Where is your attention most of the day?  What concerns, thoughts, worries, and fears consume you most of the day?  And where do you take them?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.  In the last year, I got to a place where I was getting tired of “me”.  Having a “profile” about me, a website about me, me, me, me…. after a while it felt like everything I was trying to “keep up with” had my name all over it. Not just because I have a job that requires me to communicate, but just the state of our social media focused world, lately.
 If you are on social media, I’m sure you feel it too.  If you have teens, they are feeling it in ways we as parents don’t even understand.   The growing anxiety to put out content, rack up likes and subscriptions to Youtube channels, etc is forming us and our children- daily.  We are molding idols of ourselves.
Did you know that teens right now have “influencer” at the top of their list as the number one career choice?  That’s right… a social media “influencer”.  Even worse, Gen Z is now saying that a college education isn’t as necessary as it was in our generation (parents).  Now, you can get by on charisma and numbers alone.  But kids and adults are dying inside and a piece of me has been too.
And then I found this verse in Psalms,
“The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by the hands of men.  They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths.  Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.”
So…  we become what we worship- or at least taking on the likeness of whatever it is.  Isn’t that the way it is supposed to be though?  If I seek after God, isn’t my goal to become more like him?  To share in his heart for the world and be moved by the things He is moved by?  Wouldn’t it make sense other idols do the same?
So then what are you worshiping?  I realized I was worshiping a couples of things:
  1.  Me.  That’s hard to confess, but I’m sure I’m not alone.  It’s not that I had a prideful heart necessarily, I am largely driven by serving others.  However, it has been tempting to compete with “influencers” by putting out content, marketing myself, profiles with my name on them, monitoring those, etc.  I’m not saying those tools are inherently bad- but if I am more focused on what the number of likes says about my level of “influence” and how I can get my name out there- that’s a red flag for me.  One thing that I have been gauging my heart is something I heard from Francis Chan.  He actually left his ministry and shut down his social media accounts after he walked into an event to speak and realized he was more excited about the people coming to see him than what he was prepared to teach on.  If I make myself an idol, what does it mean for me to become more of what I am worshiping- more full of myself.  That scares me to high heaven.  That, my friends, is an ugly disaster coming at full speed.  I’m so scared of that- it makes me willing to shut it all down everyday if that is what I need to do.
  2.  Devices.  I don’t think I need to say a lot on this one because you feel it too.  We can’t put them down.  We want to be all things to all people, there for anyone in the world to contact us and sacrificing our families to respond.  And most of us as parents are hypocrites.  We tell our children that social media is “unsafe”, will suck them in, that they aren’t developmentally prepared for it, but then can’t put it down ourselves.  Why is a friend from 5 years ago that you met in passing (and will likely never see again) worth your time over the child in front of you?  Calm down, now… it’s me too.  Maybe that defensiveness is a red flag.  You know what it looks like to become our devices as we worship them?  Exactly what Psalms tells us.  We will be so consumed with everything NON-IMPORTANT that we will miss it- everything.  We won’t see the life in front of us, experience joy, we will miss God because we won’t see him, hear him, feel him.  All because we couldn’t put down a damn phone.  How do I stand before him someday and explain that?  We have become the machines we hold CONSTANTLY in our hands.
  3. Others.  Yep- it is possible to worship other people as idols.  We chase after their acceptance.  Now that I am in my forties, I get what everyone said about just not caring anymore.  My 30’s were exhausting.  Partly for the right reasons like raising my family and working hard, but you know what I lost a TON of energy on?  Other people’s opinions that didn’t matter.  Your reputation matters, integrity matters.  You know what doesn’t matter?  Your parents’ opinion on a calling you KNOW God has placed on your life.  Your boss’s misunderstanding of what you KNOW to be true.  Someone else’s reaction to you speaking truth in kindness.  And it is their opinion that holds you back from being your true, good self (after you have gone to the real God in your life that is the source of that truth.  **Note, if you just go on your own strength and opinion you are likely stuck in #1 above- you- so watch out.) My point here is that I have given so much power to previous bosses, spiteful women (that’s the worst), family, and even my own husband to have more influence in my life and self-worth than the one who created me- and I’d like to do better.  Worshiping other people makes us only more consumed by their opinions.  We become erratic, paranoid, and lose the influence God had planned for us.  Simply because we chased other people thinking it would get us where we need to go.  Nope- “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” Prov 16:9
This year, I started to make a transition away from “me”.  I kept my main website for those who need to search for me for events, but I switched my content over to Life-giver.org as a way to build it into a community page of content.  A place for everyone.  It is exhausting to compete with “influencers” and I only want to influence others toward wholeness.
If you see me making changes this year its because I have two amazing teen boys that deserve every bit of my attention to get them ready to live in a world that will eat them alive if I don’t train them. I’m also going to be more bold than I was before and I know I will lose listeners. I’m okay with that now because the truth I am called to deliver is more powerful than my opinion.  God is growing me in confidence of Him.  I will definitely mess up, but I will own it because I am not a god- thank goodness.  It is way too exhausting of a job description, so I think I’ll quit that one.

By Dinah A. Dziolek, LMHC, LPC

Corie Weather’s interview with Sarah Drew was very authentic. It really connected the issue of pain and suffering, grief with service life. Sarah was vulnerable about her own grief with leaving one phase of her work with Grey’s Anatomy to move into a different and wonderful season of her career and life. She talked about how the “in between” of waiting and slowing down was difficult for her because she loves staying busy with work but saw it as a great opportunity to take care of herself and spend time with her family. Corie mentions the fear of the unknown within this period of waiting, not knowing what is coming next and relates it to military and first responder spouses’ experiences with military and service cultures. Corie explains that we as service spouses are faced with the “in-between” of waiting and the uncertainty of what is coming next with the ongoing work of serving the military mission and local community. She states for service spouses, finding the time for self-care is very difficult while balancing the demands of service life and family.

They talked about a very emotional scene Sarah plays as April in Grey’s Anatomy and how powerful that was from a faith perspective. Sarah explained she was able to help shape the role of April with writers and she felt personally connected out of her own experience as growing up as a pastor’s daughter. She said this role was very important and she felt great responsibility to represent April well from a Christian perspective as a loving human of faith. She explained, when it comes to pain, God is not indifferent to our pain and suffering and we have a brother in Jesus who knows and has experienced suffering just as we do. She went onto to say, as people of faith, suffering is guaranteed. Corie connected this with the Christian protestant community explaining that people have an expectation that choosing to live out faith means life will be easier but in actuality suffering is our reality and something we must embrace in order to grow and mature in our faith. Sarah then talks about how this scene from Grey’s Anatomy with April and this patient who is dying had a tremendous impact on people of faith in her community. She goes onto to talk about how she loves being a bridge builder and loved seeing how this particular scene really brought people of different faith backgrounds together.

Sarah talked about how her work in this film really hit home for her because she related it with the struggles she has had in her own marriage, how internally she silently struggled and how therapy shed light on the pain and helped her and her husband work through it to heal as a couple. She talks about how fear and shame hold us back from shedding light on our inner pain and suffering in the same way Heather struggled in this film. Sarah explained how she had always searched for a role in which she could tell her story of struggle and this was it for her. Corie went onto talk about this is especially relevant for Chaplain and Leadership couples within the military culture. She talks about how when she became vulnerable about her marriage struggles that people were amazed to discover she struggled with the same things they did and that sparked conversations about how Commander Couples may struggle as well. The kitchen scene was especially realistic and authentic for many military and service couples. They close the interview with Sarah talking about her experience as a pastor’s daughter watching her parents struggle in their marriage and have difficulty with being vulnerable about that out of the fear of being judged. She realized that being vulnerable in her role as Heather, the Chaplain’s wife, was so powerful in that it allowed her to let other people see that struggle and pain.

This film is truly the story of our military and service families and their inner struggles from the sacrifices of military and service life. As a chaplain’s wife watching the film with my husband, an Active Duty Air Force Chaplain was powerful.  It really hit home in many ways. In fact, even before I had the opportunity to prescreen the film, my husband and I were watching this particular interview over lunch at his favorite restaurant and this was at a point where we were struggling with reintegrating from his recent one year overseas assignment and subsequent PCS. We both listened intently as Corie and Sarah talked through the interview and when they brought up the kitchen scene my husband asked what it was about, as he had not seen the trailer. I described it to him in vivid detail as I began to cry in the middle of that restaurant, because this was our story too. He began to cry and told me “I’m not that guy.” This was the beginning of a turning point for us in the chaos of our “in-between” reintegration experience. We started giving the other the opportunity to understand the other person’s experience without judgment which brought us closer as a couple. We have always been friends but now we were back to being close as best friends. I have also felt the struggle with being vulnerable as a chaplain’s wife. I have chosen to be very open about my life and my struggles and have felt judgment for this. I think this is something that many chaplain and pastor’s spouses experience.  From my perspective, the reward of seeing people come to healing is worth the fear and pain of being judged. The reality is, judgement happens all the time, whether we are vulnerable or not. However, being honest about our pain and suffering, no matter who we are, is something that transcends all of that. It is the power of being in community and growing together. THIS is the most important part of all, my friends. I hope the message of this interview and the film INDIVISIBLE encourages you to step out of your comfort zone to bring you and the people in your community to a place of healing.

As the wife of an active duty chaplain and a licensed professional counselor, I work with military and first responder couples.

Every single day, I see men and women who struggle with what we call the “invisible wounds of war.” This is more than a battle against the memories of many harrowing experiences. It’s a battle for their soul, where they’re struggling to find peace and normalcy and to resist the temptation to harbor anger and bitterness and to isolate themselves from their community.

It’s a battle to live a life most of us take as a right. But for far too many people, their experiences on the front lines of conflict wall them off from help, hope and healing.

The term we typically hear is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder—PTSD—but it can be so many other things. Guilt. Shame. Fear. Anger. Pent-up emotions. The “invisible wounds” come in so many forms.

And while we may not see these wounds, their effects are real: Inner turmoil. Family strife. Mental health challenges. Physical health challenges.

The effects can be deadly. The statistics are staggering.

Over 20 military veterans or active duty service members commit suicide every day. And while these groups comprise just 8.5 percent of the U.S. adult population, they are 18 percent of suicide deaths.

That’s more than 7,500 lives lost each year.

The non-fatal effects of war’s invisible wounds run deep and wide as well.

Marriages feel the strain. Relationships with friends suffer. Withdrawal and isolation looms constantly. Harmful or self-destruction behavior often results.

But just as these wounds can come from unexpected sources, help can be found in unexpected places.

I recently saw a film that not only put this in perspective for those of us who have not experienced what our service members and first responders have, it pointed a way toward hope.

The film—Unbroken: Path to Redemption—tells the amazing true story of Louis “Louie” Zamperini as he returns home from unbelievably harsh experiences in World War II. Many remember the first film—Unbroken—that told of his troubled teen years, experience as an Olympic athlete, surviving the crash of his bomber and spending 47 days in a life raft and, of course, his heroic endurance in the face of brutal treatment as a P.O.W.

But there’s an important “Part II” to Louie’s story that’s told in Unbroken: Path to Redemption. It asks the question we all want to hear answered: How does someone go to war and see the worst of humanity then come home and try to fit into a normal life?

Tormented by nightmares of his brutalization, Louie struggled with alcoholism, engaged in reckless and dangerous behavior and took his marriage to a wife who loved him deeply to the brink of divorce. Then at the famous 1949 Billy Graham tent revival in Los Angeles, Louie found faith.

What he did next was perhaps the most remarkable accomplishment in an already remarkable life.

He returned to Japan and forgave his captors.

After years of suffering, forgiveness formed the balm for his invisible wounds.

Louie’s story is about choosing life and, ultimately, about the role forgiveness plays our own personal story, no matter how challenging it has been.

Even if you’ve no connection to the military, Louie’s story will restore your faith in humanity. Despite the evil and destruction we are capable of, forgiveness and mercy are the antidote that inspires us to see the best of what we have to offer.

UNBROKEN: PATH TO REDEPMPTION is in theaters nationwide now. Find tickets at UnbrokenFilm.com.

FOR INFORMATION CONTACT:                                                        

Michael Conrad, 214-616-0320

Michael@Lovell-Fairchild.com

 

The deepest hurts of marriage are often deeper than the current circumstances. Instead, it is the fear that perhaps we are so different there is no hope. Personality differences that once attracted you to each other now drive a wedge. Even deeper, it is the resentment that now, dangerously, wishes your spouse was different than who they are.

I remember the moment I looked at my now husband and thought “I want to marry that man.” We were in college, and while I had planned out my future with great responsibility and detail, he was still deciding on a major.

He was an artist, a dreamer. He was deeply passionate about life and balanced my Type-A side that wanted to wrestle life into order. While he saw me as a power suit, I was in awe of his carefree, carpe diem outlook on life.

We, like most couples, found something in each other that was missing in ourselves. I was the “yang” to his “yin” — perfect for each other while also two opposite extremes that combust when as asked to work together. Marriage has a great way of revealing that dynamic in a relationship, doesn’t it?

Most marriages I come across have a similar dynamic. Most of the time opposites really do attract. Maybe you are an introvert married to an extrovert, or a highly organized person married to someone who wants no rules.

