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Kevlar for the Mind: Relationship worries often amplified as deployment nears

Oct. 18, 2012 - 02:45PM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 18, 2012 - 02:45PM  |  
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Q. I'm about to leave for a six-month deployment. I love my wife very much, but lately I'm consumed with thoughts of her cheating on me while I'm gone. I have no reason to believe she has cheated on me in the past. Why is this happening?

A. Pending deployment separation is a stressful and anxious time for everyone. We imagine our worst fears and play out unthinkable scenarios in our heads.

This is normal and expected.

It's relatively common to have thoughts of a nondeployed spouse being unfaithful. These thoughts are magnified in more troubled relationships, particularly if there is a history of trust and fidelity issues.

The most important thing is to stay focused on what you know not what you think. Critically review the evidence supporting your thoughts. Challenge inaccuracies in your thinking.

Better yet, have someone you trust do it for you. Most of us are good at jumping to conclusions, peering into crystal balls and finding evidence for things when there is none. This tends to get us in trouble.

If you have a strong relationship, trust that it will persevere. But if there are problems, address them before you deploy. This can range from a heart-to-heart talk after the kids go to bed to one or more visits with a chaplain, counselor or other trusted friend or professional.

You can be sure of one thing: If you do nothing, then nothing will change.

Q. I'll be leaving soon for Afghanistan. My understanding is that the base where I'll be stationed has quite a bit of infrastructure. This likely means my wife and I can talk every day. Do you recommend this?

A. The answer really depends on the strength of your relationship.

A relationship that's strong before deployment probably can accommodate daily conversations. But if there are significant relationship problems prior to deployment, conversations that are more spaced out should be considered, as daily contact can lead to increased arguments.

Ultimately, the choice is up to you. Regardless of your choice and strength of your relationship, these tips may be helpful:

Set expectations. Before you deploy, talk about how often, and for how long, you and your partner want to communicate while you're gone.

Don't tell your partner about a problem until you've solved it or at least initiated a solution.

Develop multiple methods of communication.

Block out time during each call to talk only about positive things.

Bret A. Moore is a clinical psychologist who served in Iraq and is the author of "Wheels Down: Adjusting to Life after Deployment." Email Names and identifying details will be kept confidential. This column is for informational purposes only. Readers should see a mental health professional or physician for mental health problems.

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