Skype and Email More Trouble Than They Are Worth


In the military community, you know you belong at an assisted living facility when you start waxing poetic about snail mail.

“The real problem with military marriages today is too much communication,” said the keynote speaker at a conference I recently attended. “All that Skype and email is too much. When my wife and I wrote letters once a week, we took our time and thought about what to say.”

There were some nods around the room. I bet those nods were from people whose junior guys made the mistake of reporting when they were going out on patrol. Or overshared on Facebook. Or dealt with a crying wife too often on Skype.

I’m sure all those nodders imagined that if we turned off the Skype and the email and confiscated every phone, all their command level problems with families would be over. By necessity, soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines would turn into love-letter-writing fiends worthy of Ken Burns immortality on PBS itself.

Clearly, none of those nodders had ever received the kind of skimpy, guy-written letters most service members write. Those are the emotional equivalent of living on a box of Triscuits.

As the speaker went on to talk about how it was far better for him to find out his wife’s father had died during the deployment by letter weeks and weeks after the event (that was better??), I wanted to jump to my feet.

I wanted to make sure that the young couples in the room did not get the idea that it would be better for them to communicate less during deployment.

I wanted those nodders to admit that the problem in military marriages today is NOT too much communication. The problem in military marriage is that it takes time for couples to learn how to communicate from eight time zones away.

How many times does a servicemember have to call during the dinner hour before they figure out that there isn’t much uplifting going on when a hungry toddler is screaming and the soccer cleat for today’s game is lost?

How many times does a spouse have had to figure out that no matter how much that servicemember loves you, he or she can’t actually fix your current feeling? Or control how often the email goes down?

How many times do young servicemembers panic their spouses or partners about going out on patrol before they figure out that this does not actually protect them and it uses up a spouse’s energy?

All those lessons take time–which is exactly what we don’t have in military life.  Leaders want young couples to be up to speed right away so that servicemembers can focus on the business at hand.  I get that. But indulging in the idea that these problems can be solved by going back to writing letters is like dreaming of fighting battles in deserts with scimitars and Peter O’Toole on a camel behind you.

It’s a waste of time.

Every generation has their own struggle with the communication tools that are available to them. They are going to screw up. They are going to make mistakes. They are going to learn the hard way. That is what couples do.

So instead of wishing away some of the most morale-building tools ever invented, start thinking through those letters to what you actually communicated. I’d much rather hear a keynote speaker think through what they’ve learned about a long distance marriage and pass those lessons along than pretend that the good old days were anything more than old.





About the Author

Jacey Eckhart
Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs for Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan?? Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times. Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom. Find her at
  • Renee Q

    I can’t believe someone had the audacity to say outloud that we should go back to snail mail. I would have busted a gut for real! I am so thankful for skype, FB, email you freaking name it. Having the ability to touch base with my soldier everyday has made such a difference both for him there and here for me. Our morale is good, were communicating effectively, and we both feel so supported and loved. Shame on people who think LESS communication is better. They can pry my e-mail from my cold dead hands!

    • Navy Wife

      Just wanted to share this with you…. I believe you did not get the point of the article.

      “I wanted those nodders to admit that the problem in military marriages today is NOT too much communication. The problem in military marriage is that it takes time for couples to learn how to communicate from eight time zones away.”

  • sabrinacking

    I am 50/50 on this one. There can indeed be too much information. And it can be daunting to get daily or every other day midnight calls from down range. Also, we had one rear detachment commander using mass text messaging and email to do in theatre incident notifications. For a year I was terrified of my Blackberry after in one three week period it went off almost hourly with incident reports. Finally, while I cherished Skype time and even arranged for my company to send 50 webcams downrange to make a Skype center, every time I see those WWII or Civil War programs with letters I wish I had some as mementos.

  • Samantha
  • Fordownr

    I’ll do the writer one better, try calming a distraught wife over a MARS radio call…… Seriously there has to be some kind of limit. Personnaly I’d like to see cell phones and cameras limited to on FOB/Base use ONLY! Would keep a lot of young soldiers out of trouble! Realistically it is , as the writer states’ a matter of learning how and what to communicate when you are thousands of miles apart.

  • RMR

    If the military truly thought there was no benefit to having Skype, internet, email on ships and bases, they would make it so it was inaccessible. And they do when they deem it necessary. But there’s no denying that overwhelmingly it increases morale on both ends. How many servicemembers have gotten to experience things through Skype that they couldn’t otherwise? The birth of a child, a friend’s wedding, a graduation. I don’t think you can experience those through snail mail. This technology sustains the member and the family through a long separation the way nothing else can.

