Fiancé is leaving for war — I'm stressed!

Dear Alice,

Please help! My fiancé is leaving to go serve his country in Iraq for a year and I am beside myself with worry. It's gotten to the point where I can't sleep or even concentrate on anything. My doctor tried to make me get on antidepressants, but I'm not depressed, just stressed and worried. Any suggestions on medications or at home techniques I can try to make myself relax and not think about it?

Dear Reader,

The deployment of a loved one to a combat zone is bound to create all sorts of stress. Considering the number of troops who are sent overseas to areas of conflict, you're certainly not alone in your anxiety. The worry that you’re feeling in response to your fiancé’s deployment is normal, as is the accompanying lack of sleep and difficulty concentrating. Many people with loved ones in the military face the challenge of coping with deployment on top of the stressors of daily life. However, this change in mood is typically not a permanent one; in fact, many people in situations similar to yours find solutions to help soothe their worries even before their loved one returns home.

Emotional struggles following a loved one’s deployment are very common, with experiences such as fatigue, headaches, changes in appetite, and sleep disturbances all being reported. At times, these symptoms may become severe, with 17 percent of military spouses meeting the diagnostic criteria for generalized anxiety disorder and 12 percent for depression. Common stress factors among the partners left on the home front include fears for their military partner’s safety and well-being, loneliness (from the absence of their partner or due to frequent relocations away from friends and family to support their partner’s military career), and increased responsibilities for childrearing and household maintenance.

You may also note that your relationship dynamic changes during and following your loved one’s deployment. It’s easy to focus on the negatives (such as increased emotional distress for both of you), but there may also be the possibility for positive growth, such as higher parenting satisfaction and less binge drinking for the military member, increased independence for the partner at home, and lower physical and psychological aggression between both partners. The same study also noted that the resiliency exhibited by service members and their partners generally led to the relationship dynamic returning to its pre-deployment state after the military member returned home.

Regarding medications, your best bet may be to continue working with your health care provider (or perhaps a mental health professional) to figure out if, and which, medication might be right for you. For many people who take medication to support their mental health, finding the right dosing regimen takes some time and experimentation in partnership with their medical provider. Outside of medication, there are also a number of coping strategies used by other partners of deployed service members that may be of interest to you, including:

  • Utilizing a support system: Many military spouses have reported improved emotional states after spending time and speaking with family members, friends, mental health professionals, spiritual leaders, and other trusted people in their lives. 
  • Confronting any issues with constructive problem-solving: If you find that you’re unable to sleep, for example, you may find it helpful to speak with your health care provider and explore possible remedies to ensure that you’re rested. If you notice that you’re beginning to struggle academically, you may consider speaking with your instructor or seeking out assistance from a tutor. 
  • Setting tasks for yourself: Many people in long-distance relationships find it helpful to create structure in their lives to help fill the space left by their deployed partner. By creating a routine of activities and using this time to explore and try new things, you may be able to decrease your feelings of loneliness and increase feelings of certainty. You may also find it helpful to plan a regular time to communicate with your fiancé, whether that’s by calling him twice a week or writing him a short letter before bed each night. 

When you’re stressed and worried about a loved one, it’s so easy to retreat into those feelings, but there are a whole host of people and resources in your life that can help support you through this difficult deployment period. You may wish to seek out resources specifically for the partners of deployed service members, such as those compiled by Military OneSource, or you may find support through more general resources like your friends, family, and mental health provider. In addition to this community, dedicating time to self-care may be beneficial in helping you cope with your fiancé’s deployment. Be it taking a walk, watching a movie, or cooking your favorite meal, doing something that brings you joy and maintains your health will help pass the time until you’re reunited with your man.

Wishing you strength,

Last updated Oct 07, 2022
Originally published Feb 05, 2004