Today is the first day in almost one month where I had the entire house to myself. With Matt home from Baghdad for 2.5 weeks, then school closed for ski-week, our tiny house went from overflowing with laughter and family and fun ... to piling up with dishes and laundry and messes. I longed for the day where I wouldn't have to entertain anyone. So instead of waking up early and getting ready before I dropped everyone off at their respective schools, I decided to wait until I could enjoy my primping in peace.
I took a LONG shower. I wanted to enjoy my time alone. Without anybody screaming, "MOMMY!" Without anyone banging on the door asking if they can come into the bathroom. Without worrying that someone would flush the toilet and THEN warn me after wards that the water might get a tad too hot.
I angled the shower nozzle to hit my lower back, and I instantly felt the stress being chiseled away by the hot water, ever so slowly washing down the drain. From the moment I stepped in, my mind began racing, filling, streaming with thoughts and images I couldn't begin to organize. Though, as I scrambled for the wall markers left by the girls in the corners of the shower to write them down, I discover they were out of ink and were just cluttering the floor. Perhaps a symbol for the heavy thoughts that were clouding my brain.
I don't know how long I was standing there. Long enough to keep increasing the temperature so I could stay warmer longer and for my fingers to turn into prunes. Long enough to formulate answers on a topic that continues to arise, and is by far one of the most widely discussed behind closed doors ... yet is increasingly hush-hush.
I'm talking about ... Choices. I'm talking about ... Trust. I'm talking about ... Infidelity.
Last year when we made the announcement about Matt's unaccompanied tour, I can't begin to tell you how many friends raised their eyebrows and gave me "the look." Not the look that says we're crazy to be separated the year. But the look that silently asks me if I trust him spending a year apart from us.
Surprisingly, I am still met with this look on a regular basis. No longer from friends. But from new people I meet in town. People who hear about us through the grapevine. People who just can't believe that any spouse could be separated for that long, live in a place where there other would never find out what really happened, and stay faithful.
And my retort? After 7 months of him being gone, it honestly has NEVER once crossed my mind that he would do anything inappropriate and that would jeopardize our marriage. Period.
However it's common knowledge that infidelity happens. Frequently. It's a very real concern, and to repress it or belittle it, is doing a disservice. The reality is ... if there are issues in your relationship with your partner, an unaccompanied tour will exacerbate it. If there are cracks in your foundation, the tour will then provide the opportunity.
Most importantly, the onus is on the employee to provide the level of comfort to the home-bound spouse. Because not only are the spouses worrying about their husband or wife's safety, but they're also worrying if they're making good decisions. There are inherent levels of trust when one is away. Trust that is not a right, but rather has to be earned.
Matt, admittedly so, has had his own shortcomings early on in his career. Opportunities where he failed to recognize, appreciate, and acknowledge the role I played in this lifestyle, which would eliminate any fears or stresses in our relationship. Throughout our 10+ years with the organization, we've dealt with some very high highs and some extremely low lows. He's had to work at saving our marriage. To demonstrate to me that I am the love of his life, and that he'd never jeopardize or consider ruining it over something completely frivolous.
Before Matt left for Iraq, the State Department provided us with loads of resources on how to handle the separation. From community chat groups, playgroups, monthly courses with other spouses, to blogs and information on wills and health services, and everything else that Matt would encounter once he got to Iraq. But the one piece of information they neglected to hand out, was the pamphlet on what to do if you discover your spouse is cheating.
Sure, it's not exactly "Temptation Island" over there (Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan). But people are still engaging in sex. Married men AND women. We've all heard the saying, "What happens in ___, stays in ___". And for the most part, it does. Because who really wants to know that their spouse is being unfaithful. Or worse. Who really wants to tell a friend that they know THEIR spouse is having extramarital relations? Where's the counseling session on that topic?
I know firsthand that there are consequences. I've seen several people throughout the years ruin their corridor reputation that both precedes and succeeds you at a post. I've even seen people sent back to the U.S. for inappropriate conduct. Why take the chance? Despite the State Department being so big, it's actually a small, small community. You always run into the same people ... with its six degrees of separation.
The blemishes these unaccompanied tours already leave on a marriage can be huge. Collateral damage if you will. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the bombs, guns, and explosions. Missed anniversaries and birthdays, new beginnings and special occasions. An anxiety ridden spouse can leave as equally a bad scar.
And then there are those whose relationships not only weather, but grow from the year apart. The ones who are completely open and honest and have a new appreciation for what their spouse handles and goes through. The relationships that flourish because of strong bonds, support, and reciprocated trust. The many, who at the end of the day can breath a sigh of relief, knowing that the small speed bump of this year apart will do nothing more than increase their finances and maintain their sanity.
In the end, I always pose the daily question, "Are you making good choices?"
And admittedly though we are ... I know that tomorrow, I need to let everyone else's elephants clear the room ... and take a shorter shower.