The Elephant In The Room

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.


Anonymous said...

Such an elephant ... yet so present.

So do you not ever get the "eyebrows" on your side of the world? As in, is it just "so do you trust Matt" questions? Or is it also "does Matt trust YOU" questions?

As sad as it is, there have been several recent episodes of infidelity being made very public in our (also very small) community.

It's sad ... but you're right ... it is avoidable and IS all about choices. Daily choices. Sometimes big choices and sometimes little choices.

Even if your spouse is NOT on an unaccompanied, the loneliness, depression, new crowd of people seems to be a huge factor in the cheating I see around these parts.

I ramble ... thanks for bringing this up.

Christy said...

Wow Jill, can you believe I actually hadn't thought about this when I think of you?! When I think of you guys, I think of the loneliness and isolation, but not idea of infidelity. I must live in some kind of crazy bubble, because I really try not to let those kinds of thoughts enter my head.

I must say though, I'm envious of that long shower. I might try to do the same when Fi's at school today! :)

But seriously, this was such an incredible post to read. So honest and candid and brave. I miss you!

Mom24 said...

It's so funny, of all the things I've worried for in regards to this year you're experiencing (enduring?), that's one I've never once thought of. Which is both good and bad. Good if you don't experience it, but bad if you did because you might not feel as though you can talk to anyone about it.

Lots and lots for you to go through, that's for sure.

I hope this year apart ends with you feeling (or growing) closer and closer for the things that are to come.

NRenee said...

When "the look" first appeared in your post, I laughed out loud and then felt a little sad. My husband and I are not in the foreign service, but I'm doing a fellowship in another country for three years...BOTH of us get that look a lot, often followed by inappropriate personal questions.

Great, honest post. Thanks!

San Diego Momma/Two Funny Brains said...

This was so well written and honest.

You chased that elephant out of the room but GOOD.

Anna Whiston-Donaldson said...

This is so interesting! I hadn't even thought about this before.

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anymommy said...

It never crossed my mind either. But, I can understand why it is a big, big issue and topic in the Foreign Service world. Excellently addressed.

Crystal said...

Very well shared, Jill! My husband travels alot now(for the State Dept.) and I trust him COMPLETELY, but This has entered my mind. This whole seperation and traveling has STRENGHENED our relationship, but I see how it could destroy it. I am amazed at how much less little things matter. There is something about being seperated and striving for the same goal. It will either refine a relationship or burn it up. I am blessed to have my husband and I thank God for using this to teach me!

You, Jill, are my hero and I am so blessed by learning from you, laughing with you and crying with you! Keep up your amazing love and commitment to "Team Perlman" : ) I am, as always, cheering for you from afar~~~

Kate Coveny Hood said...

It's funny because my friend's ex-husband who travels on details frequently and for long stretches used to always tell her how "everyone cheats." Implying that he didn't of course - which I actually don't think he did...until he left her for another woman, that is. But whatever.

Anyway - even with all of that - the last think that I thought when I heard your story was "infidelity." It's never something I consider. I always assume that best - especially when it's none of my business anyway.

Sounds like you got a good one. A real man with flaws - like anyone else. But one who understands how much there is to lose. One who values what he has.

And YOU are the last person who should be taken for granted.

Carina said...

Perhaps I'm naive, but I honestly didn't consider it.

You two are the only ones who live inside your relationship, you're the ones who would really understand if either spouse was capable of infidelity.

Maybe it's not naivete, it's being realistic. My spouse could just as easily cheat here as he could stationed over there. I know many military families and I would never think to question their fidelity. I know it happens, I'm not stupid, but so does the affair with a co-worker, or a teacher, or a neighbor.

Your marriage is always at risk, and always safe, if you understand what I mean.

Heidi said...

It must be so hard...all of it. The time apart, the loneliness, and then this. It's the last paragraph that I hope gets to belong to you guys...where it's hopeful and you've fought the good fight. Like you said, "flourish".

Thank you for being so candid and open here.

Mission said...

Hi -- I admire your honesty, and I think it's a message FS officers should hear. May I link to your blog from the State internal blog "Smart Leadership?" We try to deal with real-world practical and ethical issues. You can find me at bassettla@state.gov if you want to discuss off-line. Many thanks!

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