December 13, 2020

Surviving Long-Distance and Immigration



Ever wonder if a long distance relationship can really work? What about when you are also separated by a country?

In this podcast episode, Elizabeth Polinsky interviews Rachel on how she survived 10 years of long-distance, military deployments, and immigration difficulties.



  • Surviving long-distance
  • Navigating relationship changes and stages
  • Coping with military life and moving
  • Transitioning to an empty nest


1. The Love Story

Rachel and her husband have been married for 22 years, have 3 children, and their oldest with oldest is 24 years old and also a sailor. Their youngest child is now18. The couple met at age 15 in Canada, had first son after she turned 17. Her husband was a flight deck guy for the Navy. They got married her senior year of high school, and a month later he left on his first deployment. This was in the 1980’s and they had to send miniature tape records to each other because it was prior to technology advancements. 

Because of the way the mail worked, they had fights that lasted for months. They struggled a lot financially ad with the distance. She became a recluse during his first deployment. It was hard to hear about the fun he was having when she was struggling with loneliness and a toddler. “I also didn’t have a support system at the time and there wasn’t an online community like there is now.” When he came home there was a honeymoon high followed by the crash of life is still happening. 

Even after he returned from deployment, she was still living in Canada due to immigration costs. He was stationed in Washington state. When he could come home on the weekends, she would want to word vomit and tell him everything–but he would want to hang out with his friends. 

They had a deployment baby that was born after the deployment.  He deployed right after their second son was born. He was on the Lincoln for 5 years and 1 month, then went into the reserves while going to college. She felt a passion to be involved in FRG because it was scary to know that there was potential danger her husband was going through while on the Lincoln, and not knowing if he was involved. 

Her husband joined the navy again after getting his degree. He got his masters degree in public health while serving in the navy. 

​She was able to immigrate as a family on 2006— which was a very expensive and complicated process. Over the course of their marriage, there were times that they discussed divorce because things were so hard. 

Every hardship we had to encounter, whether having our next baby, immigrating, job stuff, it has the ability to tear you apart”

Latin young couple

2. Surviving Immigration

Her husband’s mother mother was American until age 10, but her husband didn’t qualify right away for citizenship because his mom hadn’t been in the USA until he was age 14. So he had to get creative. He knew the cancdadian military would not be an option for him and loved the movie top gun—so he was set on joining the US navy. She had to apply for green card and then a visa.

Her husband became a citizen in 2002. She was pregnant at the time. She and her sons had K1-Visa’s and their daughter was able to be a USA citizen since he was a citizen at the time of her birth.

In 2006 – 2007 she was able to immigrate to San Diego when he re-joined the military after getting his degree. She had only lived in a small town up until that point and moving to San Diego was terrifying.

To immigrate and be in a country I am not used to…there are differences that I still struggle with”


They were separated the first 6 years of their marriage and if you included the years they were dating—they were separated 10 years before she could immigrate. They were long distance for 10 years!

3. Surviving Military Spouse LifeCOMPASS was really helpful. is a life saver. It is an amazing class that includes spouse to spouse mentoring and covers topics such as how to read and LES, local attractions, and financial skills etc. 

I am a big advocate of military spouses finding careers…it is possible to have a career and love someone in the military…you have to adjust your expectations”


During her husbands last deployment, he was able to deploy with his son. Having them both come off the ship together was really special. Rachel’s advice to military spouses starting out is to know there are going to be some struggles. “The man you sent away may not be the same person you get back, and you have to learn to love this new person” – Rachel. This is especially true when they have gone through traumatic events and if they have PTSD. There are resources but sometimes they are limited. Plus there is all the stigma about going and getting help—especially while in the military.

PTSD is a natural and normal reaction—it is doing what it should do in response to a life threatening event”

Elizabeth Polinsky

Being diagnosed with PTSD can make you feel like you are broken. But it is like a button that is pushed on to where you are on alert for danger now. The button just stayed on when the person comes back. A lot of PTSD treatment is helping the body let go of that “on” button. When you partner has PTSD sometimes partner feel like the partner is broken  and want to help fix them. So you try to make sure you don’t do anything to harm and hurt them more. Even though he’s a manly man, you have to remember that your words can hurt him.

4. Surviving Relationship Changes

“I have known this man for 25 years of my life and we are still figuring it out” — Rachel. We have to re-negotiate the marriage contract as we go through different life stages and changes.

They are in the new phase of empty nesters. There is sometimes a lot of anxiety because when our kids leave, it will just be the two of us. Our lives will change. Plus there is worry about how the kids will do outside of the nest. This is actually one of the times where couples are the happiest. The part that is a struggle is when their relationship has become so much about the kids and family life–the relationship can get put to the side when the focus is on the kids. Coupes have to get to know each other again. This can be done through love maps—a concept from the Gottman’s at the Gottman Institute.

Part of reconnecting is having that same interest in them to get to know them—their fears and wants and desires.

Three Points that Can Help with the Transition to an Empty Nest: 

  • Tell your partner that your anxious about the changes in the relationship without the kids
  • Start showing an interest in learning about your partner again
  • Spend time together again as a couple; maybe find a hobby to do as a couple​

You are really dating multiple people throughout your marriage because you are both growing individually and as a couple…you have to update the mental maps of what your partner likes and who they are”

Elizabeth Polinsky 
Couple Cuddling on the Couch

5. Words of Wisdom from Rachel:

  1. Be flexible. Be open. Things won’t  be what you expected, but you can make it work. 
  2. Know you aren’t alone. If you don’t like your FRG, you can change it. Be the change you want to see in the world. 
  3. Keep your expectations realistic. There is no right way to do this. 
  4. Getting involved with a community outside of the online world will make things easier.

Liz’s Useful Links: 

Podcast Sponsor: The Relate Assessment is the most comprehensive relationship assessment in the world and is based on 10 predictors of marital stability. It’s supported by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and is the one my husband and I used during our premarital couples counseling. To get 20% off the assessment, go to and enter “POLINSKY20”.​

Thanks for Listening!


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    About Author

    Elizabeth Polinsky is a Certified Emotionally Focused Couple Therapist (EFT) providing EFT marriage counseling in the states of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Nevada. She also provides EFT training and supervision to therapists looking to become certified in EFT Couple Therapy. As a military spouse, she has a special passion for working with military and veteran couples, and is also the host of The Communicate & Connect Podcast for Military Relationships.


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