In true end-of-year fashion, it’s natural to find ourselves reminiscing over the previous months. For me, I reflect on my family and I think about certain points in the year that brought about significant changes. In particular, my mind drifts to my husband and what may have been the toughest season of his life so far.
There were moments where he felt pangs of discouragement and feelings of inadequacy. When you have a demanding career—hello, military life—it’s inevitable.
As a person who’s never donned the uniform, I wasn’t sure how to help him out of the murkiness. But, there’s one thing I know to be true. I’d be damned if he suffered alone.
Though tough days are synonymous with the human condition, I didn’t marry my husband to live on separate islands. Even if I was unable to change the circumstances, I would be by his side through it all. That’s what marriage is all about: Being a partner.
When your spouse isn’t able to see past the situation though, how do you do it?
1. Remind your spouse of their successes
However tempting, step away from the one-size-fits-all Osteen affirmations. What is it, specifically, that makes you proud of the man or woman you married? During my husband’s time in D.C., he served with Chaplain Todd Delaney, who’s now the Command Chaplain with the 1st Battalion/4TH Marines. He encourages spouses to “let them know what you genuinely admire them for (be honest—don’t just make stuff up).” It’s an intentional act that doesn’t require more than kindness and sincerity.
I also spoke with Robin Dyksterhouse, wife of CMC Rick Dyksterhouse. Robin may not realize it, but she’s a light for other military spouses—working alongside her husband, offering insight to a number of Naval couples in their area. She’s an example of grace and fortitude. As we spoke to one another, she said that during the tough times, she’ll remind her husband of his successes and why he does what he does.
She added “One of my personal goals in our marriage is to always make him look like a super hero to our girls and his Sailors.”
When my husband didn’t promote last cycle, it affected his confidence level in a way that I wasn’t expecting. The hurt was profound. With each passing day, for at least a month, I told him what I loved the most about him, no matter how silly. This ranged from his accolades as a sailor, him as a husband and as a father, to the afternoon he rescued a small turtle from several lanes of traffic.
2. Remind your spouse that this doesn’t define who they are
Chaplain Delaney’s counseling style is described as a “guided discussion.” His goal is to separate the service member and their identity from their current situation, because the circumstance shouldn’t define who they are. Once that’s understood, he shifts the discussion to their future. Where do you see yourself past today? What are your aspirations? Chaplain Delaney’s objective is to lead them in one direction. “My intent would be to help them see that the present is not the future,” he says.
3. Remind your spouse to find enjoyment
Perhaps your spouse isn’t ready to talk—or it’s not exactly their shtick. Different strokes for different folks, right? Look a little deeper into who they are as a person. I feel that the moment I understood my husband’s love language, a new world had unveiled itself. It was my big aha moment. Whereas I’m an affirmation girl, he’s an acts of service kind of guy.
Sherri Couples, wife of Pastor Eddie Couples of Love and Truth Ministries, says that when her husband faces times of discouragement, she removes him from the situation. In other words, they have fun together. Sherri says “We laugh together a lot, and that helps to get through the hard times. We also travel a lot when we can get away, because if he stays here in town, he’ll always have the church stuff on his mind and he’ll end up working. There is no such thing as a “Staycation” for us. It just won’t work.”
I also reached out to Rebekah Sanderlin, a journalist and communications professional who’s been married to her soldier for 15 years. In our conversation, she told me that her husband is a man’s man who isn’t comfortable showing vulnerability. “For us, what seems to work is to suggest that we go on a hike, a bike ride or long walk together. Maybe we’ll talk more about the thing that’s bothering him, maybe we won’t. My goal is not to get information from him. It’s to let him know that I’m there.”
4. Remind your spouse that there are chaplains in place counsel
Cyndi Hill is married to the Commanding Officer of the USS Portland LPD 27. As a former service member she has a unique perspective that so many of us lack. She understands the pressures, and because of that, she doesn’t take certain issues personally. Rather, she looks for ways to see her husband through. “I also encourage him to talk with the chaplain. He does, and I think that also helps him,” she says.
With clergy confidentiality privilege, chaplains provide confidential, emotional, and religious support to service members and their families. They’re able to address several areas between marital and relational matters to stress management, to grief and loss, and to military and work related issues. Contact your Command Chaplain. If you find yourself needing to speak to one on the weekend or during after-hours, you’ll find a list of Command Quarterdeck numbers available at www.public.navy.mil.
5. Remind your spouse that they aren’t alone
And with that, before I go to bed tonight, I want to ask you to do one thing. Tell your husband or wife that they’re not in this alone. When they married you, it should have come with the promise that they would never have to experience the vicissitudes by themselves. It’s for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part.