But these opposite characteristics that once attracted us can over time create huge relationship frustration. And, In many cases, that frustration is the cause of deep hurt.

In my work as a military marriage therapist, I often see couples with one specific personality combination: the service member is highly disciplined and logical, and his spouse is incredibly empathetic.

Military training has taught the service member that pausing a mission to talk about each others’ feelings gets people killed. In military strategy, emotions simply do not hold the value they do on the outside, especially at home. But because service members often marry their deeply empathetic opposite, the military spouse puts high value on those emotions. It is how we as spouses tend to make parenting decisions and communicate in our relationships.

Although every couple is unique in how their personalities conflict, I see again and again supporting spouses who say “he is cold” or doesn’t “value my feelings.” Many spouses tell me that they often agree with his logic, they just want to know that he also hears, relates, and can feel the feelings of those impacted by his decision. But from his perspective, he listened and doesn’t know how to value your feelings any more than he already did.

And now the couple is hurting — and they wish the other was different. And because they have been here so many times before, the discouragement is real. Things never change. They never change.

So, how do most react? We beg. We beg our partner to learn, change and be different, because it is so hard to be married to someone who simply “must be hurting me on purpose.”  

It is a crazy cycle of triggering each other into bad habits and reactions, only to push them into feeling deeply ashamed of who they are. Afterall, how does one magically turn into a different person to make their spouse happy again?

Even while doing it, most people know that begging their spouse to be someone they are not doesn’t get them closer to their goal. So how do you come to terms with your partner and accept who he or she already is while also working on your relationship and happiness?

You stop begging.

Assuming your challenges are the result of personality differences and not destructive behavioral decisions like addiction, there is a simple way to navigate your way out of begging and into helpful relationship building.

Even easier? It is also an acronym — BEG — to help you stop in the moment and ask a few questions.

Balance: Have I lost sight of our balance? Remember your spouse has strengths that you do not, and vice versa. Combustion does not have to be the result of the two of you coming together on any issue. Look for how his strengths add value rather than assuming your way is the best and right way. The power of yin and yang is that opposites actually balance each other in the most healthy, often pure way.

Extreme: Is your ask extreme? I often hear the questions  “Am I asking for too much?” or “Is it just me?” To answer that, ask yourself if your expectations are extreme. Are you asking your spouse to fill a void he or she can’t possibly fill? Hint: if your ask requires them to be mind readers, be perfect or be God, then the answer is “yes.”

If you can say that your expectations are healthy and you simply need them to show more affection than they naturally do, then you can safely assume you aren’t asking too much, and now you have a starting point.

Grace: How can I extend grace? Grace is giving someone mercy even when you feel they don’t deserve it . Having strengths means we also have weaknesses — we simply cannot be a rockstar at everything. Have grace for your spouse in the areas that do not come naturally to him or her. Teach ways to easily meet those needs for you rather than waiting for them to be as awesome as you are. Chances are you will need that person’s grace just as much tomorrow when he or she is asking you to change.

As much as sometimes  I would love to sometimes beg my husband to be more like me, if I’m honest I really don’t want that. I love that he makes me put down my calendar and I (sometimes) love that he pushes me to think outside our budget. I need that in my life, or I would turn into the most selfish version of myself.

So perhaps today, I will try a little harder to do some of the things that are important to him and we just might see the value in this thing called marriage.

There is a moment in parenting where you realize that you no longer have the advantage and you now know absolutely nothing. For me, it was the moment I was schooled by my kids on the new word for “cool”, which is now “savage”.  Savage? Really? What followed was daily lessons of new social rules and slang.

Trying to figure out the new world of pre-teen/teen is like my first few years as a new mom. You second guess everything and it seems like they are going to hit their head on every corner, or in this case be emotionally rejected on a daily basis. How do our military kids do this?    

Generation Z, born from the mid-90s to around 2012, is already swinging the pendulum like every generation before them. According to my interview with Gary Allan Taylor from Axis, this group would “rather lose their sense of smell than their digital device.”*

Now before you freak out (I did), we adults aren’t doing so great in that department either.  Unlike the Millenials before them, Gary Allan said Gen Z kids value the importance of family even more than career. This could be because they have watched their parents live out a heavy work ethic to secure the house, career, and status (maybe even our social media status).  Considering it is their parents “work ethic centric” generation that is running the academic generation, is it any wonder that anxiety and depression is on the rise for these students? High school graduation requirements look more like college and grades/SAT scores are no longer enough. “Family” sounds like a good direction for the pendulum.

Even bullying has changed. Both civilian and military parents have told me their Gen Zs have started to disconnect by putting in their earbuds to avoid interaction with aggressive kids, much like adults do on the subway. I think I would put my earbuds in, too.

When it comes to military kid Gen Zs most adults I’ve spoken with agree that much of their character has been shaped by overcoming difficulty and rejection, resulting in more mature and confident kids. Many are often more comfortable around adults than kids their age.  

But that doesn’t mean they don’t need connection with their peers. All kids gravitate towards peers developmentally, which makes our military teens even more desperate for it. Yet, as I’ve experienced and heard from other military parents, that’s especially challenging in a civilian school where peer groups formed over years of neighborhood cookouts and team sports.  It is difficult to advance in athletic skill with frequent moves or their sport of choice isn’t easily accessible.

Gen Z’s have massive amounts of information at their fingertips.  Gary Alan said in our interview that they rely more on internet research and their peer group than authority for figuring out their way ahead.  However, our military kids are struggling to find that peer group and say they feel either completely ignored or bullied for their attempt to insert themselves.

The concern here is that some military Gen Z kids would almost rather not form peer relationships at all than address rejection, bullying, or the effort to assimilate when they will eventually leave anyways.

If you are like me and need encouragement (in most cases every week), here is what I have heard from reaching out to parents and experts in my current “Raising Gen Z’s” series on the LIfegiver Podcast.

  1. Family:  The fact that Gen Z kids are valuing family more than ever makes it easier to plan intentional family time to talk about being a Gen Z Military kid.  As much as they are connected to their devices, they will likely not complain after you have agreed to set all devices down for a game night.  (Expect full tantrums beforehand, though).
  2. It really will be ok:  The other day, I spoke with a military brat who is entering her senior year of college.  She was brilliant. Brilliant in her social skills and maturity. She told me how prepared she was for the academic load of school, but more so for the rhythm she developed over the years to assimilate while civilian students around her fell apart. Even better, she described detaching from an unhealthy peer group because she realized her maturity made her a better leader than a follower- WOW!
  3. Speaking of leadershipOne civilian parenting expert I interviewed, pointed out that our kids’ intensity while assimilating into the school system has a lot more to do with their leadership potential.  This really encouraged me to redirect my kids’ emotional energy towards leading rather than following as a means of fitting in. This next school year, we hope to have the boys be military kid ambassadors for incoming students.
  4. Wise Connections– Perhaps the answer for our kids isn’t assimilating the way we would “back in the day”.  In a culture where bullying or meanness is ramping up, why not encourage our kids towards smaller circles?  A few close friends is not only realistic, but models what adults do.

I’ve looked forward to this season with my kids for a long time.  I enjoy the dialogue, the jokes around the table, and watching them evolve into awesome bigger people. Parenting the next generation has been a lot harder than I thought, especially with the challenges of the military lifestyle.  I know every parent in the history of the world has said that, but I now see the importance of educating myself. Even if that means my kids will be the ones to school me- memes and all.

* Taken from my interview with Axis.org on Gen Z

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The truth is that many of us have been in receive mode for far too long.

For the past five years I’ve watched the military tradition of mentoring fade or be attacked as unnecessary.

Our most senior spouses have told me over many cups of coffee why they believe that is. And it starts with where the tradition of mentoring came from.

World War II, Korea and Vietnam-era spouses lacked the programming we have today. To figure out how to navigate this lifestyle, they pioneered the coffee groups and clubs we so often think of as “old school.” They created a system out of nothing and a community now known for its tight knit support.

And for many years we gleaned from their mentoring, wisdom and servant hearts.They passed down etiquette, the art of asking for help and even tradition that our culture had otherwise long forgotten. I can look back now and see how fat and happy I got from the endless pouring out they did into my life and the lives of others around me.

But then things changed. The world changed, and war changed us. Social interaction became digital and deployment tempos exhausted everyone.

We relied on funding to keep the programs going. We didn’t need those volunteer dependent coffee and spouse groups anymore. But when the money disappeared, we found ourselves where we are today: multiple generations weary, sitting in our homes like self-licking ice cream cones needing more than we can offer.

But now that change is coming again, and it needs you. Think you’re not qualified? Here’s how to know you actually are.

You have been in this lifestyle for at least one assignment. This could be two years or five, but chances are you know the importance of an ID card, how to get on the installation, or what a commissary is.

You have been through a deployment. There are many spouses who are hearing about deployment orders for the very first time. Do you remember how you felt when that happened?  A kind word, a few strategies, and you have powerful influence.

You have experienced a PCS and lived to tell about it. There are endless blog posts out there about how to navigate getting your household goods across the country, but a few tips over a cup of coffee will settle anyone’s nerves.

You have experienced the warmth of someone opening their home for a meeting. Remember when people actually invited you into their homes? Having social events at restaurants are convenient and have their place, but nothing is more vulnerable and inviting than being in someone’s home, not to mention easier to have conversation in. Make it a potluck or cater to keep it easy, but put down Pinterest and invite people back in.

You remember when readiness groups were a positive thing. Believe it or not, there are still installations and tight knit units that have hugely successful readiness groups. They still see it as crucial to their wellbeing. One of my favorite mentors told me when I came in as a new military spouse, “If you don’t like it, be part of making it better.”

Complain all you want about lack of funding or generations before you or after you, but the truth is that we all need each other. We always did — we just got distracted. Like the generation before us, it is time to build up what we find lacking. Without blame or indignation, we need to raise each other up, each lifting the weary one next to us until that one can reach out as well.

Experiencing the loneliness caused by a lack of camaraderie, direction and purpose will make anyone long for people again. It’s like a deployment. When your spouse has been gone for a long time you can actually experience what is called “skin hunger,” that physical hunger for a safe hug or touch. My biggest hope is that our community has been without it for long enough and we will not see it disintegrate further.

You might be wondering how you can be expected to give back and support others when you’re just so exhausted.

Although you may feel like you have nothing to offer, but mentoring does not have to involve a commitment of hours each week. The most influential moments I have had required little effort or commitment from a mentor. One spouse brought me a specialty cup of coffee during a deployment when it was nap time for my toddler. Another held me accountable to not overcommit during a deployment. Another let me co-host a coffee so I could learn how.

A change is coming and I hope you will join me in making a difference where someone once did for you.

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A few weeks ago, a seasoned military spouse well into retirement asked a question that threw me: “What traditions have you and your husband created for your family?”

It was a simple question to which I gave a simple answer. For Christmas each year, we drive around looking at Christmas lights in our pajamas with hot cocoa.

But in the days that followed, I wrestled with my limited answer.

In reality, the frustration of trying to recreate traditions wherever the Armysends us has caused us to give up on many of the ones my husband and I grew up with.

Frequent moves, deployments and military separations have created a mixed bag of experiences over the years that rarely live up to “tradition.”

During some assignments, for example, being too far away made it impossible to be with family during any holiday — so we were on our own, blending our traditions with those of other military families.

We’re in the middle of a permanent change of station this year, and I have been sad to realize that I have become apathetic. This is our third PCS in a row over the holidays. After a while, mustering the energy to pull off an amazing Christmas experience while exhausted is just more exhausting.

And it’s not just Christmas. Winning “Mom of the Year” is impossible when your child is the new kid at school and you feel the pressure to top last year’s Pinterest-inspired party.

One year over a deployed Easter, my young children fought dressing up, going to church and egg hunting. I had a near breakdown trying to make Easter feel like “Easter.” My attempts to make up for the lack of traditional elements seemed only to make everyone miserable and me a lot less fun to be around. And, of course, that paled in comparison to my husband’s experience of the holiday overseas.

So it’s no wonder I didn’t have a better answer to my friend’s simple question.

I realize now that some of my motivation to have and keep traditions has been more about overcompensating for the guilt that I can’t offer all the traditions my husband and I grew up with.

Rather than asking what activities would bring meaning and togetherness to our little family in the moment, I have been caught up in someone else’s definition.

So what can I do about that? And what can you do about your traditions — or lack thereof?

My “aha” moment was the realization that my husband and I needed to be more intentional at creating the traditions that make sense for our military family — a task that takes communication.

Over the years of trying to fit in traditions, Matt and I have not actually discussed what traditions are most important to each of us. We have not talked about what makes Christmas feel like Christmas, what activities make us feel most together or bring us the most meaning, or what activities we want to be more intentional about doing regularly and which ones are only adding more stress.

Tradition finds its roots in upbringing and culture. Matt and I learned this quickly during our first marital conflict 18 years ago over whether banana pudding should be served cold or hot. His parents, born and raised in the south, served it no other way than warm. Mine, raised in the midwest, served it cold. Of course, we both brought those beliefs into the marriage with us.

As silly as that sounds, all of us bring beliefs and ideas of what defines “family,” as well as the activities that symbolize togetherness and meaning.

