecutes unlicensed practitioners.

Learn more at www.stephaniecarroll.net and connect with me @CarrollBooks on Twitter, Facebook, or on Pinterest!

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