Should We Wish for the Olden Days?

Image by Flickr user Umbrella Shot

I alluded to it before, and now I’m just going to say it: talking to my husband on the phone during deployment stresses me out.

It’s a no win situation. I need to and want to talk to him. But the whole process of waiting for him to call, figuring out what to say, saying it, knowing when to hang up and wondering if I’m stressing him out by sharing too much or not sharing enough is just a killer. Someone needs to write a handbook on this.

I know it’s stressful for him too. He’s far away fighting a war, for crying out loud, and I’m sure my family drama isn’t helping him focus. But the boy is my best friend and I can’t just not tell him things.

Compared to some, though, he has it good. I know I’m not worrying him so much that he can’t focus on his mission. Some service members aren’t so lucky.

And that leads me to this question: are we better or worse off for all this communication during deployment? Would things be easier if we were back in the days of our grandparents, writing letters to our service members that may never be received or answered?

I asked Joyce Rumsfeld, wife of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, what she thinks. Should we, I asked, wish for the olden days back again?

Mrs. Rumsfeld had a front row seat to how life in the military has changed for families as her husband oversaw the transition to the all volunteer military in the mid-1970s and returned as Defense Secretary from 2001 to 2007. Her husband also served in the Active Duty Navy and Reserves.

“There’s no turning back — the tools are out there, people require it … There’s no way to put that back in the toothpaste tube,” she said. “Were there advantages to (how it was)? Yes. And are there advantages today? Yes. … There are advantages to what we have now, and I think we should accept that.”

In short, she said, it’s not worth worrying about.

Meanwhile, we can work on figuring out how to deal with what we’ve got.

(Incidentally, not everyone agrees with Mrs. Rumsfeld. Researchers at the RAND Corporation are in the middle of a study examining this very question).

Photo by Flickr user Umbrella Shot

About the Author

Amy Bushatz
Amy is the editor in chief of’s spouse and family blog A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for where she is the managing editor of spouse and family content. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on, NPR, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC and BBC as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.
  • tankerswife

    My husband and I have talked about this a few times as well. I’m of the mind that in some big ways, the spouses of the WWII era had it better. I wonder how much of these 1 yr deployments preceded and followed with all the spin up and wind down that’s involved with a deployment hurts the handling of the deployment and the reintegration process. They’re home, but they’re not. If the guys would be gone for 3 yrs, there’s a whole lot less of that back and forth. it provides some sort of stability in the homelife.

    And like you said, the angst that goes into each phone call, what do you do? Hubby’s first deployment to Afghanistan, in the early part of the war, we had regular email but few phone calls. It was more like writing letters. For his first Iraq deployment, again early in that effort too, I didn’t hear from him in any form for 3 mos. Then it was a scratchy, staticy, satellite delayed call in which I couldn’t help but cry throughout the call. Although he found that highly amusing, it didn’t lend for a very productive conversation. From there, we had a few more calls during the time he was gone, about 1 a month. I was plagued by the same fears and concerns in what to talk to him about, how much to tell him, etc. It turns out that I reassured him about financial stuff and kept the calls upbeat, which is just what he needed. I didn’t know that until he came home and told me. When he went back to Iraq after he retired as a contractor, we had daily calls. And as crazy as it seems, we ran out of topics. But neither of us really wanted to end the call because it was the only real time connection we had.

    You’re right, its definitely a double edged sword and a balancing act, with no pat answer for everyone. Some guys are better off blissfully ignorant and other need to kept in the loop to feel connected to home. I’d be very interested in seeing the results of that study.

  • Andi

    When I’m in need of perspective, I like to think that we have it so much better than those who came before us. Those who waited months for a letter and had no idea where their spouse was. No fast mail, no email, no IM. Nothing. Plus, with the 24/7 news cycle, at least we know more than they did about what’s going on on the ground.

    Having said that, it’s also a bad thing. I had to cancel a google alert once when there was a bombing in Afghanistan near where I believed my husband to be because I could not focus until I got word that he was okay. And yes, many of us struggle with how much to tell our spouses. To keep them connected to home, but not to the stressors of home. It’s tough.

    I agree with Mrs. Rumsfeld in that it is what it is and we have to decide how to use the tools available to us, or not to use them at all. I see advantages and disadvantages to each time period. It’s definitely an individual choice. Some spouses have said here on different occasions that they hide nothing from their spouses, and others shield them from any negative news and put on a brave face when they chat. Whatever works for each family.

    I love this old post by airforcewife, whose grandmother was a WWII spouse. I think it shows both sides:

  • I am enjoying the connection that having Skype brings about…after 11 years active duty, this is only his second deployment, but since he’s in a “vacation spot” (really), we are able to stay in contact a lot. Sometimes I think we’re able to have too much contact, since he is able to continue to handle things like the finances – if the communication were *not* there, I would be forced to take things over, making MY decision-making process different. However, I am VERY glad to have the availability of Skype to help my children with the adjustment to his being gone, as most of them don’t remember him ever being gone before.

  • Joe

    Ok a first for me! I am not your tradional military spouse. Instead of being a military wife, my role is reversed as odd as that is. I’m a military husband with no prior military history. Although I have been with my wife for 6 years and we have been married for 2 and a have years, shes facing her first ever deployment and I feel clueless!! I have a million thoughts and ideas about how I’m going to handle things like the family,the house,bills,and working full time, oh and taking care of our year and a half old daughter on my own. I talk to my wife on the phone several times a day and we talk about everything. I often wander how it will be to go days,weeks, or even months without talking to my wife. Then when she is able to call, I know I won’t know what to say because I will be in my mind trying to cram days,weeks,or months into a very brief phone call! I have thought about saying too much to stress her out more but how much is too much? I hope some of you can help me thru whats looks like going to be one of the toughest trial period in my life!

  • clementiney

    You are not alone Joe. My husband is facing his first deployment this year. I will be working full time and taking care of 5 kids in the house and no family near by to rely on. I have the same worries & fears that you have about fitting things into a phone call.

    I’m very happy to have found I see some of my own fears & aprehensions written out in these blogs. They have been great conversation starters for my husband and I in preparing for his deployment. Thank you to all of the bloggers.