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Staying Connected with Family Members

Article | May 2019

Staying Connected with Family Members

When a family member is gone for an extended period or a military deployment, it can take a toll on relationships. Here are strategies that can help reduce stress for both you and your family members.

Strategies for you:

  • Staying in touch is key. Plan in advance how you will stay in touch with family members and others. Phone calls, e-mails, letters, videos, audiotapes, and cards can all be part of your communication plan.
  • Discuss your plans for staying in touch with your partner before you leave. Include when and how frequently you would each like to be in contact, and by which means. Set the expectation with your children that being in touch will be a two-way street.
  • If possible, create a list of where you will be: mailing addresses, email address, phone numbers, arrival and departure times, and other helpful information. Post the list at home where everyone can see it.
  • Bring a reminder of your partner and kids, such as artwork, a photo, or a personal item. Give them a reminder of you as well. Knowing you’re thinking of one another can be reassuring.
  • Before you leave, consider doing small things to show you care. You might mow the grass or fix the plumbing, buy a gift certificate to the ice cream store, or make a favorite dinner and leave it in the freezer.
  • Send photos of the places you’re stationed. Ask your family to do the same for special events at home that you must miss. Consider what social media postings might be allowed by the military.
  • Accept that you cannot control things back home. Offer suggestions, but let your partner take charge.
  • Be sensitive to the possibility that your partner may feel some resentment about your absence. Express your understanding.

Both partners should:

Use phone, video, and e-mail time to reconnect and share your experiences with each other. Make time for talking or writing without distractions so that you can give your partner your full attention.
Following are pointers for getting the most out of writing letters or e-mails:
  • Write with your partner’s previous message in front of you so you can answer all of their questions.
  • Try writing with a photo of your partner in front of you. It can help you make your message more personal. Attach a photo with your return message whenever possible.
  • Express your affection with words.
  • Describe your recent activities, even if you don’t think they are very interesting.
  • Send mail or messages directly to children. The at-home parent can help them write their own notes or emails in return.
  • Send humorous or affectionate cards on occasion.
  • Keep your sense of humor. Share any funny things that happen to you.
  • Send occasional “care packages” or small gifts.

If you have children:

Young children can feel a loss, even a sense of desertion, when a parent is gone for a long time. And children are not very good at expressing these feelings. They may misbehave, regress to an earlier stage of development (e.g., wetting the bed), or act out. However, with understanding and planning, you can address these issues. Here are some suggestions:

  • Spend some quality time with each of your children before leaving. Let them know why you have to go. Let them know that you will miss them. Share how you plan to stay in touch, and when you will return.
  • You might swap keepsakes with your child, as mentioned above. Depending on your children’s ages, you might record yourself reading their favorite bedtime story so they can play it back while turning the pages. If you must miss a birthday, record yourself singing “Happy Birthday,” and leave a gift for the big day.
  • Just prior to leaving, make up a bedtime story about your trip. Later, the at-home parent can tell this story with you as the main character.

Some considerations upon your return:

  • Consider bringing back small gifts for everyone. You need not spend a lot. Souvenirs or tokens from places you have visited work nicely.
  • Young children are sometimes shy or scared of the parent who has been gone. Be patient. A gift, game, or talking about something important to the child can bridge this awkward period.
  • There may be readjustments with your partner as well. This person has likely gotten used to making all the decisions alone. You should be sensitive to this, and not rush in to take control.
  • Plan some quality time with each family member soon after you return. Take some vacation time off for this. Allow the family to tell you about events you missed. You can share highlights of your deployment. Check for supportive veterans’ resources in your area. Some cities offer camps or programs for families to help them reconnect.
Female soldier talking to her family

This material is provided by Cigna for informational/educational purposes only. It is not medical/clinical advice. Only a health care professional can make a diagnosis or recommend a treatment plan. For more information about your behavioral health coverage, you can call the customer service or the behavioral health telephone number listed on your health care identification card.