Trying to form one definition in marriage when there are deep emotions attached is challenging for any couple. The military lifestyle can make it even more difficult to let go of or make changes to traditions that shake your beliefs and values — like my attempt to force Easter tradition during a very challenging time for our young family.

Freedom for me, and relief for Matt, is learning that tradition motivated by “I have to” is more of a prison than a celebration for all of us. It is an over-ritualization that takes away more than it gives.

Smaller traditions I have not thought of in years are beginning to stand out as more valuable, emotional and sentimental than ever — such as large Sunday meals together (known as “supper” in the south). These are the reminders that not all traditions we grow up with should be forgotten.

Instead, they can be enjoyed even more when we get to be a part of them. And some are quite doable and realistic, which makes them even more endearing when military life can throw you curveballs.

I had also not appreciated some of the powerful traditions we have already created that have brought us memories of connection and laughter.

Every PCS, we celebrate our first night in a new home with Chinese takeout. We’ve replaced birthday parties with a family day where we celebrate that individual for an entire day. And, lately, brave days at a new school are celebrated with frozen yogurt and conversations about courage.

Perhaps part of growing up is the reminder that we must choose to embrace difficulty with creativity rather than resentment.

There are some traditions that I will continue to grieve as they may not be possible for our military family. Yet, in their place is the opportunity to decide for ourselves who we are and what is most important to us. This can be exciting and full of new adventures if I allow it.

And even more rewarding? The knowledge that someday I will pass down to my own children the truth that traditions are more about the people they bring together than anything else.

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I put on my old watch today.  My normal routine is to wake up, drink a cup of coffee, or three, and then when I can’t put it off any longer, take my digital watch off its charger and start the day. That moment says a lot of things. It tracks my steps, my heart rate on the treadmill, and makes sure I never miss anything.  I don’t miss texts from my husband, can access email if necessary.  I can completely stay connected all the time, everywhere.
Except as I decided to put on my old TAG watch this morning, I realized I’ve missed everything.
The time was right, which was a personal achievement that I had at least worn it since the last time change.  But the date was wrong because it is part of an archaic system of winding the hands of the clock to set it correctly. These watches take effort to stay connected. It said it was the 12th of something and definitely not from this month. Here it was the 22nd which meant I had not lost ten days but more like months and ten days.  As I wound the hands of this time piece, I thought of everything that had likely happened during those endless hours.  Winding a clock like that you really get a sense of how much time really does fly by.  My digital watch never makes me do that.
While I had been busy staring at emails and deadlines, somewhere in there were football games for my boys, and deep meaningful conversations with a person across the table from me, a new niece born into this world.  My digital timepiece offered false connection and anxiety and sold it as convenience.  How many conversations had I been distracted by the “tap tap” of my watch, saying something or someone was more important than who I was in front of?
No doubt the engineers of my digital watch worked for years to make a lightweight version that I would hopefully not even notice, except for every second CNN buzzes my wrist to let me know that people are drinking more water than ever considering infused water with mint on the trend.
No,  this watch is heavier.  Made from metal with a mother of pearl face.  Engraved with a love note from my husband on our first Christmas together.  It is weighty.  Like the time I have left with my boys, enjoying an active lifestyle, and moments to get it right in my marriage.
So much more is weighing me down than ever before.  But the right kind of weight.  The heaviness on your heart that feels right, sober, even lucid.  Seeing the world for what it is- a big mess of sin, neediness, and problems that will likely only go away once we step into the glorious light of heaven where it all vanishes in the radiance of a God that never fails.  And that my part in all of it isn’t to save it, but to enjoy the process of discovering God’s goodness right in front of me.  My children discovering courage on the field, my marriage practicing grace again and again, maybe even a walk in the woods without thinking about my heart rate for once.
As I wind my watch to sync it with today, I’m so grateful for the shared history it represents.  I’m so grateful for more “time” to be better, to get it “right” whatever that means.  To embrace my today and be a little bit more present with what matters. I think today I’ll go against what the world says and put on the watch that represents my story.  An intentional decision to be who I know I am instead of who the wold says I “could” be, “should” be.  No, today, I think I’ll take the time to connect differently.

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What happens when you take a woman who serves in the shadows, who is terrified of success and who is flawed like everyone else, and thrust her into the spotlight?

I have tried many times to communicate what I have learned in the almost three years since I was named 2015 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year, but words cannot contain it.

I have learned about my own strength, the crippling power of my own weakness, and both the ugliness and beauty that exists in community.

That intense character growth in such a short time often felt as if I were in a never-ending free fall, while still trying to accomplish everyday tasks.

I am forever grateful for the award and the doors it opened, but even more for the doors it exposed in my heart that I had not noticed.

Here is some of what I see now that I couldn’t see before.

There is great wisdom in listening and learning from those with different viewpoints.

We are often limited by our own points of view.

For years, I served “boots on the ground” as a volunteer at events and programming. When you are new to the military, you tend to see all the ways the institution could be doing things differently or better. We rally to make things more modern or culturally relevant. We advocate from the ground up, frustrated by leadership who may not share the same passion.

This approach is not necessarily wrong. In fact, the next generation can be crucial to any institution’s success. Good leadership must listen to those it leads, but there is great wisdom from those who have gone before us.

My experience of sitting at the table with wives of generals and mentors who have lived this life for close to 30 years has been eye-opening.

If we would only listen, there are incredible stories of courage and fierce advocacy that led to the benefits we now freely critique.

I have been in awe of the character that has been shaped by years of hard work, sacrifice and maturity of our most senior spouses. Each generation carries unique challenges and victories that are meant to be celebrated together.

We all must listen more.

The military lifestyle can bring out the best or worst in you.

As I have listened to your stories, I have heard of both victories and devastation.

I have seen military spouses do incredible things in their local communities and installations, start their own businesses, advocate on Capitol Hill and run organizations that serve thousands of people in need.

The military spouse community is a fierce force to be reckoned with when they are at their best.

But this lifestyle also has a way of sneaking resentment and pride into our hearts before we can even say “America.” In my own life, I vulnerably share in my book “Sacred Spaces” how it impacted my marriage.

The response from the military spouse community has only confirmed what an epidemic this really is. When you spend most of your life feeling out of control, you will control everything you can get your hands on. This inner tension can eventually breed resentment and bitterness if you don’t keep a close watch on it.

While there are thousands of military spouses doing great things with a healthy internal drive, there are others who are fueled by the need to have control.

The only way to truly succeed at whatever we have a desire to do is to keep a light on those dark corners, maintain our priorities and be open to truth from those around you.

I would have lost everything had I not held onto my faith, listened to my husband and given key friends access to my inner world.

Outside forces will tempt you away from what will bring you joy.

There are few things on this planet that can bring you real joy.

We think it is found in success, our kids’ success, promotion, financial freedom or popularity.

But I can assure you it is not. It is not found in being relevant, the number of likes in social media, paid gigs or even service to others.

I have learned in the last few years that there is an enemy that will distract you if he cannot destroy you — and I promise you his goal is to destroy you.

Most of us think of moral failings or destructive decisions when we think “temptation,” but the stronger, more disabling temptations are in seemingly “good” opportunities.

Our community, as well as the first responder community, is founded on protecting life and promoting peace. We serve our communities and country by sacrificing what is comfortable and convenient.

As military spouses, we often feel we are an extension of our service member by giving similarly in our own way.

It is hard to say “no” to a good thing, whether it is a new nonprofit idea or an unfilled volunteer position.

Across the globe, I have seen many marriages fall apart because of overservice.

Work and accomplishments are good for our spirit. There is nothing wrong with finding purpose outside of the home using our unique talents and gifts.

It is when we find our significance there that it is dangerous. There will never be an end to the need in the world, so we must develop self-control of our calling before our calling controls us.

Otherwise, we will have nothing to offer.

Seasons may change how we serve each other in marriage, but peace is found in the roles God created for us.

I know someone will argue me into the ground on this, but I have lived it and survived to tell you the truth.

And today I have nothing but gratitude and respect for my husband taking on the home for the last two years while I traveled.

In many ways, he did a better job at home than I have ever done folding laundry, cooking dinner and picking up sick kids from school.

I have heard many military spouses utter the resentful words that used to be in my heart, “It’s his turn to revolve around me.”

I now grieve that I ever entertained that level of selfishness.

The last two years of role reversal have been equally rewarding and difficult, to say the least.

Out of love, he wanted me to see my own potential — and I did.

I hear many service members wanting the same for their spouses, but the grass is not always greener on the other side. Once you get there, you will always want to go back home.

I constantly fought off an underlying feeling of unbalance and stress. My heart wanted to be home. My attention felt torn, and he felt the same way. It was difficult to concentrate on his own job that provided for our family.

I kept thinking about Nicole Spaid, the 2015 Marine Corps Spouse of the Year whom the other spouses and I call our “Mother Hen.” She turned down several opportunities during her year with that title so that she could be fully present for her family. Her resolve has more influence in my life than she could ever know.

Now that my husband and I are finding better balance and taking back the roles that we believe God created in us, we are finding peace in what we believe He originally designed.

I recently saw a quote by Mother Teresa that could not be a better summary of my last few years: “If you want to bring happiness to the world, go home and love your family,” she said.

As much as I find purpose in serving others, this season has taught me that there is no greater joy than being at rest with my God and at home with my family.

Entering into this next season, my eyes are open to loving my family with my best first, and then offer the world what I have second.

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It might sound crazy, but conflict in your marriage can be a healthy sign.

Two people who see the world in very different ways are never going to agree on everything.

Too often, couples let marriage fighting spin wildly out of control before they realize it could have been handled differently.

But there’s a difference between disagreements and a full-blown argument. How do you toe the line?

We’re usually not our best selves in the middle of an argument, so it can be difficult to keep that conflict from escalating into a destructive, hurtful conversation.

How do you save yourself from going there? Here are five things to remember the next time you get into it.

1. Think: “My spouse is for me, not against me.”

Shaunti Feldhahn is a social researcher who has dedicated most of her career to understanding marriage. She’s interviewed thousands of couples who said they were happy to determine just what made their marriages so great.

One of her biggest finds is that 99 percent of individuals she studies genuinely love and have their spouse’s best interest at heart.

What does that mean for you? It’s likely that your spouse is not intentionally trying to hurt you at any given time, including during a heated argument.

Remind yourself that your spouse loves you and wants the best for you. It means that they had good intentions and still do.

When my husband and I get into a tiff, we remember Feldhahn’s research, and one of us will say, “I am for you, not against you.” It is a gentle reminder that the problem is the problem, not each other.

2. Think: “I can only control me.”

When on the defensive, there is something primal in us that wants to control the other person to calm them down or stir them up. We say things to invoke a response or withdrawal to drive home the point of our hurt.

The military lifestyle doesn’t help. Both the serving spouse and supporting spouse can feel out of control, which makes military homes ripe for both spouses to want complete control.

The reality is that we have no control over each. Instead, what we have is influence. Our behaviors and decisions cause consequences, and that definitely influences our spouses. But ultimately you control your reactions, and he controls his.

Reminding yourself of that during marriage fighting can help you remember that you can choose not only how angry you get, but how you will respond in this moment.

Hopefully, you can choose to react in a way that brings you closer and influences him to do the same.

3. Ask, “Are we just HALT?”

When things start to get heated, ask yourself if the emotional reaction you’re experiencing matches the situation.

If not, there might be something else going on other than how your spouse said, “Good morning.”HALT stands for hungry, angry, lonely and tired. Good decisions are never made when we are feeling any of those things.

Sleep is always a challenge in the high operations tempo of military life. That’s why my husband and I decided a long time ago that arguments are not worth trying to resolve after 10 p.m.

Loneliness can also be a big factor for military families. When was the last time you had an honest, fulfilling conversation with a friend or got outside the house?

Loneliness can impact service members as well. If you’ve recently moved, your service member might be missing the attachment he or she had with the troops in their last unit.

If you think your spouse might be struggling with more than what’s on the surface, be sure to validate their current feelings while gently asking what else might be going on.

4. Know it might not be PTSD.

The prevalence of combat stress makes it easy for us to let it constantly take the blame for the stress in our relationships.

If your serving spouse has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or combat-related stress, symptoms of irritability and mood swings are part of your relationship.

For those dealing with severe symptoms, it can be very difficult to decipher when irritability is due to a real issue or if the symptoms are exacerbating the situation.

After providing counseling to many couples with a variety of challenges, I have found that there are always two sides to a couple’s story. In other words, most times there are legitimate feelings that are upsetting your spouse, and the PTSD is not to blame.

By labeling every conflict as PTSD or mood irritability, you might be minimizing what your spouse is trying to communicate to you.

Just as women don’t like the “it must be your hormones” comment, we must be careful not to label every irritable response as being connected to a service-related issue.

Tell yourself that this should be treated as a real and genuine concern before you label it “extreme” or a symptom.

5. Ask, “What would the 80-year-old version of me say?”

This is by far my favorite strategy for helping me gain perspective during a misunderstanding.

Lately, I have been picturing my husband and myself at 80 years old, sitting on a bench holding hands. In my mind, we are far past the petty issues, life has been full and we are full of gratitude.

