I typically cringe when someone says “You know what you signed up for.” In a sense, you have a decent idea of what your life may resemble when you marry a service member. Of course there will be deployments, and visits with your family will become few and far between. This, you realize.
Except, it’s the moments you don’t plan for — like giving birth while your husband cuts in-and-out on Skype. It’s when your spouse is state side, but isn’t able to meet his newborn for several months. There are the sporadic deployments as well. My guy was once given hard orders on Friday, and was gone by Monday. As if we were a part of a sitcom, the plumbing was caput the following Wednesday. You might experience periods of time when you feel unemployable. Your resume may read like mine: Educated in Tennessee. First job in Washington, D.C., second in Georgia. Third in Florida. Fourth in California.
I can’t list every unique circumstance, though, because that list would turn into a novel. If you’re a Military Spouse reader, I have a suspicion you’ve experienced similar obstacles. Perhaps you have the ability to handle the rollercoaster with grace. Although, what’s worrisome is how often bitterness and resentment can surface. What about my plans? My career? My feelings? This can be an emotional ride to say the very least. For some, they’ll leap off once they see how it affects every facet of their lives.
What can you do? You’re not a legislator.
Armchair psychologists and social media therapists will proclaim that your happiness is supreme. Respectfully, I disagree. In marriage, self-fulfillment should be replaced with mutual fulfillment. When you’re operating as a team, you’re no longer numero uno. What’s damaging about the “follow your heart” mantra, especially for military spouses, is that you’re going to experience difficult days (and months). If you continue down that proverbial rabbit hole, chances are, you’ll eventually lose your partner and yourself.
On a sunny August day in San Diego, I sat across a table from Mark Gungor. If your husband or wife serves, there’s a chance you’ve listened to his seminar “Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage” at a marriage retreat. With more than a decade speaking to military families, he’s become acquainted with the challenges, and his advice is simple yet powerful: Let go, and accept this season of your lives.
“Don’t get this mentality that we’re military and our life just sucks because we go through what nobody else goes through. It’s not true. But the minute you start thinking like that, you’re going to get more self-centered and more pity for yourself [sic], and it’s going to have negative consequences.”
Gungor’s words may be tough to digest, though nevertheless true. As I speak with other wives, I notice how so many women feel as if they are in these figurative trenches. It’s understandable. But it’s how you channel those frustrations and overcome them that will make the biggest impact on your marriage.
During my husband’s time at the Pentagon, he had the privilege of serving with Chaplain Doyle Dunn. He has a Divinity degree from Southwestern Theological Seminary and a Master’s of Theology from Princeton. Chaplain Dunn has spent 30 years in pastoral care in the military setting, and offers four steps for those of us who are frustrated in our circle:
First, write a list of every challenge you’re experiencing. Chaplain Dunn says, “Many of those challenges are not as intimidating nor as insurmountable as they first appear.” Ask yourself what’s possible. If you have a degree to finish, can this be done online? Can you find employment that will contribute experience to your preferred career field?
Second, realize that the solution may not be easy; otherwise you wouldn’t be this frustrated.
Third, know that you’re not alone in this. He adds, “As personally frustrating as those challenges can be, accept the fact that you’re not being singled out.”
Last, you have to ignore negativity. You’ve met the spouses who nitpick and criticize everything. Take a close look, and you’ll see that many of them aren’t attaining their goals. Don’t fall into their trap of self-pity. Rather, seek positive guidance from “those who are successfully reaching their goals.” These are the type of people who persevere. They have the know-how and the gumption. Also, look to the professionals who are in place to specifically help with that type of challenge.
I’ll admit that I’ve ugly-cried a few times since I married into the Navy family. During our first year of marriage, we were separated for seven months. I gave birth without my partner by my side. We’ve also lived in six cities in five years. Despite those hindrances, and my weak moments, I realize how futile it is to imagine any other life. That’s not our reality. This is the life we chose—and that’s a freeing thought.
As hokey as it sounds, I view our relationship, family and his naval career as a garden. When you neglect your garden, it inevitably dies. It’s time and effort that makes a beautiful, thriving difference.
You may feel like one inconsequential person. But you’re not, and your support matters.
My husband, Tim, adds, “Your outlook and actions will affect your marriage, which, in turn, affects the spouse and their role in the military. Positive support from the spouse is a foundational strength for the deployed service member, whereas the opposite, the resentment, tears away from that same foundation. It puts worries about home in the service member’s mind, uncertainty and even fear into a place where they need stability in their absence.”
My husband also worked with Chaplain Aaron Carlton. He’s been serving in pastoral ministry since 1998, and has been a naval chaplain for the past 13 years. His advice is for you and your spouse to function as a team, and to shift your perspective. “The difference between a successful military family experience and a negative one is that both spouses can begin to recognize that this life is a total team effort. Once we get to a place where we are willing to say, ‘I cannot do this without you and we need and value each other‘ then we are approaching a truly interdependent team dynamic.”
One of the aspects of a functioning marriage is the ability to work together, while understanding each other’s circumstances. That goes for any relationship, military or not. Mark Gungor wrote in Becoming Compatible that, “The key to succeeding with anyone—business partners, friends, family, children and especially a spouse is understanding.”
Look at where they’re coming from. Remember you married a service member. During my talk with Gungor, he said, “When you marry a soldier, you’re marrying a soldier’s life. To get married to a soldier, and to get mad that he’s a soldier, is unfair to everybody.” And Sailors, Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, Coast Guardsmen—remember that your partner may have a tougher time than their fellow civilian counterparts. Give your husband or wife some grace and support. That’s your partner.
Let’s forget about what we’re missing, and let’s work on what is. As I’ve heard Mark Gungor say several times: Let’s do life together.