    Some people probably communicate more than they should or get bogged down in details and don’t always talk about what’s important. That onus is on the servicemember and their spouse, family, and friends. Over time people begin to realize how to use the time they’re given. There’s an adjustment period to this, like everything in life. As for the servicemember who shares mission info that shouldn’t be shared, I feel like that is a small percentage of people and should be dealt with one on one. People will figure it out and make it work, the way they made other technology work.

  • Emily

    I haven’t gone through a deployment with my husband yet, but after three consecutive summers of training (first summer was BCT, second summer was AIT, third summer was OCS), I have to say that while BCT offered no communication and was the most difficult, my time seeing my husband at the end of training was the most cherished of the three. I had no communication with him over the phone save two one-minute phone calls. One of the phone calls was to alert my husband that our newborn son was having surgery. Definitely stressful and upsetting to share in a one-minute phone call with a drill sergeant yelling over your back.

    With this in mind, I have to say that I somewhat (mind you, somewhat) agree that less communication can be better for a marriage. I saved all of my letters I received from my husband during basic training. I looked forward to receiving them much more than I looked forward to receiving a short text message from my husband during OCS. But, would I trade that text message for a letter? Probably not. I guess it’s just like some of the other posters have commented. There needs to be a balance. I had more miscommunication with my husband during OCS when he could text message or call me in the evenings than I have ever had before. Talking to him through text messaging also can be frustrating because I can’t necessarily read into the emotion behind the text. Several times I thought my husband was upset with me only to find out he wasn’t. I had just interpreted his text message wrong.

    And I know, I haven’t gone through a deployment so I can’t imagine this lack of skype/email/phone calls working well when a spouse is deployed. But for basic training and some of the other training opportunities our servicemen and women enter into, I can see the lack of communication having some sort of merit.

  • JAGO

    The problem with frequent calls and emails is that it often just results in “cross-leveling” the stress. Whoever is more stressed out tends to dump it on the other party… who is in absolutely no position to do anything about it. It may make one party happier (stress shared is stressed reduced) at the expense of the other party (breeds feelings of helplessness) and some real damage to the relationship (“all we do is kvetch at each other”).

    Writing tends to avoid that trap and Skype is just really great. Skype tends to focus the person on the other person and not on ones own problems and writing takes effort and thought. It also creates a physical memento and link to home or the field.

    But, EVERY RELATIONSHIP IS DIFFERENT. While I may not want regular calls from my wife and am not a fan of emails. I love skype and letters. Other couples may need and love any and all forms of communications and think that the more the better. More power to them. Some folks may not be great writers and that is fine.

    My recommendation is: consider the content of your last three communications and if you hung up/logged off/stamped the envelope feeling better. If the answer is yes three out of the last three, then do it. If only two out of three, try to think how your partner felt. If you think he/she felt better two or three out of the last three times, then keep it up. If most of the time you hang-up/log off etc feeling worse or suspect your partner does, then stop.

    • jacey_eckhart

      This is a brilliant reply: “consider the content of your last three communications and if you hung up/logged off/stamped the envelope feeling better. If the answer is yes three out of the last three, then do it. If only two out of three, try to think how your partner felt”

      The last time I talked to my husband on the phone I did not feel better and I know he didn’t. All I did was complain about work. I’ve gotta think about that….Good to hear from a servicemember’s POV. Thanks!

  • Rebecca

    Mrs. Eckhart, you are a better woman than I. I’m afraid I would have stood up and told that speaker they were full of it, and walked out. I’ve been an army wife 21 years, and my husband is deployed right now.

  • Rebecca

    This time around (he’s only been gone a short time), Skype and email has already assisted me in getting our 9 year old off to Cub Scout resident camp with a lot less stress. We are able to discuss important issues in a timely manner. In some ways, we are able to communicate more while he is deployed than when he is home! He’s not rushing off to a scout meeting, and I’m not racing out the door to take someone to sports practice while telling him what’s for dinner. Because of the time difference, we are able to talk evening my time/morning his, or midday my time/evening his. I relish every moment I get to see his face during our Skype calls. The children get to show him things and tell him about what they are doing. It made reintegration much easier last time, and I expect the same this time.

    • jacey_eckhart

      I think it makes a big difference to be able to see someone’s face and talk things over. Great examples!