When I find myself in the midst of marriage fighting and I am particularly worked up, I think about what the 80-year-old version of me would say.

Would she tell me that this battle is worth it? She has been through enough military separations to know that the smallest things that we argue about are ultimately time wasters.

I often picture the future us giggling at current us getting so worked up in the first place.

Then, when I picture 80-year-old me offering current me advice, she usually just tells me to stop making such a big fuss and kiss him already.

Eighty-year-old me is salty, wise and always has extra cookies on hand for the neighborhood kids.

Chances are, you have an 80-year-old version of you waiting to be invited into the conversation.

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During a particularly difficult week, I scrolled through Facebook and paused on a post reporting that a local Starbucks gave out customers’ orders for free with no explanation. Baristas answered inquiries with merely “Have a wonderful day.” Even though I wasn’t a customer, I found myself imagining my reaction to the barista.

“Why?”

Maybe I wouldn’t say it out loud, but perhaps the look of surprise on my face would give it away. My imagined reaction didn’t come from a place of paranoia, although for some it could. The question came from a realization that this business was choosing to lose money in their act of kindness. Why would they choose to do that? Gaining a few loyal customers didn’t seem like a worthwhile strategy considering what it would inevitably cost them.

They gave no answer. They simply said “have a wonderful day.”

What struck me about this interchange is that this act of kindness rested on a single value- worthiness. Starbucks determined the people it served as worth more than the cost. Each was worthy of kindness, not because they earned it or deserved it, but simply because they exist.

It is amazing how easy it is for kindness to slip from our minds in daily interactions with each other. The closer the relationship, the more we take for granted that the person will love us unconditionally. We expect them to be understanding when we’ve had a bad day or when we have disappointed them.

And yet, we are the first to point out their unkind tone when the roles are reversed. Perhaps Starbucks has it easy. Being kind to a stranger cost them only a latte and banana nut muffin at wholesale. But being kind in the relationships around us costs far more, so much so that we are shocked when a business schools us on how to treat one another.

Is it just me? Or perhaps you could stand to experience a little more kindness, too?

Kindness can feel like it should be linked to worthiness. It is only costly when we have to sacrifice something within us that wants to make it conditional. Choosing to be kind to my spouse when he or she comes home with a bad attitude is a gift, not an exchange of currency.

But what if your heart has been hurt by others’ lack of kindness? What if you simply feel you have nothing to offer?

That is what I love most about the Starbucks story. They didn’t have an answer except for “have a wonderful day.” They didn’t say whether they “felt” like being kind or what “moved” them towards kindness. They just handed out warm beverages with a smile.

Sometimes we choose a behavior and our feelings follow.

Every marriage or relationship has patterns. If we look closely, we will find how we trigger each other into what some experts call a “crazy cycle,” or the pattern of usual escalating conflict. The only way to interrupt the crazy cycle in your relationship is to do something different by starting a new pattern. Unfortunately, if you wait until you “feel like it” in the middle of an intense argument, it will never happen.

You must behave differently and your feelings will follow. This usually begins with a willingness to be kind.

Also difficult is having the courage to be kind to ourselves. Far too often I see individuals that give others the benefit of the doubt while internally whipping themselves into submission with shame. Being kind to yourself is also a virtue dependent on worthiness. You do not deserve kindness or forgiveness, you are worthy of it because you are alive. In fact, those you love are impacted by whether you are willing to extend kindness to yourself — especially children.

In the words of Brene Brown, “‘You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.”

But the best part about kindness is how contagious it is. Here I was, struck by the impact of this simple act of kindness in a coffee shop three states away. I didn’t even benefit from a free warm beverage, but I don’t really think that was Starbuck’s point. The message I received, from a Facebook post no less, was that one act can change things.

A shift in your own sense of worth impacts your home. Kindness towards your spouse can change your marriage. Kindness towards those around you can spread infinitely beyond what you can imagine.

Still having trouble with this idea? Here are a couple of ways you can bring kindness into your relationship today.

— Tell your spouse you love them without prompting

— Make your spouse their favorite meal

— Choose to end an argument rather than defending your point or being right.

— Forgive your spouse for something you have been holding over them for far too long

— Surprise them with a latte and a banana nut muffin.

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I already knew I had a stellar soldier for a husband- but right then I kinda hated it.  Perhaps you have one too.  The kind of spouse that strives to be his best at everything and sets his sights on maxing out that PT test every time.

Before kids and the military, my husband and I used to go for long runs and chat about our life.  It was quality time that usually ended with ice cream and a favorite show (oh how we miss our twenties). Once the military entered the story, early morning PT became his primary time to workout and I fit in exercise around everyone else’s schedule.

On this particular day we decided to go for a long overdue run together.  As I laced up my shoes, I was about to remark on how nice it was going to be to run together when he put in his earphones and said, “but I won’t be talking, I’m working on increasing my pace”.

“That’s okay,”  I said- more to prepare myself for the pain that was likely to follow, “I’ll do the same.”

We started off together, listening to our independent playlists. When we faced hills, he attacked them with purpose as I managed to keep up.  When I was forced to stop and fix my hair, he jogged in place and focused on his watch.  Finally, as we approached the last mile,  my stellar soldier surged ahead- or maybe I started to lag behind.  My legs begged for me to quit despite what my heart wanted.  I started to accept my fate as officially “smoked”- when I had a thought.

Without realizing it, we were both shaped in two entirely different ways by the military lifestyle.

The military has a way of creating fantastic leaders that translate into fantastic role models at home.  Mine appreciates organization, routine, and logical ways of finding solutions to everyday problems.  He teaches our kids the values he loves about the military including work ethic, respect for authority, loyalty, integrity, and others.

The military had done something entirely different for me.

As difficult as it has been to constantly maneuver around his schedule, I have learned to embrace the role that creativity plays in chaos. I have to fit in my own self care- not because someone tells me to, but because it keeps me from losing my mind.  Relationships in the home are more likely to come before order, and definitely more important than perfection.  Leadership as a military spouse has become more about adaptability and a strong “whatever” mindset.

I watched from a distance as he finished his run and then checked his watch.  Shame washed over me as I thought about how frustrating it is to be married to someone who folds laundry better than me, often thinks to start the crock pot before I do, and was in better physical shape than I was. To sum it up in view of the finish line, the military had made a stellar leader out of him and leisurely pace keeper out of me.

Unless you are in a marriage where you or your spouse quit along time ago, almost no one likes to be left behind.  In fact, if you’ve been married for any length of time, you have likely experienced surging ahead or lagging behind your spouse in one area or another.  What you do when you find yourself there, though, reveals the state of your true character.

“Do I finish strong or just slow down in defeat?”

As much as we try to experience life at the same pace, marriage will often ebb and flow throughout the marathon. The military lifestyle almost guarantees we will have different ways of approaching it.  Each spouse brings strengths, each spouse brings weaknesses to manage.  Both have something to offer when the moment is right.  From a strengths perspective, my stellar husband has expressed the same feelings I was having on days where no amount of logic or order fits into the chaos of life.  Sometimes, being a leisurely pace setter pays off.

One thing was clear, his pace challenged me to dig deep and find something new within myself or I would fall behind. The military, despite our different experiences, has taught us separately that the kind of battle buddy we are for each other is a matter of life or death for marriage.  As a military spouse, I’ve learned that I don’t quit.  I can’t quit a deployment. I can’t quit on a bad day.  I’ve learned to finish strong even if it’s looks or feels different than I originally pictured.  So I did as he waited for me.

It’s not easy to be married to someone who has thrived in the military.  He has been a perfect fit for this job from the beginning.  But it’s only difficult because he expects so much of himself and in turn I must do the same.

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“How do I confront my spouse’s negative behavior?”
“What does it look like to be a godly wife when my husband has stopped caring?”
“Is God is okay with me ending my marriage?”
“How do I continue to love and serve my husband if he is not being a spiritual leader in the home?”

The question is actually about how to deal with sin in marriage.  Every marriage will struggle with sin- individual sin, sin against each other, even sin against God.

How do I love like Jesus when I feel so hurt and hopeless?

Depending on your upbringing and whether or not it involved church, this question makes everyone stumble.  Betrayal, neglect, anger, pornography, and other negative behaviors are difficult to address when you are hurt enough to leave but scripture and the church seem to tell you to forgive and fight for your marriage.  And then there’s that submission thing….

So Matt and I are tackling this question together- because being in a military (and first responder) marriage has extra variables like PTSD, compassion fatigue, and constant changes in roles at home.

In response to my message in Sacred Spaces that we should be pursuing our spouse, I commonly get emails that sound like this…

“How long should I pursue my spouse when they aren’t reciprocating?”
“What if my service member came home different and neglects me and our family?”
“How long must I lead before my husband picks up his role as the spiritual leader of our home?”

These are tough questions and the root issue here is…

“How do we address sin in a Christian marriage?”

Here is some of what you can expect in our 2 Part Series:
  • Matt and I continue our discussion on gender roles in a godly marriage
  • We share some of our own story of how we addressed unmet expectations in our marriage
  • Matt talks to service members who have come home different and need hope

I’ve also attached ALL of my favorite resources as well.  SAVE IT.  You will want to reference it later and pass it to a friend- I promise.  You wouldn’t believe how many struggle with this in silence.

There’s a whole lot more than this, but these are some of my favorites:

Podcasts:

Setbacks in Marriage- The Podcast Episode
Women & the Tough Bible Verses– (Topic of Submission and gender roles in the Bible- Authentic Intimacy)
People Are More Important Than Marriage– Authentic Intimacy, When you shouldn’t fight for your marriage.
Sexual Intimacy and Post Affair with Mike Sytsma
How do Affairs Happen? New Life Church, Brady Boyd

Articles:

So You’ve Hit a Marriage Setback: 3 Steps
Military Marriage: When to Separate
Mike Sytsma- Betrayal & Affair Recovery (articles and video)
Protecting Your Marriage from an Affair 

Books:

Mission Ready Marriage: My Life As An Active Duty Wife Claire Wood
Sacred Spaces: My Journey to the Heart of Military Marriage Corie Weathers

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When I came home from my extended business trip, it was clear: My husband and our boys had together adopted a new world and language.

My trip was longer than most I’ve done recently, and my husband had held down the home front. Before my trip, we had both simply put up with our kids’ new Minecraft obsession, and worked to control our eye rolling when they talked about “battling the Ender Dragon.”

But when I returned, I could see that the three of them had formed a special bond through a Minecraft world during my absence.

I felt stuck on the outside of my family’s relationship over this game — a feeling I assume many troops experience when they return home after deployment. I struggled for the next few weeks, watching them play together and sometimes go over what we had before decided was our max on electronic time.

From my outside view, this whole thing looked like a video game problem that needed balance.

But for my husband, their newly shared hobby was a fun platform that not only gave his mind a break from work, but provided father-son quality time.

In my head, I wanted to sit in my feelings of resentment and jealousy over their time together and force them to see what I considered a problem.

When it comes to marriage, it is far too easy to assume that our spouses are the problem, especially when it involves hobbies that aren’t shared. In my counseling practice, I often see intense conflicts between couples when one is invested in a hobby more than other would like.

There are endless examples of activities that start off as “cute” in the relationship, only to drive a wedge later — hunting, crafts, sports, clubs, video games and more. At some point, the hobby isn’t cute anymore because one spouse is enjoying it “too much” — a level that the frustrated spouse has determined on his or her own.

Military life doesn’t exactly help with that. When so much time is spent apart, both the service member and the spouse have to find their groove separately. We each invest in activities that interest us, fulfill us and maybe even bring us a sense of purpose. When we come back together, our worlds conflict because, frankly, we each needed different things during the separation.

If you’re a service member, you may have found activities that helped you compartmentalize or deal with boredom. If you’re a spouse at home, you may have immersed yourself in activities that involved community or provided a sense of purpose.

It makes sense that the two separate worlds conflict at homecoming. But that collision can create a gap in our relationships that makes us feel even further apart. We begin to see our spouses as wrong and their interests as destructive, often because they are not interests we share. And if it gets really bad, we start making ultimatums.

The number one complaint I hear from military spouses is that they feel their service member chooses video games or friends over them. And the number one complaint I hear from service members is that their spouses choose the children over them.

The conflict is real.

Regardless of which spouse you relate to, there is something in all of us that gets disappointed, even hurt, when our spouses don’t appreciate what interests us. Whether our spouses care about what we do matters, especially if they don’t share the same passion for it we do.

Balance and moderation are necessary, but so is room for different interests and hobbies. My conflict at my homecoming was not about Minecraft or parenting differences, it was about believing the best about one another and truly listening.

By paying attention only to my perspective, I missed that Minecraft was more than a strange digital world of building blocks — it was an opportunity for my husband build something with his sons. Through Minecraft, he was rebuilding relationships that had endured separations and plenty of previous missed opportunities.

My own mini-reintegration gave me an opportunity to think about how many times my husband faced the same dilemma of being the outsider at homecoming. It’s entirely possible that in the past he had experienced the same choice I had in that moment: Stay on the outside of the hobby or choose the harder option to reintegrate through acceptance and growth. I don’t have to love Minecraft, but we all can benefit from me valuing what is important to them.

