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Senior Master Sgt. Duaine Trotman slices a grapefruit for his wife, Tech. Sgt. Suzanne Trotman, at their home at Misawa Air Base, Japan. Duaine recently returned from a four-month deployment to Iraq. Suzanne said the separation was difficult. "We're like best friends. I couldn't go to him for advice," she said. "I didn't want to burden him with my issues." If she needed support, she felt like the base would have provided it.

Senior Master Sgt. Duaine Trotman slices a grapefruit for his wife, Tech. Sgt. Suzanne Trotman, at their home at Misawa Air Base, Japan. Duaine recently returned from a four-month deployment to Iraq. Suzanne said the separation was difficult. "We're like best friends. I couldn't go to him for advice," she said. "I didn't want to burden him with my issues." If she needed support, she felt like the base would have provided it. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

Getting military orders overseas can be a thrill — or a terror.

It can be an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in an exotic culture.

But it’s also far away from the safety net of family and home-grown friends.

For married couples, especially young ones, the isolation, limited resources and unfamiliarity of life in a foreign country can be stressful, military officials say.

Frequent or long deployments can add to the strain.

“You don’t have the outlets that are available in the States,” said Adrienne Williams, with the Counseling and Advocacy Program on Camp Foster, Okinawa.

“You get tired of the limited routine here and start to engage in emotional disengagment,” she said. “You start feeling the distance [from the States] and the financial burdens and the lack of connection with support systems: family and friends.”

Back in the States, “if you want to take time off, you can drive across the country to see your family,” said Tech. Sgt. Suzanne Trotman, a financial analyst with the 35th Comptroller Squadron at Misawa Air Base in northern Japan, whose challenge of an overseas assignment was compounded by her husband’s recent deployment to Iraq.

And then there’s the language barrier.

“You can’t just walk into a store [off base] and ask somebody where something is,” said Danielle Harper, married to a Marine for nine years and pregnant with the couple’s fourth child.

Limited career opportunities and day-care options overseas also can add to a couple’s stress, said Lt. Cmdr. Ruth Goldberg, Camp Foster’s counseling program director.

“A lot of couples do come to us saying, ‘We’re at our last straw,’ ” Williams said.

“Some come here and just learn that they’re not compatible and coming to Okinawa is the breaking point,” she said. “Others learn that the military lifestyle is just not for them. They have to make sacrifices and so they sacrifice the marriage.”

Couples with good communication skills before they land overseas will “probably do OK,” said Rochelle Phelps, Family Advocacy outreach manager at Misawa.

Those who break up do so because of what she calls “the normal couple reasons. They’re not communicating well, or they’re not in love anymore.”

In Asia, counselors, mental health workers and chaplains on U.S. bases may be the only resources for professional help, as the language barrier eliminates the recourse of therapy outside the gate.

Military officials say bases recognize those limitations and provide programs such as marriage workshops, spouse networks and new parent support groups.

Camp Foster’s counseling program is supposed to provide only brief, short-term support, but “we are constantly making exceptions,” Goldberg said.

At Misawa, Phelps said, Family Advocacy offers couples counseling on a space-available basis.

Misawa couples seeking marital counseling also can be referred to a chaplain or the Military Family Life Consultant, a free, short-term counseling service the Air Force began a few years ago.

Military counselors and spouses both say that a good attitude and getting involved can make all the difference on an overseas tour.

“Get out and get involved,” said Mary Moretti, who, in the course of her 22-year marriage to a Marine, has moved 18 times.

And if you need marriage counseling, get it.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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