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Coping When Someone You Love is Deployed
By Susan Dunn

Having someone you love deployed, whether child, partner, relative or close friend, is extremely stressful. An article I wrote Called “Separation Protest Reactions” helped mothers whose sons were being deployed in Georgia. The newsletter editor wrote me, “It helps us understand why we’re acting like we are.” I’ll repeat some of the information here.


When we must part with a loved one, particularly under uncertain circumstances, we have reactions that are physiological and emotional. These are largely beyond our control; however, our emotional intelligence skills can helps us manage them, and tame our reactions and responses. It starts with understanding and self-awareness.


Studies of newborn separation from their mothers shows us the extremes of “protest-despair behavior.” When the infant is separated, the body reacts, pumping out stress hormones that affect the sympathetic nervous system, and certain somatic or muscular behaviors. There can be a ten-fold increase in gulcocoricoid levels (cortisol, the ‘stress hormone’), approaching neurotoxic levels (Modi and Glover, 1998) and there is a powerful inhibitory effect on all gastrointenstinal functions. Withdrawal, a slowed heart rate, and lower body temperture ensue, presumably attempts to “survive”, and the immune system is compromised. Some of the reactions are similar to depression.

Any separation from a loved one during our lifetime will mimic this reaction to separation, because we’re humans, because we love, because we bond.

At the same time, if the person being deployed is your lover, you’ll be deprived of the oxytocin. According to “The Alchemy of Love and Lust,” by Dr. Theresa L. Crenshaw, touching or even thinking about someone you love releases this hormone. It feels wonderful and keeps us bonded.

The price we pay is that separation is painful.


Expect, first of all, that nothing anyone tells you will be helpful, and may, in fact make you angry, including what I say in this article. What you want to hear is that it’s all a joke, it isn’t happening, and anything short of that won’t work.

That having been said, I go forward with what you must deal with :


  • It is normal feel like you’re going nuts.
  • It is normal to cry a lot.
  • It is normal to have trouble making even the smallest decision.
  • It is normal to experience changes in appetite; food tastes like cardboard.
  • It is normal to experience sleep difficulties – sleeping fitfully for short periods, of wanting to sleep all day and night.
  • It is normal to feel angry.
  • It is normal to kick the kitchen stool that’s in your way and be unable to talk about what’s really going on.
  • It’s normal to experience rage at the ineptitude of people who try to console you, give advice, support, or encourage.


The worst thing you can do is isolate yourself; it’s worse for your health—mental and physical—than obesity, smoking or high blood pressure. Studies show if you have adequate opportunities to share feelings and receive feedback, you’ll have fewer symptoms related to stress.

"Share your thoughts, vent your anger, or ask for help," says the Submarine Wives Club. "We are all in the same 'boat' and are here to offer support and advice."

1. Find support groups. National Deployment Support Groups can be found here. The worst thing you can do is isolate yourself. If you have adequate opportunities to share feelings and receive feedback, you’ll have fewer symptoms related to stress.

2. Prepare in advance. Here is practical information you need to know from the Submarine Wives Club.

3. Learn what others are doing that’s helpful. Here is pre-deployment information on how to survive the separation.

4. Try the Military Spouse support page for more information.

5. At The Stress Forum, you can ask questions, share tips or find a sympathetic listener 24 hours a day. Just do it!

6. The National Military Family Association offers information and services you may find useful.

7. Read the Navy’s guide on signs of depression. (To learn more about depression, please visit Holisticonline.com Depression Infocenter.)

8. Take positive action. The Navy Family Deployment guide says: “The cure for depression is the same as prevention. Take positive action. Behavior is changed by thoughts and feelings.” Join a support group, hire a coach, keep family traditions thriving, plan activities, set new goals, take care of yourself and don’t be alone.

9. Hire a coach.

This is the perfect time to treat yourself to an outside source of support where you will be listened to and understood. It can be a relief to get someone more objective than your immediate social group. A coach can help you stay positive, give you tips on coping, and teach you skills for handling transitions. Also this could be a great time for you to work on some new goals for yourself. Learn more about yourself, explore your strengths. Keep the good things in your life going!

9. Develop your emotional intelligence.

The EQ© Course provides foundational information for coping, handling transitions and adversity, and managing emotions. It will help you understand where your emotions come from, why they make you feel the way they do, and what do about it constructively. Learn optimism, and the stages of a transition. An EQ coach can help you practice these skills and incorporate them into your life on a daily basis.

10. Xtreme self-care

Because of these physiological responses, you need to pay attention to your wellness regime. You may not feel like running in the morning, but do it, and you’ll feel better – in the short-term and in the long-run. Find healthy food you can enjoy – eat small snacks all day, if you’re appetite is low. Get a physical checkup if problems arise.

11. Know your limits. If you are experiencing an especially difficult time, get professional help. Therapists and counselors are waiting to help you.

More Information:

To learn more about stress and managing stress, please visit Holisticonline.com Stress Infocenter.

To learn more about depression, please visit Holisticonline.com Depression Infocenter.

To learn more about anxiety, and anxiety disorders, please visit Holisticonline.com Anxiety Infocenter.

To learn more about Bio Terrorism, please visit Holisticonline.com Bio Terrorism Infocenter.

Susan Dunn, The EQ Coach, offers positive psychology coaching and Internet courses in emotional intelligence, optimism, strengths and resilience. She has EQ products available for licensing for individuals and businesses. She is the author of numerous ebooks, is widely published on the Internet, and a regular speaker for cruise lines.

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