You can make this choice too. Choose to believe the best about your spouse. Choose to become interested in what he or she finds exciting. Choose to communicate instead of assume.

Celebrating battling the Ender Dragon together was far better than watching it from a distance. And even better is understanding the sweet exchange between father and sons because I have chosen to listen.

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What if we make marriage a lot harder than it needs to be? What if I told you there are a few tips for a happy marriage you can follow to easily bring intimacy and closeness back to your relationship?

The good news is that most couples do not need an overhaul of their relationship, they just need to be reminded that it’s going to be OK. The military lifestyle throws a lot of curveballs, and it can make anyone feel like the relationship is on shaky ground, even if it isn’t.

It is completely normal for intimacy with your spouse to ebb and flow. It can be days before you get an evening together when your service member is training. Some schedules have you feeling like you are ships passing in the night, literally. Even reintegration after a military separation or deploymentcan leave your military marriage feeling disconnected.

For many couples, anxiety runs high wondering if they will ever feel close again. I know this sounds strange coming from a counselor, but sometimes reconnecting doesn’t have to include massive processing or rehashing the relationship.

Even if your relationship is struggling with bigger issues, here are a few tips for a happy marriage that are not only amazingly simple but effective to “get there” quickly.

Tips for a Happy Marriage: Daily Check-ins

When one or both spouses feel insecure, it is easy to go overboard on communication, especially when you haven’t seen each other for a while. A “check-in” is a simple five- to 10-minute conversation that gives your spouse a highlight reel of how you are doing. It’s perfect for early in the morning to communicate how you slept (which impacts your mood and day) or at the end of the work day. You simply take turns briefly answering these questions:

1.How am I feeling (physically and emotionally)?

2.What is on my mind? (i.e. I slept horribly, I have a million things to do, etc.)

3.How can I best serve you today?

Notice that this is not a time to solve problems, talk about bills, or even process emotional wounds. You would be surprised how often your spouse’s mood has nothing to do with you. Speak briefly in one to two sentences per question and catch up. Give each other the permission to not worry about the relationship by checking in.

Tips for a Happy Marriage: Hold hands

When was the last time you held hands? As ridiculous as it sounds, we can too easily fall out of this habit. Have you ever tried to argue when you are holding hands? It’s pretty difficult to be mad at someone when you are holding hands. Physical touch is a strong communicator that says, “I’m cool with you.” Often, it is better than words.

Usually one spouse values physical intimacy more than the other and gets a bad rap as if all they want is sex. Instead, it actually means they experience deep connection, love and express love through touching first.

Holding hands goes a long way. Reach out to your spouse, take them by the hand, and try your check-in. It is pretty powerful.

Tips for a Happy Marriage: Eye contact

Yep, it is really that simple, folks. Couples who come to me for marriage counseling or who are on retreats tend to sit shoulder to shoulder rather than facing each other. They start to squirm when I ask them to sit knee to knee because it is a more intimate posture.

Technology is also robbing us of intimate moments when our eyes are diverted to something else. Lately, our family is attempting a “Life After 5 p.m.” rule in which all devices are put away at 5 p.m. It is a time to acknowledge each other, look each other in the eyes and be fully present.

Eye contact also opens your hearing in a way that will reduce miscommunication and express that your spouse is the most important person in your world. Want to go even deeper? Stare into each other’s eyes for five minutes without talking. At first, you will giggle, but if you can make it past that, tears will naturally follow. Soul connection doesn’t always involve words; we just want to be truly seen.

The next time you feel like it is all falling apart, try one or all of these things. You will be surprised at how much difference they make. Physical expressions of love, undivided attention and briefly communicating your internal world go a long way.

While some marriages have major issues that trigger conflict (or what I call “minefields”), most if not all can reduce those mountains back to anthills by working on these simple solutions.

Stress a little less by being just a little bit more intentional. It may be just that easy.

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When I pretended o be Wonder Woman as a kid, I focused on her superpowers, trying to mimic flying through the air and dodging bullets. But as an adult, I realized I could not truly be a fan without looking into her whole story.

Fans of any superhero become deeply attached as they follow their favorite’s journey through comic book pages or on film, identifying more with their flaws than their superhuman abilities.

Within the journey are answers to our own weaknesses and insecurities.

When it comes to relationships, superheroes often struggle to balance calling with the equal desire to love and be loved. Like all of us, they deeply desire relationships and have vices that keep them from it. Some of them are even tempted to give up part of who they are to get that love, but in the end learn to balance both.

We can learn a lot from the hero’s journey — maybe even how to become a hero for ourselves. Here’s how

Every Superhero Has a Backstory

As much as you would like to forget about the past, your backstory affects your past, present and future. Comic books re-visit a superhero’s backstory over and over because it impacts how they see the moment and how they see themselves. Would Bruce Wayne have become Batman had his parents not been taken from him? Your story, good and bad, makes you who you are.

Just like any superhero, you must bring purpose out of it in order to find healing in your life. In marriage, your backstory will come up in conflict, values, and your experience of love. Bring purpose out of pain if you must — and then use it to serve others.

The Call to Adventure

Just like Moana is called to the water and Princess Diana of Paradise Island is called to Man’s World, there is always a call to adventure. Many heroes deny the calling, or at least try. For others, something tragic happens to sabotage the call to adventure. Fear, insecurity, even others can convince you that the adventure is too dangerous.

There are many calls to adventure in marriage — the wedding day, reconnecting after a fight, having children, even courageously tearing down the emotional walls that separate you. There will always be a temptation not to answer the call and wait. But you will never truly know the power of marriage, or your own ability, if you deny the call.

Answering the Call

Moana crosses the reef; Diana leaves the island to go to Man’s World. Ironically, this is the favorite part of the journey for the audience and possibly the worst for the hero. The hero must battle the enemy, rescue the victim, and is bloodied and bruised. The audience doesn’t want it to end, but it is not because of the external battle. It is the hero’s inner conflict to which the audience relates.

Marriage is difficult because we must face our own insecurities, backstory, temptations and weaknesses if we will ever have the marriage we desire. This is where we will experience the ugliness of our spouse, life and the world. It also where we see what we are made of and then made into who we are capable of becoming.

Blessing

When the battles seem never-ending, it is hard to believe that blessing is on the other side, but it is. Once the hero has resolved the internal conflict, blessing in the form of completion always happens next.

Not be confused with perfection, there will always be another battle to fight or inner conflict to resolve. Instead, blessing often comes in the form of love from whomever they saved, validation of their identity, or renewed confidence. In marriage, we see it in the release of tension when we have worked through a difficult conflict and find each other again.

True Identity

Every hero is transformed through this process, and so are you. It is a cycle we go through again and again as we grow into who we have been created to be.

Deployments change us, as do life’s surprises. Many of us return to our loved ones different than we left.

For Diana, she is no longer just their princess, she is now Wonder Woman. Superheroes realize through this journey that they no longer fit in one place and must accept who they are.

Marriage can become truly home. Your spouse can be your safe place to return where you can rejoice in victories or have your wounds bandaged — either way, you are home and you.

Where are you in the hero’s journey? Do you need to accept the call to adventure, embrace your backstory, or maybe remember blessing is coming? Where is your spouse in his or her journey? Don’t forget that they are your hero too.

While superheroes struggle to balance their calling with their relationships, they recognize that there is no calling without love. Those who love a hero accept that their hero may be called to serve the world, but they get to serve the hero.

You can watch or listen to more about “The Hero’s Journey” on the Lifegiver Podcast.

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How do you know when to separate from your spouse or when to call it quits?

In almost every scenario, I tell a couple to fight for their relationship. Too often, I see couples give up. It’s one of the reasons I passionately remind couples of their vows. Marriage, I believe, gets better only when you work hard and grow closer through difficult times.

But there are a few, albeit relatively rare, situations where you will hear me deliver a different message: one when I say “leave.”

Every relationship has unique dynamics and variables. There is no black-and-white rule book that tells you what to do or when to separate or divorce. Ultimately, it is your decision, and any therapist will tell you that.

But many who need to make a decision like this hesitate because there is “too much at stake,” they say. Fear of your service member losing their career, the loss of military health benefits, violence or the loss of your dream can keep you from seeing your situation clearly.

For this reason, I encourage anyone considering divorce to consult with a third-party professional, pastor or therapist to help you navigate a permanent decision.

That’s why instead of telling you how to know if your relationship is over, which seems scary and permanent, these are instead examples of when to consider separation. Oftentimes, distance can provide safety, clarity, support and the ability to make a decision that feels right for you and your family.

When to Separate: If There Is Abuse

As easy or obvious as this sounds, it is never easy for the person in that situation. If you believe that you are in a sexually or physically abusive relationship, seek a professional to help you establish a plan for safety. If you are unsure what that abuse might look like, here is more information.

Physical abuse is usually entangled with emotional abuse, making it difficult to leave — especially if your life has been threatened. Even if the abuser is regretful, eventually the cycle of abuse will continue.

Whatever reasons are keeping you from getting the space you need to find safety and clarity, they are not as important as you and your spirit. Remember, we are not talking about divorce papers, just gaining enough distance to find clarity and resources. Food, shelter and safety are your main priorities.

Important note: If children are in the home, enabling contact with the abuser can show an inability to protect them from harm. Your main responsibility is to protect them before saving your marriage.

Emotional abuse is more complicated to sort through than physical abuse. There are times when extreme manipulation, cruelty and controlling behavior make it imperative to your health to leave.

Other times, spouses believe there is emotional abuse only to discover through professional help that the relationship is salvageable. Talk with a professional to help you decipher.

When to Separate: If There Is Addiction Without Recovery

The topic of addiction is very complicated. It is hard enough to watch your spouse struggle with a disease, but living with the consequences of that disease is even harder.

Regardless of what the addiction is (sex, pornography, alcohol, etc.), recovery is a roller coaster for everyone. It is true that recovery is easier when the individual has a strong support system, but only when that person has admitted that they have a problem and are seeking help.

But If you are living with the consequences of your spouse’s addiction and they show no signs of wanting help or recovery, it may be a good time to implement the natural consequences of distance. Again, we are not talking divorce papers unless you have received help making that decision.

If you haven’t already, communicate clearly and firmly your desire for your spouse to get help, as well as the destructive consequences of their behavior (financial stress, broken trust, the family feeling unsafe, etc.). Then, if your spouse continues to be unwilling to get help, separating is a physical representation of what has already happened emotionally in the marriage. Sometimes, the addict will realize you are serious about moving toward a more permanent separation if they continue to be resistant.

If you have children in the home, take very seriously the behaviors they have witnessed in making your decision.

When to Separate: If Irreparable Destruction Has Occurred

I hesitate to reference this one because it is easy to label your current pain as “irreparable,” or not able to be repaired, when it may be possible to save your marriage.

Making this decision takes confirmation from professionals around you (sorry, family members are not unbiased professionals). There are some situations that are so destructive, that separation is not only recommended, it is crucial to begin healing.

Spouses living double lives, evil manipulation or violence, extensive un-remorseful infidelity, or cruel mistreatment within the marriage are all very difficult to repair. The overwhelming destruction of these scenarios often includes abuse or addiction, but not always.

If you are asking “when is enough, enough?” the deeper question is usually about whether you will have guilt or regret making this decision.

It is normal to want to know if there is anything else you could have done to save the marriage. Taking a step away can be a less intimidating way to show you are ready to take care of yourself.

You deserve to make this decision carefully with support around you so you are completely assured that it is the right decision.

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We all have hope for a marriage that lasts and is fulfilling. What we often don’t expect is how hard it will be when we disagree with our spouse on important values, military marriage problems or finding ourselves moving at a different pace.

I haven’t met anyone who married thinking, “Gee, I don’t plan on making this last.”

Setbacks can happen when we are least expecting it. An injury while training for a physical goal or a career put on hold for a relocation can be incredibly disappointing and discouraging. You may even be tempted to quit.

Most couples have at least one area of their relationship that they are hoping to improve or fix. Parenting, finances and even sex can lead to heated disagreements and (hopefully) deciding together on ways to get on the same page and work together.

Life’s interruptions or an impulsive decision by one of you can make it feel as if you will never reach that goal. In that moment or setback, quitting feels like a very real option.

Sometimes, there are very minor consequences to military marriageproblems or a setback that only require a deep breath, a good night’s sleep, and starting again tomorrow.

But destructive choices such as too much video gaming or pornography use by one spouse can cause even bigger consequences, including feeling like this is a major rift in your ability to be a couple.

For some, the marriage is already on thin ice if you are working through serious issues such as overcoming infidelity or addiction. Destructive scenarios like these involve a more detailed process of change and support to gain traction. You may feel like the setbacks will never stop, and you will never be able to move forward.

No matter what you are dealing with as a couple, whether it’s small or large, setbacks are more likely than not to happen as you work toward a new pattern of behavior for both of you.

But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. With a few tools in your pocket, you can move through them. Instead of giving up, try these three steps.

1. Hit a pause button.

Learning to develop self-control and hit a pause button when things get complicated is a great practice in general. Self-control gives you the opportunity to think through what is happening, feel any feelings that are naturally there and gain perspective.

Relocations and deployments are a natural interruption in the military lifestyle when everything feels out of order. Basic needs such as food, shelter and safety all take priority, and you might feel distracted from the intense focus you had as a couple.

