By Courtney Woodruff

The tension in the room was palpable.

My husband and I were seated at one of the many large, round tables that had been scattered around the hotel ballroom, surrounded by dozens of other military couples who had come together to attend a unit-sponsored marriage retreat.

The topic for the weekend’s seminar was sex and intimacy. The speaker had done his best to present the awkward material in a light-hearted yet informative kind of way, but the conversation had suddenly taken a serious turn when it came time for the unit chaplain to address the crowd.

“The truth is military life is not set up for marriages to succeed and thrive. The stress, the pressures, the time spent apart can be too much for many couples to bear. It’s like going to war – if you want your relationship to survive, you have to show up and fight for it every day.”

I could feel the warmth of my husband’s hand on my knee through my jeans, and I couldn’t help but wonder what he was thinking.

Shifting awkwardly in my seat, my mind drifted to a few recent articles I’d read about the rise in pornography addiction among deployed service members and the debilitating strain it can have on marriages, families and careers. Isolation, readily available technology offering instant gratification, and being away from one another for lengthy periods of time can encourage spouses to seek support from others – real or fictional – online.

How do you fight for your marriage in a lifestyle that often feels as though it is setting you up for failure?

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How do you maintain – or, even better, boost – your sexual relationship and levels of intimacy when duty calls you to be physically separated from your spouse for months – and often a year or more – at a time?

Is it even possible?

The answer is … yes.

Although it may be extremely difficult, you can have a satisfying sex life and an intimate relationship with your spouse in the midst of a long, painful deployment.

The key is to get creative, seek out new and better ways to reach one another on a daily basis and make your marriage a top priority.

Need a few ideas to get started? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.

1. Write your own steamy short stories

typewriter from Flickr via Wylio
© 2011 Ak~i, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Take advantage of the distance to reveal fantasies you may not have dared share otherwise. Use your imagination and creative writing skills to illustrate as many different saucy scenarios as you wish, and suggest you recreate them (if possible) when you are together again.

2. Get creative with care packages

Care Package: Zombie Apocalypse from Flickr via Wylio
© 2012 Roxanne Ready, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

In between the obligatory baby wipes, candy and reading material, slip in something … a little more comfortable (a sexy piece of lingerie or boxers you might want to wear when you are together, again, for example) …  and add a spritz of a favorite perfume or cologne for good measure.

3. Have professional boudoir photos taken

Care Package: NSFW from Flickr via Wylio
© 2008 Michael Mandiberg, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

If you are worried about getting your service member in trouble by sending explicit images, consider hiring a professional to help you out. A boudoir photographer knows how to create seductive, flattering yet tasteful images your spouse is sure to enjoy … without getting too risqué for comfort.  Play to your spouse’s fantasies and weaknesses: put on a favorite jersey, dress up in a costume, or wear a favorite piece of jewelry with heels … and little else.

4. Play games

chess pieces from Flickr via Wylio
© 2013 Edith Soto, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

Whether it is a long-distance chess tournament or a racy round of “Would You Rather?,” playing games with your spouse by text message, over the phone or via video chat can be a fun and welcome distraction from the everyday stresses of deployment.

5. Send hand-written love notes

love note from Flickr via Wylio
© 2008 EvelynGiggles, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

When you don’t have access to the internet, take time to sit down and pen your sweetheart an old-fashioned love letter, complete with x’s and o’s. There is nothing quite as romantic as opening the mailbox expecting a pile of bills and advertisements, only to receive a heartfelt note from your far-away lover, instead.

6. Start your own private book or movie club

I accidentally brought money to a book sale. from Flickr via Wylio
© 2014 Brittany Stevens, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Take turns picking out a book or movie to enjoy at the same time. It will give you something to talk about other than work, the kids and bills, while giving you the opportunity to share a new experience together … even while you are far apart.

7. Go on a date via video chat

the dreaded brad fildr from Flickr via Wylio
© 2008 jessica mullen, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Whenever possible, have dinner together face-to-face, just the two of you. Microwave a frozen dinner or tear open an MRE if you have to, turn on a little music to set the mood and pretend you are in a cozy restaurant somewhere. Talk about the experiences you’ve had and best memories you’ve made together over the years.

8. Journal to one another

notebook page 4 from Flickr via Wylio
© 2008 Rachel Lyra Hospodar, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Purchase two spiral-bound notebooks, and mail them back and forth to one another so you each have one at any given time. Pose questions to be answered, write poetry, draw pictures and cartoons or simply share the details of your day. This simple activity can help you feel more connected to one other.

9. Read a devotional written for military couples

Candle from Flickr via Wylio
© 2010 Shawn Carpenter, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

Many books, such as Gary Chapman’s “Five Love Languages Military Edition”, were written to challenge and encourage military couples to strengthen their marriages while they are physically separated from one another. Find a study that fits your unique needs and personalities so you can work to understand one another better, learn more about each other and grow in your relationship as you count down the days you have to be apart.

10. Play it safe

If you do decide to send sensitive material to your spouse, steer clear of government or work email addresses as well as public computers and storage systems. Better yet, seal the files in password protected or encrypted documents and burn them onto CDs. You can even come up with pseudonyms or code words, if you want to, just in case that steamy short story or sexy boudoir photo falls into the hands of a battle buddy or … worse …. a commanding officer. Research the rules and regulations for the country where your spouse is deployed, as well. In many places, Status of Forces Agreements (SOFA) specifically prohibit the possession of explicit material of any kind, and your spouse could face serious consequences – including an Article 15 – if they cross the line.

As we drove home from the marriage retreat, my husband and I discussed our takeaways from the weekend’s discussions. They had presented a window of opportunity to talk about things we had been too afraid to say out loud to one another before. In the end, we agreed, no matter how uncomfortable it may be to talk openly and honestly with one another about our sex life and the intimate details of our relationship, it is an important part of maintaining a healthy and resilient marriage.

If we want to survive the unique challenges of military life, we must resist the urge to shy away from the taboo topics of sex and intimacy. We must fight for one another every day.

Courtney is a military spouse, mom of 2 boys and part-time writer-editor for a travel & lifestyle magazine serving military families stationed in Europe. She has an MA in Human Services Counseling Military Resilience and hopes to share what little she has learned along the way to help others overcome the unique challenges of military life. You can follow her adventures at her blog, Courtney At Home, or through her social media: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.