As a military spouse and professional counselor, my favorite thing is seeing military couples build a great marriage. In a lifestyle that is constantly changing and stressful, it is difficult to stay connected and thriving. Deployments, long work hours, and other types of separations interfere with family time and couple time. Experiences from deployment can often change the way a couples relate and handle stress.
Here are some common topics I hear from military couples in my counseling office, and suggestions I offer:
Our schedule makes it difficult to find time for each other.
A healthy marriage needs regular face-to-face time to keep a couple connected. Over time, the relationship can become more shoulder-to-shoulder, especially when children come along. It is imperative that you are intentional with the limited amount of time that you do have. Plan at least one uninterrupted ‘date’ each week (in advance) where all surface talk will be set aside. Commit to making your time positive. Refrain from resolving major conflict and be protective of these moments. Commit this time to encourage and build each other up rather than fixing problems.
Also, set boundaries at work when possible. Leave when they say you can leave, and set an example for your colleagues on investing in your family. Even if you feel your marriage has become more “back-to-back,” make intentional time to look each other in the eye. You will be surprised how quickly your spark comes back.
We have grown apart after frequent separations.
Needing our spouse often gets a bad rap, as if it somehow makes us actually “needy.” The truth is, couples get married because their spouse adds something of value to their life. Take them away, and something will be missing. You have powerful influence into your spouse’s self-confidence and sense of value. Much of that happens when there is a place for them in the home and the relationship.
After many separations, couples grow used to having separate lives, which causes conflict or a quiet distance between them. Starting a new pattern will be difficult, as the spouse at home relinquishes control and the service member tries to re-engage. It is not an issue of who does it better, but whether you feel you are a team. Although this isn’t true in every case, men typically understand love through feeling respected, while women do through emotional connection. Talk about sharing more responsibilities shoulder-to-shoulder, as well as meeting needs that are more intimate.
My service member’s traumatic experience in the military has changed us as a couple.
Anytime life hands us something unexpected, it creates an opportunity to grow and change as a couple. If your spouse has been through something traumatic, professional help for one, or both, of you may be necessary. Many spouses struggle with resentment and anger that professional counseling will help with. Flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance behavior, and irritability makes any couple feel they’ve been robbed of the relationship they had before. There are treatments available that lessen current anxiety and help manage the memories that often surface.
Support in your community will also be important for both of you. Consider looking into groups of other spouses who are in your situation, as well as other veterans or battle buddies, if you are a service member.
My spouse refuses to go to counseling with me.
It takes two to work on a marriage. Having goals and working on them together will set you on a path to grow and mature as a couple. If your spouse is not ready, or is resistant to marriage counseling, consider going on your own. Working on your own personal goals and learning healthy boundaries will ensure that you are making healthy decisions during a difficult time. The hardest part of marriage is having no control over the choices your spouse makes. Sometimes, when your spouse sees you growing and making changes, it will trigger them to want to grow as well.
If the problem is getting your service member help off the installation, make an appointment for marriage counseling as the dependent, and have your service member join you. This helps with avoiding any red tape that could slow the process down for them.
I believe marriage is the greatest asset we have as military couples. It offers stability to a lifestyle of uncertainty. When we invest intentionally, it becomes a “home” that never changes, a safe place when times are difficult. Your marriage should always be growing, with new goals and ways to improve. Commit to creating opportunities for face-to-face time and make it a priority. You have great influence in breathing new hope and life into your spouse.
My motto? Start simply, but simply start.
What ways do you put effort in to your military marriage?
Posted by Corie Weathers, LPC, 2015 Armed Forces Ins. Military Spouse of the Year and host of Lifegiver Military Spouse Podcast