Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.
I'm not a relationship expert, but after spending four years living apart from my husband - thanks to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - I've had my share of ups and downs. Deployment, especially long-term deployment puts military couples through a special kind of hell that is hard to explain to anyone outside the military community. The paradox of love and desire Esther Perel discusses in her TED Talk was both heightened and flipped on its head during my husband's deployment.
Our time apart made an imprint on our 12-year marriage., We changed, as individuals and as a couple. We grew. We fell apart. We failed. At our deepest, darkest point, the challenge of holding it together seemed so great that I could honestly say, I no longer cared. As Ms. Perel says in her TED Talk, I shut myself off, not from desire but from our marriage.
The distance Ms. Perel talks about is somewhat symbolic, allowing yourself or your partner to go out in the world. But physical distance, for extended periods of time can test the fabric of a relationship. Long distance relationships are not for the faint of heart.
It doesn't matter if you are rounding your 20th anniversary or celebrating as a newly minted couple. The fact that the closest physical contact you will have, of any kind, for months, is your hairdresser massaging your scalp during a wash and cut is something that no amount of floral deliveries or cute messages on Facebook is going to remedy.
People are built to be together. We crave companionship. We long for touch. Love across the miles offers none of that.
And at some point, you will want to walk away. And whether you actually do walk out the door or not, you will walk away. You will check out mentally. You will begin to worry less about being home for his phone call every night. You will flirt with the cute single dad on your kid's baseball team. Where it goes from there relies on one thing: How bad do you want it?
To stay in love across the miles, and through the loneliness, you have to want it. Both of you. You have to work for it. And, you have to sacrifice for it.
Write a love letter. Drop them an actual letter in the mail. This person is your everything, let them know. -- Allison Perkins Marlow
I understand what Ms. Perel is talking about when she compares the relationship of freedom and desire to that of fire and air. In normal circumstances that enhances both love and desire. But, the military lifestyle and deployment are not what anyone would consider normal.
Nourishing love, and desire, during deployment starts with a difficult conversation. Set your expectations: that you demand your partner to remain steadfast and dedicated. Discuss each other's needs: if a weekly, one-line email isn't going to cut it for you, say so. Discuss boundaries. If you are not ok with your significant other lunching with others of the opposite sex, being out late on Fridays or other behavior, discuss it, bring it to light. Misunderstandings lead to drama and problems.
Set the rules, and then follow them. This is the part that really stinks. Don't go out on Friday night if that is what your partner needs to know you are committed. Stop and take the time to post a photo every day of your toddler picking their nose if that will help them feel closer to the family. Endure the long, boring emails about their work-related drama or other nonsense. Be there in spirit and as a listening ear when you can't physically.
Then remind each other why you are here. Write a love letter. Drop them an actual letter in the mail. This person is your everything, let them know.
Long distance relationships are tough. They are counter to the ingredients that help love and desire flourish. As Ms. Perel points out, we need touch, comfort, companionship, sex. When there is an ocean between you, none of that is possible.
I would never repeat the hell we endured living apart. We often sacrificed both love and desire to simply get through it. But I cannot deny that those tough choices and gut check moments apart have made us stronger and more committed to each other and the lives we are building together. And that is worth every tear.
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