For example, if you were dependent before your move on a counselor or group for support, it will take some time to find that again.

Try not to rush yourself or your spouse through what you were working through when these bumps come along. Instead, agree on a healthy timeframe to reconnect with support or resume the plan when you are both ready.

Having grace for each other and getting on the same page are more important than aggressively working on the goal. If you find your spouse is not as motivated as you are, invest your energy toward your part by reading an extra book on the subject or taking a deeper look through journaling.

The important thing here is that you process how you are feeling about what happened and avoid doing your spouse’s work.

2. Check your progress.

The actual definition of a “setback” involves a “check in progress.” Most of us see it as a failure, but it is actually an opportunity to think through the progress you are making — or not making. In addiction recovery, we teach that relapse is not necessary for recovery but can be “part of the process” if it happens.

Setbacks can provide an opportunity to take a look at the deeper issues that caused it so you can avoid similar mistakes in the future. If you move too quickly, you will miss huge revelations of yourself, your spouse and your relationship. If you are dealing with a bigger issue such as rebuilding trust, a professional counselor can help you find these answers and build greater empathy for each other.

Keep in mind that stressful times such as deployment, reintegration, relocations or trauma can trigger setbacks or relapses, making them more likely to occur. If this is an intense time for your family, be graceful if the setback happened by learning more about each other and doing a good check on whether the path you were on is working. If you know you are going into an intense season, discuss ways to be proactive to prevent one.

3. Move forward.

If your spouse caused your setback, it can be incredibly discouraging to think about moving forward. How many setbacks are too many before you should give up? If you are struggling with this question, finding a counselor to talk to will help you determine what is right for your family.

If you caused a setback, the shame is equally debilitating. Even when you don’t feel like it, take the next healthy step forward.

In recovery, there is a phrase — “fake it till you make it.” It doesn’t mean you should be inauthentic. It means you decide to take the next step even when you don’t feel like it. Eventually, your motivation will come back. Shame (in you or your spouse) spirals into an unproductive place and is not the same thing as processing the present disappointment.

Sometimes, the next step is a willingness to physically reach out and hold your spouse’s hand again. Embrace that mistakes in our own lives and our spouses are part of being human. One of my favorite phrases is “start simply, but simply start” and is likely to get you going again.

Every couple has military marriage problems and issues to work through, which means setbacks are going to happen. Who will you be when it happens to you?

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It was a silly thing to fight over, especially since it was an argument about fitting as much joy as possible into a Florida Disney family vacation.

I, led by my “mom-guilt,” argued that our boys had wanted to go “their whole lives” (slight exaggeration). And he, fueled by sheer logic, argued that it logistically made our trip more complicated.

Both of us felt right, and both of us had a good case to be right. In an attempt to hold our positions, we dug in and sabotaged three days we could have otherwise spent together by arguing over a theme park made of Legos.

Conflict in marriage can be incredibly discouraging when you desire to be on the same team but feel like you aren’t.

Neither of us woke up that day and said, “Hey, today seems like a great day for an argument.” In fact, most couples find themselves arguing over wanting the same thing. In our case, we both wanted to plan the ultimate family vacation, but we had differing perspectives on what made a vacation “ultimate.”

The ideal, of course, is to quickly see the value in each other’s perspective, but most times couples do the opposite and start digging trenches for battle. And that’s how they end up in No Man’s Land.

During World War I, opposing armies would dig trenches and aim mortars and ammunition at each other. The land between, known as No Man’s Land, lay unoccupied and unowned because of the fear and uncertainty of being ambushed while coming up out of the trenches.

Fighting couples do the same thing. If during conflict you are like me, every shovel of dirt seems to be filled with all the reasons why I am right and why he should surrender. Of course, this is not my most shining moment, but I have a feeling I am not the only one with calluses on my hands.

While I sat in my self-made trench this week, I spent time thinking about the losing battle over No Man’s LegoLand. In a heroic scene from the trailer for the new “Wonder Woman” film, she courageously emerges from a World War I trench. Despite incoming mortars and gunfire, she shields herself from enemy contact and slowly makes her way across No Man’s Land. As a superhero who stands for personal courage, peace and the pursuit of truth, she is the first to emerge from the trenches.

When hurt enters our relationship, we have a choice to remain hidden in the trenches, continuing to load our mortar weapons, or rise up out of them. No Man’s Land will always be scary, especially when the other person is still firing, but someone has to be the first. Someone must be the first to be courageous, first to become vulnerable and first to intentionally pursue the human in the other trench.

It is never fun to go first. Never. The first person to stop fighting and seek peace will usually have to risk the possibility of incoming rounds from the other.

I would love to say that I am Wonder Woman every time, but that simply isn’t true. Surprisingly, I have learned equally as much when I have gone second. When my husband is the first to enter No Man’s Land, I am faced with a choice to follow his example or validate the existence of my own stubbornness. It is then that I witness my true character and decide who I want to be.

On Christmas Day 1914, French, German and British troops called a truce to exchange greetings and souvenirs, and even play football in No Man’s Land. Now known as the Christmas Truce of 1914, opposing forces who spoke different languages came together for a moment of peace. My favorite image of that amazing event is that the troops turned a battlefield littered with death into a football field for play.

During the heat of an argument, it can be hard to see the potential of the land that exists between you and the other person. Your marriage was not created to have a vast space of empty land that separates you. It exists to be a playground. You may rise up and take a few hits, but if you choose your marriage over the trenches you have dug, you just might find a place where you have more in common than you thought.

I was reminded this week that foxholes are homes for foxes, not men, and certainly not Wonder Woman. I am not meant to build a house there.

And who won the battle for LegoLand? No one. What matters most is that we both rose up out of the trenches.

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Let’s talk about sex.

One of the most beautiful ways we love our spouses is through sexuality. It’s also one of the most emotionally complicated.

Popular culture portrays it as simple, spontaneous and very uncomplicated, but I assure you most couples experience it differently.

Sex is actually one of the top three issues for which couples seek counseling. And the military lifestyle of chaotic schedules and long durations of separation doesn’t help.

Despite your best intentions of picking up right where you left off, if you struggle with all of those interruptions to your sex life, you’re in no way alone.

I recently sat down for a candid interview with Dr. Michael Sytsma, a clinician and certified sex therapist, for my Lifegiver Podcast. (Important note: This episode is for mature audiences only.)

The interview originally aired for InDependent’s 2016 Military Spouse Wellness Summit, but I was able to run an extended version of our conversation. Dr. Sytsma is based out of Atlanta and serves post-affair couples as well as those experiencing sexual difficulty at his Institute, Building Intimate Marriages. I asked Dr. Sytsma about specific intimacy challenges that military couples face at home and during deployments.

Dr. Mike, as he’s known, explained that couples sexually “imprint” on each other. If that concept gives you flashbacks to Jacob in the Twilight series, it may not be that far from the truth.

During sex, oxytocin, known as the connective hormone, releases in the body. It is actually the same hormone released during nursing that bonds a mother to her baby. He clarified that when your spouse is gone for long periods of time, you go through what’s called “skin hunger,” when the body is longing for the touch and the oxytocin to which it is accustomed. That concept explains why during deployment your skin can almost feel like it crawling for something as simple as a safe hug.

Other forms of connection, though, have also been found to release oxytocin, including looking into each other’s eyes, holding each other and even hearing the other person’s voice.

Dr. Mike encourages military couples to tap into some of these healthy habits that support connections during separations. Although you may not be able to hold hands, associating the sound of your spouse’s voice with intimacy and safety will release some oxytocin, even though your body is still going through that skin hunger. Doing that also helps during reintegration when you are getting your groove back.

On the other extreme, Dr. Mike mentioned that he and those in his field have found an opposite result with non-connective habits like pornography. Pornography associates the release of oxytocin with false images and story lines rather than your spouse. Ultimately, this imprinting can interfere with sexual performance with your spouse, especially when life isn’t playing out like a fantasy.

The bottom line is this: Be careful and mindful what you choose to imprint on. Aim for good communication, curiosity and intentionality, and you will be on a path to great and meaningful sex.

There is no doubt that healthy sexuality in marriage is a complicated venture. But I like to think that it is supposed to be. Something this vulnerable requires a heart to serve, permission to be selfish, willingness to forgive, a sense of humor and communication. Healthy sexuality is a balancing act that forces you to be vulnerable in order to stay connected.

If you are struggling in this area of your marriage, there is hope and plenty of resources that can help guide, bring healing and direction. Begin by listening to Dr. Mike’s interview. All of the resources he mentions can be found here. The Lifegiver App is also free and has interviews from leading marriage experts, stories of success and marriage curriculum that can help you get started today.

Maybe now is a time to be proactive. Begin healthy conversations in your relationship if you need them. Look for a counselor or sex therapist to help you wade through the complicated waters of intimacy. Seek out the healing or forgiveness you need to be vulnerable again.

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My own awkward and painful memories of middle school flooded my mind. I had watched my son, only 12 years old and now in seventh grade, enter gracefully into a mostly civilian school mid-semester with dreams of performing in the talent show a year later. As a military spouse, I have figured out the rhythm of moving, making friends, and starting over. But as a parent, I must confess, it is painful to watch your kids go through it.

Now my husband and I were about to jump out of our skin as we watched the entire middle school file in to watch tender hearts perform their best, and one of them was ours.

I had already replayed in my head what I would do if even one kid in this gym “booed” my son. Did they even know what he had gone through? How many schools he has been in? The bullying, the friends he had left, the ones who had left him, the tears he shed when we said, “it’s time.”

For the last year and half, we listened at the dinner table as he shared his efforts to look for a seat in the cafeteria, sign up for after school activities and teach himself soccer during recess. Day after day, he got back in the game even if no one passed him the ball, until one day he said he finally scored a goal. He is a self-motivator, no doubt, something I think we find in most of our military kids. But watching from the sidelines as a parent is intense.

On a recent Lifegiver podcast episode I interviewed Pam Brummett, a mentor-friend of mine that revolutionized my view of parenting. When I first met Pam, her kids were far older than mine, her oldest in middle school while I was still freaking out about potty training. This family impressed me. They lived, and still do, a life of service — and their kids are very much part of that mission. One day, after I had sat with a new widow for three hours, she and her children came into my house and cleaned it from top to bottom. No complaints, no push-back. The kids knew exactly what their efforts were for and that changed my view of parenting forever.

Now Pam’s kids are in high school and college. I got to sit down with her to find out how she does it. Here are a few things that made a big difference for her. You can listen to the full interview here.

3 Military Parenting Secrets for Raising Teenagers

The most important thing to teach your kids is respect and love. Pam and her husband learned to choose their battles, but respect was crucial. Saying “ma’am” and “sir” taught the kids to be respectful toward their parents and others. Safe affection has always been in the home. Pam says her children still come in to greet her when they walk in the door with a hug which she playfully says is not negotiable.

Relocations will not ruin them. Pam said her kids look back with great memories of all the places they have been. In fact, the only time they struggled was in a school that was mostly civilian, where they felt few understood them. As her kids now enter college, she said they are over prepared for independence as well as life’s disappointments. Turns out, military life doesn’t ruin your kids.

Be a part of their lives. Pam has always made her kids’ friends feel welcome in their home. When she realized the kids were going to Starbucks for long study sessions, she purchased coffee and snacks and now hosts them in her home. This way she can keep an eye on the teens and get to know who her kids are hanging out with. On her last birthday, some of them even stopped by the house to give “Momma Pam” her birthday hug.

Back in the middle school gym, it was almost time and I was hoping all that Pam had told me was true. We saw a hint of his shoes from under the curtain and my stomach dropped. They announced him stage and the entire gym erupted with giant screams. I even heard some of the other kids chant his name.

The curtain opened and the gym continued to cheer. My heart gripped in my chest as my husband and I looked at each other in astonishment. Every day wouldn’t be like this and the next school would bring a completely different set of challenges. But today, these kids had no idea how they were changing my son’s life. Their cheers rewarded the courage my son has for years had to dig deep to find. Constantly showing up, pushing through the tough stuff, and re-inserting himself all paid off.

And his performance? Well, he nailed it.

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The parenting standoffs between my husband and me after deployment rival those that I’ve had with a two-year-old who didn’t want to put away his jacket, with a colossal impact on my marriage.

Like my toddler refusing to give up control, enjoying a preschool power trip of defiantly yelling “no” at Mommy, I was addicted to the satisfaction and independence of military parenting that running solo with ultimate decision-making and discipline power bring.

Sure, I craved the help of having another adult around but, in his absence, I had evolved into the parent subject matter expert, leaving my husband on the losing end before he could say “reintegration.”

He wanted nothing more than to have “us” again in a co-parenting team, and to me that felt scary.

He needed a win so he could keep moving forward. As a father who parented differently from me, a soldier who wanted to return to his family and a husband who wanted his wife back, he needed to feel like he was an important part of our family — not an outsider.

The uninvited standoff I found myself in came as a surprise. But I realized that if I were going to see our marriage last through the parenting years, I needed to learn to put my marriage first and my parenting control second.

I realized that I had believed three lies about myself and parenting — and that keeping them risked sabotaging everything.

