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How to Argue Constructively When You’re Far Apart

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by Meg Flanagan

For the first two or so years of my military marriage, my husband and I were not in the same state. For a significant portion, we weren’t even on the same continent. Thanks, deployment!

However, we still needed to handle things on the homefront and in our relationship. But how do you do that when you’re only communicating via email?

Long distance relationships can be hard, especially when you fight. Here's how to do it the "right" way. #communication #longdistance #longdistancerelationship #ldr #relationship #deployment #military #jomygosh #milspouse #militaryspouse #milso

Decide what’s important

I actually kept all the emails from that really long deployment. Looking back, even just a year or so later, is interesting. I sent some doozies! Like when I needed to know where he put the car insurance. It wasn’t where I thought it was and I needed it in a semi-hurry. So I dashed off an email that was verging on nasty.

Yes, I ended up finding the paperwork, but also had an annoyed spouse to deal with.

After that, I learned that not every “crisis” needed to be an email. Like when the washing machine created a mini flood or when the fire alarm wouldn’t stop going off every time I cooked anything. Those I emailed about after the fact, once everything was fixed at home.

And even now, almost a decade later, he still doesn’t know about the time that I almost caught the house on fire. Because all’s well that end’s well, right?

Let things simmer

Letting things sit, even now that we’re living together, is important. Yes, sometimes it builds up emotions more, but it can also diffuse tension.

When we were navigating long-distance love, we still argued. We argued all the time, actually way more than we ever have before or since. The distance really strains nerves for both parties, creating more stress and leading to bigger disagreements. However, not everything needs to be a full-blown argument via email. Yes, email, because that’s what you’ve got.

Remember, you cannot read tone of voice in an email. So your spouse (or you) might have meant something as a joke or with sarcasm, but it didn’t translate that way. Before you dash off an angry missive and hit send, pause. Let the email sit overnight. If you don’t think about it the next day or have moved on to other issues, delete the draft and be done.

3. Be Clear in Your Communication

Sometimes short and sweet is better than long and lovey. We have hundreds of two-sentence emails between us over the course of our relationship. Even now, if I need to know something important or send a reminder, it’s an email.

Call me crazy, but I love the digital documentation that written communication provides. If you need something important or specific, don’t bury it inside of a love note. Send something separate and clearly state what you need and when you need it. If you are angry about something, state clearly what you are feeling, why you are feeling it and how you’d like to move past it together. Clarity, and phrasing things like military orders, somehow really helps to get the message across.

Stand your ground

Yes, you’re apart and you don’t want to spur a disagreement, but also you’re not a mat for anyone to walk all over. If you’re feeling used or taken advantage of, speak up and stand firm.

For example, my spouse put in a homecoming request. Could I, would I, please provide a shuttle service for his colleague? Oh, and his wife and their child, who needed a car seat.

Yeah, I turned that little request down, hard. Logistically, it just wouldn’t have worked. Three adults, plus a kid in a carseat, and two guys’ worth of deployment gear–all stuffed into a Toyota Corolla. Not even remotely feasible.

More importantly, this was a homecoming after my husband had been gone for a whole year (minus two weeks of R&R). I wanted to get my guy back to our house ASAP. The end.

At first, he didn’t get why I was being unhelpful. I’m normally the first to volunteer for things and ready to offer up support to friends all the time. But this was my line in the sand. One year of deployment means that homecoming is my day, not the day to help all the people with all the things. Mine.

So I stood firm and countered his continued requests with rational arguments supporting my position.

Eventually, he caved. The other guy was gently asked to call the FRO and seek information about a rental car situation.

And you know what? On homecoming day, he looked around our stuffed to the gills tiny car and said, “You were right, we never would have fit all the stuff and all the people in here. I’m glad you turned me down.”

Score one for effective long-distance arguing!

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Meg Flanagan is a teacher, blogger and military spouse. She owns Meg Flanagan Education Solutions, an education advocacy service dedicated to serving families on the K-12 journey. You can find Meg on Facebook. Meg is also available as a freelance writer and personal education advocate!


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