Re: Is this normal or are we headed downhill?
I can't speak about military relationships specifically. But I am in a long term relationship with a truck driver. We're having our own issues. But I think I can answer some of your questions.
I think the feeling of detachment is, in large part, due to the physical distance often between you. My boyfriend is gone for 2-4 weeks at a stretch and only home a couple of days. I often notice by the time he is due to come home, things start getting rocky for us, and if he's late getting home (he might be due home on Monday, but not get here until Wednesday or Friday), I begin to feel a bigger distance between us than the physical distance. He often ends up feeling the same way.
Our biggest problem has been lack of communication. It sounds like this may be part of your problem too. In our case, it's a matter of communication about our relationship and communication in general. We've both held back on discussing our feelings and our problems, which made our problems bigger. And we didn't have just plain old regular conversations, which led to both of us feeling more frustrated and distant and detached. I can't tell for sure from reading your post, but it does kind of sound similar.
My boyfriend and I sat down, over the last two and a half days or so, and ended up discussing all of this. It was hard. This is not an easy conversation to have. It's not easy to tell your partner "I'm not happy" and it's just as hard, if not harder to hear them say, "Neither am I". But have the conversation. Open that door and put it out there. It is hard to fix it when they're gone so much, I absolutely know where you're coming from there, but you'll never fix it and it'll only get worse (trust me, I know) if you don't try.
Start with e-mail if you have to. That's how I used to communicate with my boyfriend when I was feeling less than happy. I couldn't bring myself to say the words on the phone, so I would e-mail him my thoughts. It drove him nuts, but it was all I could do. I gradually got beyond that. Whether it's e-mail or phone or face-to-face is not what's important here. What's important is that you have that first conversation.
Now, as to actually fixing it, some of what my boyfriend and I are doing is: Talking more. We have both agreed to some ground rules for conversation. For us, with our situation, our rules needed to be that I would talk more, and that he would tell me if he wasn't interested in the topic and suggest something he was interested in, or he would at least tell me he was too distracted to talk. Otherwise, if I bring something up, we discuss it. Whether it's our relationship or just a general topic, doesn't matter.
We also agreed, since we both have found there are things the other does that are just driving us insane, is to point out those irritants. Bluntly. Yes, it's going to upset us to hear "That annoys me". And if it's a frequent thing we do yeah, hearing that is going to get annoying too, until the person stops doing it. But as he said, it's better than the alternative (the alternative being we continue to drive each other nuts and break up - not an option).
I think the job probably does have *some* to do with your problem, as it is very stressful and takes up a considerable amount of his time and thought processes. But, I also think that there are plenty of military couples out there who make it with no problem (or considerably less problems anyway), so I don't think it can be entirely blamed on the job. I think...maybe his being away makes it more pronounced? More noticeable than it would have been if he were home all the time? Just a thought there.
I do think you can fix it. Of course, I'm an optimist. I like to believe that anything can be fixed. I like to think love can conquer all and can be enough to get you through the rough times when you have nothing else. The key to fixing it, though, is communication, and both of you being willing. You each have to be open and receptive to change and some criticism.
And keep in mind, I have my own problems in my relationship, so my advice is far from perfect. But I hope I helped you a little bit.