Military Parenting Lie 1: “My identity and purpose is only found in motherhood.”

The uncertainty of military life made me feel out of control. My career felt impossible, military timelines were never concrete — but motherhood was something I could succeed at. Sure, I couldn’t control my children either, but I could control our routine, structure and ultimately how I handled the day. I not only found a sense of purpose tending to my children, I found them to be constant companions.

Winning at parenting was easier than winning at marriage. I knew I would win that standoff with my two-year-old because I was the authority figure and he was learning how to obey. Marriage doesn’t work that way, though, and I knew that choosing my marriage would mean me letting go. It is often easier to put energy toward something at which I feel I will be most successful.

Ultimately, I believed the lie that my first priority, above myself and my marriage, was to the kids. For my marriage to succeed, my purpose and identity must extend far past the parenting years.

Military Parenting Lie 2: “Letting go of control means something has to fail.”

The illusion of control is that it masks pride. When you have been the sole caregiver, it is easy to believe that your way is best. Perhaps it is best, for you.

But it was quite prideful to think that my style of parenting was better than what my husband offered. Choosing to become a united front again as a couple involved me trusting that children benefit from different parenting styles — not just the one I had to offer.

My husband’s voice is louder than mine and magically commands attention better than mine. The kids and I had grown accustomed to the sound of my gentle voice for discipline and nurturing temperament. As tempting as it was for me to correct him or ask him to parent like me, that would not benefit our relationship.

It is amazing that we trust our service member to protect their battle buddies, but claim that they can’t parent like we can. Although he asked for my help updating him with what had changed in the home, he did not need my help on how to be a father.

Now that my kids are older, I know that had my husband been there during the 20-minute standoff with our preschooler, it would never have lasted that long.

Your spouse brings a set of parenting strengths far different than your own, and your children will be better adults for having experienced it.

Military Parenting Lie 3: ‘I have nothing left to give.’

The early years of parenting are likely one of the most unflattering and exhausting seasons of adulthood. You feel out of control of your body, and you are covered with your little one’s bodily fluids most of the day. Feeling poked and prodded all day long while also managing the home and keeping kids alive will leave you exhausted.

As much as I was thrilled to have my husband home and our family together again, I wasn’t sure I had enough energy to give to another human being. I believed the lie that I alone had to carry the responsibility of everyone’s emotional well-being and success throughout separations. The result at the end of the day was a burned-out mom in pajamas who felt entitled to make it all about her, and a husband who felt he needed to wait in line.

In truth, it never rested fully on me, and the weight of your family’s success doesn’t fully rest on you. Finding the balance of taking care of you while parenting small children takes time, but it is worth it for your own health and that of your marriage.

Looking back, I set my husband up for a win when I let go and trusted the process. I won my freedom from the lies I believed, and our children won by seeing their parents learn to collaborate as a team and win at marriage.

— For more on ways to put your marriage first during the early years of parenting, listen to the Lifegiver Podcast.

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When I look back on the years of my military marriage, I see it as a bookshelf lined with memories.

The deployment years are a lot like survival stories. Reintegration seems like a classic drama. There are pages with hurt, volumes of joy, collections of happy and sad memories.

I must admit, when I feel sad, angry or entitled, I reach for “books” on our shelf that remind me of other times when I felt that way. I want to feel validated and maybe even fueled to win the next argument. “Remember this?” “Remember that?” “What about the last time you …”

… There’s no need to finish that sentence. We all know it never ends well. Meanwhile, my spouse is scrambling through the proverbial bookshelf trying to find even a short story to provide alternative evidence.

Some of you just take turns pulling down the hurts and reading them again and again. Arguments and tension tend to deceive us into thinking that our situation is horrible, when really we just need a reminder of who we are.

Military life can mean our bookshelves are often filled with separate memories and significant, defining moments. I call those moments “sacred spaces” because they are set apart.

Instead of coming back together, military reintegration often becomes a time to accumulate stories of hurt, stacking that bookshelf with plenty of ammunition we can return to later.

I want shared positive stories to be what defines my relationship, don’t you? More than that, I want stories of how we redeemed our marriage. I call those “shared sacred spaces.”

I’ve learned that if you don’t stock your bookshelf with as many positive shared sacred spaces as possible, you will have a hard time finding hope when you need it most.

During one reintegration, I listened as Matt shared his deployment stories. There were so many separate memories. The bookshelf was filling up with them. Reintegration was filled with sharing our most “sacred” or significant, stories while we had been apart. Although we did our best, we talked more than we listened. In our attempts to get on the same “page,” reintegration became, instead, a time to accumulate stories of hurt.

But how do you do fix that? How do you start plussing-up your marriage bookshelf? I can tell you it doesn’t happen accidentally. It’s not as hard as writing an actual book, but it definitely takes mindfulness.

Here are a few things I have learned:

Pursue. There is mystery and a quest to win someone’s heart in the dating years but, at some point, love matures and the pursuit must become more intentional — purposeful even. If you are at a place where you are holding out until your spouse pursues you, you are only collecting stories of failure. Be the first to pursue your spouse. Truly listen to her needs, the kind of date nights she wants. Even better, hold hands and look him in the eye while listening. Using three of your five senses will solidify your memory and help him feel heard.

Plan. Intentionally prioritize time with your spouse. I hear couples all the time talk about scheduling dates every week, but they never do so. Sure, it takes time. But scheduling something fun that engages as many of the five senses as possible will make for an evening your marriage will never forget. Dance lessons trump a dinner and a movie. I know the inconsistency of military life can make this a huge challenge, but if we aren’t focused on the time we have together, it will slip away.

Protect. Like a family photograph tainted with memories of bad attitudes and screaming toddlers (not that that ever happened to me), so it is with shared sacred spaces. If we aren’t protective, our efforts can easily be sabotaged. Demons of the past, minefields of the present, or simple miscommunication — something out there wants to see you fail. You must be proactive by setting up limits to what you will talk about or thoughts you choose to entertain. Shared sacred space moments are not a time to hash out what should be reserved for the counseling office or a family meeting.

But what if sabotage happens anyways? Try to reclaim it. Even a reclaimed sabotaged moment can make for a powerful memory of hope and resilience. In the midst of the tension, make every effort to intentionally think the best of your spouse.

Sometimes, Matt or I will reach for the other’s hand and just say, “I’m for you, not against you.” It is a gentle reminder that although we may be upset at each other in the moment, we believe the best in the other.

Forgiveness and grace go a long way. Our spouses are not perfect and never will be. The sooner we accept it, the easier it will be to forgive. Remind yourself of the many moments you have needed forgiveness yourself. The sooner we forgive, the sooner we will have grace to offer.

Redemption stories are the most powerful shared sacred spaces of all and will no doubt give you a truly great story to revisit from your shelf of memories.

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There are two sides. Neither listen. Both are determined they are right.

No, I’m not talking about politics or the tone in our country. I’m talking about marriage and military love. (But perhaps what I’m about to say could help both scenarios.)

Surely you’ve been there. You and your spouse are in a heated argument, and he’s just not listening. Or maybe she just won’t stop talking long enough to understand what you are trying to say.

You have a very good reason behind what you are feeling, but so does he. You had the best intentions, but she just can’t see them.

Now there is just too much water under the bridge, too much to sort through, too much to resolve to have hope this will ever last.

And then someone says it: “Maybe this is it.”

Hopelessness is one of the darkest feelings in the world — but also one of the most deceptive.

In the midst of it, you feel there is no way through or around it. It deceives you into saying things that you would never say otherwise, but they come spilling out when you’re backed into a corner with no way out.

If we could just remember in that moment that there is another way through the conflict, that there is something else more powerful than our hurt, our stance, and our feelings.

Love.

Before I completely lose you, read on. I’m not talking about the kind of military love where we just choose to accept the other person and everything they are about. That kind of love is really just “tolerance,” a Band-Aid. I’m talking about a much deeper love that I’m not seeing much lately. It is a love that is real and, because of that, painful.

As a culture and generation, we avoid pain and would rather demand the instant gratification of being first in all things: first to talk, first to be right, first to have our feelings validated. But real love, deep love, is powerful because it costs you something. To choose love means we tap into self-control and sacrifice our own desire to be right or first.

Some of you reading this are already pushing back saying, “But what if it is an abusive relationship?” If you are unsure, please talk to a professional.

However, the majority of you reading this are not in that situation. More often than not, it is easy to conjure up “evidence” that the relationship is unhealthy in order to feel entitled to take your spot as first.

Real love will always cost something. I’m not suggesting you sacrifice your feelings and never bring them up again — that’s being a martyr and is just as destructive to you and the relationship.

But truly loving the other person means we love them beyond the level that we understand them as we temporarily push down and sacrifice our pride. It is painful to say, “I will be the first to listen and tend to your feelings. I will sacrifice what I want in the moment, to listen to what is important to you.”

That moment you push yourself to sacrificing being first will feel painful, excruciating even. Something in you will feel it is dying. And guess what? It is. Immaturity, pride, self-centeredness and ugliness inside of you is dying. But that is why the real kind of love is so powerful.

Having faith in its effectiveness is crucial. Love will simultaneously shape your character while mending the heart of another person. That is why marriage is one of the strongest assets we will have in our lifetime. Marriage will cost you your selfishness on a daily basis in return for maturity.

Contrary to popular belief, maturity is not the loudest in the room. It is often the quietest.

Think of this quote from an episode of the Netflix series “The Crown,” where Queen Mary is encouraging the new Queen Elizabeth on leadership: “To do nothing is the hardest job of all. To be impartial is not natural.”

Everything in you will want to win, but when you serve instead of taking first, you win something else: your spouse’s heart.

Love first, go second. Over time, your spouse will likely return the favor — and hope will return.

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The gap between my husband and me felt as wide as the Grand Canyon. Desperate to give it clarity, we called each life-changing moment that had over time created it a “sacred space.”

Let’s be real. After my husband’s first deployment, we did not reintegrate well. Even though we communicated as best we could while apart and were proactive in preparing for his return, things were just not syncing between the two of us.

He had experienced major life-changing moments while he was in theater — battle, injuries, death — cementing a sacred bond with his Army brothers that I would never understand.

And no matter how hard he tried to describe those moments that forever changed his perspective on life and service, I just couldn’t embrace it. I wasn’t there. I could never really know.

Similarly, I had been stretched during that deployment beyond what I thought I could survive. No matter how much I tried to detail overcoming loneliness, despair, potty-training a tyrant, or figuring my way after a car wreck, he simply didn’t share the memory with me.

These experiences weren’t something we could just walk away from, ignore or rewind. They were multi-sensory and sacred, meaning that they were set apart from the normal everyday moments in life.

They changed the trajectory of our outlook on life, view of self, and even God. They took up a significant “space” in our story, or in this case, individual stories. Some of them were traumatic and alienating, some of them were beautiful moments of community or spirituality.

You Have a Sacred Space

You have experienced these kinds of events during those long separations war has brought us. You know what I’m talking about.

After one particularly nasty argument, my husband and I agreed that the root issue was that each of us deeply wanted to feel understood by the other. We wanted to be seen. We could never go back and be a part of those things that shaped us and pushed as apart, so something had to change.

Our new goal was to listen to each other, even when we couldn’t fully understand. By starting off with “this is a sacred space for me,” we accepted that the other didn’t have to fully “get it,” but at least they could respect it, hear it and tread lightly on the monumental thing. It was a revolutionary decision in our military marriage.

I have introduced the “sacred spaces” terminology to many people since writing my book of the same title, and what I have found is that it universally describes moments in the human experience. Regardless of a person’s career path, we all desire to be understood. We all want someone to hear us, see us and know us.

A mother recently told me she finally realized that losing her child was a sacred space. She had been expecting everyone around her to grieve as she grieved. This new perspective allowed her to let go of that anger and find an inner circle of support that can better empathize.

A military spouse discovered that her resentment toward the marriage was not at her husband, but really toward her husband’s traumatic brain injury. It was an additional barrier to their attempts at communicating. She let go of her resentment as she wept tears of a new commitment to create more shared sacred spaces rather than focus on the separate ones.

It’s such a simple concept. It’s an acknowledgment that while we cannot go back in time, we can choose how we treat the past and what it has done to shape us and others. It’s not about tiptoeing around the hard stuff. It’s about seeing it for what it is — a sacred space — and knowing the real question is: Can I trust you to hold that sacred space?

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I recently watched as my cousin and his new fiancée constantly held each other, looked at each other, and played “footsie” under the table.

The beginning years of a relationship are filled with face-to-face moments in which the rest of the world disappears around you.

And then something happens.

Life happens. Children happen. Deployments and relocations happen.

That glorious face-to-face time with our spouse is replaced with the necessity of teamwork or, as I like to call it, “shoulder-to-shoulder.”

It’s a good thing, really. Military life brings a season of marriage in which we begin to see our spouse as a teammate, a partner. We begin to see how a work ethic can build trust in a marriage. We hopefully become dependable — and so does our spouse. Everything from finances to home life becomes a shoulder-to-shoulder experience as we plan, execute and team up to make it all work.

At the beginning of a new year or a new life season brought by a military move, many people consider a fresh start. If you’re among them, you may be aiming to lose a few pounds, be nicer to your kids, or join the other 45 percent of America who resolved to “live life to its fullest.”

