Among the greatest challenges that face military families today are the frequent relocations, and the issues that stem from them. We’re not talking about the mechanics and stresses of PCS moves or the many ways deployments affect families. No question, those are significant challenges. But what we’re focusing on in this article are the feeling of isolation and loneliness that can crop up as you and your family travel to different duty stations and leave friends and relatives behind.
Human beings are hard-wired to need social connections, which is why separations from friends, family, and even your spouse can take a toll on any of us. For those of us who live in a world where frequent training, deployments, and occasional out-of-country orders are the norm, those separations can quickly become overwhelming.
Fortunately, today’s digital world makes it easier than ever to sustain and build friendships wherever military life takes you, whether that’s in another state or another country.
Here are five ways to build your support network and keep those friendships that you worked so hard to build, alive.
Video chatting with others isn’t, of course, the same as being in the same room together. But sometimes it’s the next best thing. Facetime, Skype, Google Hangouts, and other video chat options bring face-to-face conversation with your loved ones right to your computer, your phone, or some other mobile device.
In most cases they’re free, but it’s best to be sure—and it’s best to use Wi-Fi whenever possible. The audio part of the chat will most likely be covered if you have a plan that allows unlimited talk and text. But the video part will use your data.
Social Media and Texting
Social media in all its many forms makes it incredibly easy to stay in touch on day-to-day matters with your friends and family, and you’re probably doing a lot of it anyway.
Text a quick massage saying you miss them, send a voice recording on What’s App, post pictures on your timeline, and so on.
Make New Friends
Some of us have no trouble making new friends in unfamiliar places. For others, though, it’s really hard. Either way, it’s very important that you make a real effort to build and nurture new relationships even while you’re staying digitally connected to your existing friendships. This will give you a balance of comfort and stability while growing your support network. There’s always room for more!
Take a gym class, join a book group, introduce yourself to other parents at the park, do some volunteer work, or connect with military-affiliated families through your Family Readiness Group.
Get Back to Snail Mail
Want to make your friends and family feel special? Take the time to write them a good, old-fashioned letter or card. Start a lively debate, choose a topic that you only discuss in your letters, and set a schedule if you’d like. What’s more fun than having a letter to look forward to every other week? Sure, it’s a bit more work than firing off an email, but there’s something really special about holding an actual card in your hand.
Just because there’s some physical distance between you and your friends or family doesn’t mean that you have to give up doing things with them.
Start a long-distance chess game, pick a book to read and discuss together, or log in to your favorite online video game and play as a group. Whatever your hobbies were “back home,” chances are you’ll be able to figure out a way to bring some elements of that back to your relationship.
If you’re having a tough time maintain friendships as you navigate military life, you’re not alone—not even close. According to the 2015 Military Family Lifestyle Survey, 52% of military spouses reported struggling with feeling of isolation and loneliness. For 39% of active duty personnel, it was listed as a top stressor in their daily lives.
While friendships that involve someone with a connection to the military will always look different than those kept by folks outside the military, with a little work, those important relationships can stay as strong as ever.