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Mission Possible: Emotional Effects of Letters From Home

By: LIFELines

Letters to and from a deployed spouse may be the only way military families communicate for months at a time. Both those at home and those deployed live for those written words. Considering the importance of those letters, how careful are you about what you say? Do you ever think that what you write affects your Sailor emotionally? How do those emotions affect your spouse's overall job performance during the mission? Could the mission ultimately be affected?

Writing the Letter

It's not easy to write a letter to someone during a separation. There’s a fine line between "I can’t take it any more" and "Everything is great and under control." One approach can leave spouses frustrated because they aren't there to help, while the other can make them feel like they're no longer needed — a very common fear for deployed servicemen and women. Either one could affect your spouse's concentration or cause depression. Both the service member and the quality of work suffer.

Emotional Effects

The timing of a letter is just as important as the letter itself. While it's tempting to vent in a letter to our spouses, we need to consider what our spouses are doing before we unload our frustrations. Are they getting ready for an inspection? Are their jobs inherently stressful? Do they have the downtime to even absorb a letter with bad news? Or will they be thinking about problems at home when they should be concentrating on the mission? If you really need to talk to someone, call a friend, family member, or a chaplain. Don't put your Sailor in a frustrating position where he or she can't help.

In Their Shoes

One way to make sure letters won't have negative effects on our loved ones or the mission is to ask: "How would I feel if I got this letter?" While keeping secrets is never a good idea, don't worry your spouse unnecessarily if nothing can be done about the problem during the deployment. For the safety of everyone aboard, your spouse needs to focus on the job and not worry about things at home.

Emergency Contact

When an emergency makes communication necessary, you can get a message out to your loved one. With the American Red Cross, the message will be delivered by the commander or chaplain, who will advise your spouse and offer council. When sending a letter about an illness or injury, be sure to include all the information so the service member won't wonder if all the facts are there. One way to avoid a miscommunication or to reduce the chances of having to communicate an emergency through emails or infrequent letters is to prepare a family care plan with your spouse.

A letter can have a huge emotional impact on those deployed. It can be a morale booster, or it can make for a deployment filled with emotional angst and frustration. For a successful mission, crewmembers need to give their jobs their full attention. A sincere, positive letter from home allows them to do just that.