I’m not exactly sure what “living life to its fullest” implies, but I like to think it means that people want to be more present in the moment and not take life for granted. And hopefully that includes the relationships in front of them.

Sometimes life takes a different turn and introduces difficulty that we never planned for. Perhaps your service member came home different from war. Maybe betrayal has entered your relationship. Maybe misunderstandings dominate your conversations or resentment has settled in.

Situations like these can throw us further off course. And instead of working face-to-face or shoulder-to-shoulder, we find ourselves standing back-to-back. In a twist of fate, that person we once played footsie with under the table feels more like a stranger than our best friend.

How did it happen?

Maybe face-to-face time became less of a priority. Or maybe it has become too vulnerable a feeling for you to look into your spouse’s eyes and see the distance in his soul. Or perhaps it is the distance in your own soul you don’t want him to see. Regardless, it is easier to hide when back-to-back.

Some of you have come up with every reason to stay there.

The power of face-to-face, both figurative and literal, is that you can’t hide. When face-to-face, you can’t ignore the forgiveness that needs to be asked for or freely given. You can’t help but see into your spouse’s heart and allow him or her to see into yours. In the face-to-face moments, we don’t age. That same couple who couldn’t stop holding each other re-emerges, and you realize that what you need most is your friend in front of you.

But how do you get back there?

When I interviewed Shasta Nelson, author of “Frientimacy” on my Lifegiver Podcast, she mentioned some brilliantly simple ideas about building intimacy into our friendships, including our marriages.

She said that healthy friendships are a place where both people feel seen, satisfied in the relationship (in other words, that it’s a positive experience), and safe.

Too often, we run away (literally or figuratively) when someone disappoints us. Yet, according to Shasta, deepening the intimacy of our friendships comes when we are able to practice our consistency and vulnerability in the midst of that difficulty. And that definitely can’t happen if we are back-to-back.

To start to get back there, stand literally face-to-face with your spouse and ask:

“Are we spending consistent time together where we feel seen?”

“Do I create a space where you feel emotionally safe?”

“Are we more focused on our problems than our victories?”

Deep intimacy and friendship in our marriage take work. Sometimes that means scheduling five minutes to sit face-to-face. Hopefully, living life to its fullest includes living your marriage to its fullest too.

— To hear more of Corie’s interview with Shasta Nelson, go here, or subscribe to Lifegiver on iTunes.

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Home.

I usually don’t know what to do with that word. Just as I am trying to create a “home,” I seem to be leaving it.

Military couples say “home” is not where I hang my pictures, and bumper stickers say it’s where my heart is. But there is something about the holidays that makes me want to go physically home.

After years of military life, I think I have figured out that “home” is a place where I feel known and, perhaps more importantly, seen. It’s a place where I feel understood and safe. It can be found in the arms of my spouse and over coffee with a friend. It is a longing that all of us have, and it doesn’t go away.

You have likely felt it too.

Some of you will travel “home” this season to be with those who knew you before you were a part of this great big military family. But when you arrive, you might also bring a little bit of desperation to the party.

The constant feeling of being away from home, while also trying to establish a home, can make anyone desperate to feel seen, known and understood.

Many adults subconsciously revert to a younger version of themselves when returning to their childhood homes and families, known in counselor parlance as the “family of origin.”

We do it even though life, war and military marriage has long changed us — and it happens without us planning or knowing. The phenomenon might be, for example, a reason visiting your in-laws with your spouse drives you crazy. Before your eyes, his personality changes to match the maturity level of his much younger years.

Or perhaps, like me, going “home” means you uncontrollably share your most vulnerable stories of what military life is really like. After all, they asked. But when I do that, I often find myself wishing I could recapture my words, just in case my listeners don’t really care or understand.

Or maybe you are my opposite and stay quiet, all the while assuming no one cares to notice that you are different since the last time they saw you.

It’s a great irony, really. In effort to find “home,” we set ourselves up for hurt when we walk into Christmas with expectations to which others are oblivious. And why wouldn’t they be? Families, even awesome ones with amazing holiday treats at the ready, are not mind readers.

But the holidays and visiting home don’t have to be hard or isolating. If your spouse is with you this Christmas season, I urge you to find “home” in each other in the midst of your travel. There is no one else on the planet with whom you will find a level of acceptance for how military life has changed you. And chances are your spouse will notice if you revert to that childhood version of yourself around your family members more than you will.

By preparing ahead of time, you can rely on each other to be your “home base” if part of who you are or the experiences you’ve had, what I call “sacred spaces,” feel misunderstood. Your spouse can be a support if something triggers you. And you can be the safe place where your spouse feels seen and understood.

Just as important, remember that those sacred spaces exist in everyone’s story. Military life is hard, and it’s easy to want to soak up all the empathy in the room even unintentionally. But each person around the family table desires to be seen, whether they’ve held down a home front or not. Everyone has a story they wish to tell, a significant moment in time that made them who they are today.

So perhaps the best gift we can give is to create an opportunity for understanding and empathy — a shared sacred space — where we all truly listen to each other and then vulnerably love each other in light of that story.

Make time to ask the oldest family member about a moment that made them who they are. Ask a child about the best memory they had of the last school semester. Ask a teenager about a friend who showed up when they thought they had no one. Ask your spouse to share why their battle buddy was given such a worthy role.

Maybe in our listening as well as sharing, the greatest surprise is that we will find a “home” in what we do for each other.

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Wartime has been the guest in my home (and likely yours) that has long overstayed its welcome. Yet, as a military couple, we chose a lifestyle of service to our country that includes adding a seat at the table and sometimes a guest room for this “visitor.” Plans are made around whether or not deployment is the in the future and uncertainty of world events impacts the training calendar.

If you are like me, you have gotten so accustomed to the “guest” that is war that it has become more like a member of the family – adopted, even. Personally, once I accepted this addition to the family, my ability to support my husband got much easier. Like some second cousin twice removed, it seems to come and go and sometimes stay for way too long Many of us welcomed the military lifestyle with open arms. We were full of blissful visions of yellow ribbons and flags on our porch.

We did not anticipate wartime setting up camp at the foot of the bed.

For some of us some, war still sneaks into the bedroom and whispers memories into your service member’s ear or fear into the heart of a spouse. Few talk about it, though. Looking down the block, they see everyone else’s flag flying and assume their adoption of war was smooth and flawless. They don’t see the truth behind the flag: war is always messy.

I love the name of this new feature, Love War. Figuring out how to love in the midst of war takes a level of intentionality that rivals that extended family member who takes over the whole house. We tend to present our best selves when guests first arrive. We utilize a level of self-control that we didn’t even realize we had.

Unwelcomed guests like war get old really fast.

I believe a revolutionary idea: that it is completely possible to not only love, but to love better in the midst of war. Finding the courage and desire to intentionally be our best selves even when life gets more challenging is not easy.

Yet therein lies the secret to a better marriage: Great marriages are not void of difficulty. Character, both our own and for our marriage, is developed from digging deep, dealing with our stuff and choosing to be our best even when our spouse, or guest, seemingly “deserves” our worst.

The strong couples that I have talked to look back on their most difficult seasons and appreciate what it did to help them grow up.

I am inviting you to be more intentional in your marriage. Whatever impact wartime has had, or is having, on your marriage today, allow it to build the character in you to become better.

If you are in deployment, allow it to challenge your communication skills. If you are in reintegration, push it out of the bedroom by replacing it with shared memories and moments. If you are transitioning out of service, you may be wondering how to love each other if this guest is suddenly making you feel like empty nesters.

Whether wartime has just moved in or overstayed its welcome, love in the midst of it by intentionally loving better than you did before. Dig deep, pay attention to your own stuff, then be your best.

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My professor set me up for success in the clinical world when I was tasked read Unspeakable Truths and Happy Endings: Human Cruelty and the New Trauma Therapy, by Rebecca Coffey.  The purpose, was to prepare us as students to sit in the pocket of the client’s story- no matter how tragic or graphic.  It was a challenging task as the book was filled with gruesome stories, including one of a veteran, introducing me to the impact of combat trauma.  It was a wake-up call to the high honor and power of listening to someone’s story, especially those of military families.

In addition to the symptoms of post-traumatic stress, many of us have likely seen some form of soul injury in our office. The term “moral injury” has gained attention over the last decade as an additional area of focus in the treatment of veterans.  Coined by Jonathan Shay, but further defined by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, moral injury refers to an “act of transgression, which shatters moral and ethical expectations.”[i]  The act of “transgression” being the center and key to whether or not there has been a personal value or moral injured.

But I have wrestled lately with something else going on in my clients, something in addition to moral injury.  I have seen it occur in my life as a military spouse as well as in my husband’s experience as a chaplain, one who is not regulated to carry a weapon or engage in battle. This particular type of soul injury involves a shattering of values or beliefs not just due to actions in combat, but when one experiences the deep hurt and disappointment of those they are supposed to trust.  As it relates to moral injury, this can definitely occur when someone in authority commands them to perform an action that goes against their values, but it doesn’t account for the soul injury that occurs when they come home and reintegrate into society.

Joshua Mantz, a service member who tells his vulnerable story in his TED talk “Overcoming Moral Injuries” states that veterans who struggle with moral injury do so because they have experienced the “worst of what humanity can do”.[ii]  Many that struggle with suicide are often those who painfully witness the “worst of humanity” in their own actions, breaking a sort of self-trust.  Witnessing the atrocities of war, evil, death, and destruction breaks the long held hope that good triumphs evil.  Instead, around any corner there-after lies the danger of being surprised by the wounding or disappointment in life and humanity.

Chaplain (Colonel) Timothy Mallard also experienced this “missing piece” and defined it as “spiritual injury”, the “intra and inter-personal damage to souls brought on by significant trauma, including the rupture to foundational religious values, beliefs, and attitudes, the inability to healthfully participate in an immanent human faith community, and the temporary or permanent loss of a transcendent relationship to God (manifested particularly in questions about forgiveness, doubt, truth, meaning, and hope).”[iii]  Different, although connected to moral injury, spiritual injury speaks of the impact trauma has on one’s relationship with family, community, and God. Left untreated, these two injuries to the soul have devastating effects on a person and family.  According to Mallard, veterans returning home find themselves not only reintegrating into the family, but attempting to assimilate back into community. These two, then, become the testing ground for whether or not the veteran will attempt reintegration in his or her spiritual life.

As a mental health clinician and military spouse, I contend that we must accept the impact our personal response has in either validating or disproving the new construct that arrests the injured soul, or as Mallard calls it “spiritual injury”. If it is true that we are the testing ground or gate-keepers in restoring the hope that humanity is still good, we have a high calling indeed.  When they enter our office, these families bring with them the hope, albeit a fading spark, that good can win.  There, in the vulnerable, exposed and naked attempt to tell their story, as Rebecca Coffey taught me, is our chance.  However, if they instead receive apathy or worse- a cold, sterile clinical approach, we risk a crisis of the moral human experience leading many to the divorce of humanity all together.

Far too often in my attempts to advocate mental health within the military community, I hear accounts of re-injury in the clinical office.  I am weary of stories, even if they are in the minority, of clinicians falling asleep in session, not understanding the culture, or worse treating the diagnosis rather than the person. If we aim to be part of breaking the stigma that mental health truly makes a difference, then cultural competency must extend past traditional cultural awareness and count the military culture as worth our time to study.

After doing life with the military community, there are some key points that are not commonly addressed, but are crucial to treating the expanding needs of military families.  While the basics of understanding acronyms and branch specifics goes a long way, it will not go so far as our response to their moral and spiritual injury.

1. The military is an elite space and access is earned.

Being invited into this community is not something to take lightly.  It is a reverent “club” where trauma is both a stigma and an intense connective agent. Wearing the uniform alone does not earn you access.  Deployment does not even deem you worthy.  It is a raw, gritty, and real group of individuals and family members that have learned to push through adversity and personal pain.  Both service members and spouses have been pushed to their limits and back again and although they present a tough exterior, it is quite vulnerable.  Gaining rapport with this community requires that you also are vulnerable and real, and that you can meet them there quickly.  Although this may not require full transparency, they need to know that you are authentic as well.

Respect is earned by showing you can push through, are loyal, and will give your all when it matters most. Military life requires us to build relationships quickly if we want community, but that means we also assess others quickly.  We never know when our life will change and call us away. There is no time for 10 sessions of “getting to know each other” so they will determine within the first session whether you are safe, authentic, and whether you can be trusted with their most sacred stories.

2.  You will never reach a place where real healing can happen without regarding the sacred spaces as sacred.

When Matt returned from his first deployment, I knew he was different.  We both were.  He had experienced death and grief on a level I had not.  He had lost friends, memorialized his soldiers, and counseled his brothers through the darkest moments of their life.  I had experienced my own version of survival parenting on my own, overcoming loneliness, and navigating the life on my own.  Matt came home with a “carpe diem” mentality- of live life to the fullest while I had wrestled life to the ground into full submission.  In our reintegration, we clashed in our efforts to feel simultaneously understood and seen.  Both experiences were life changing, both had experienced moral and/or spiritual injuries now a part of our narrative. We discovered that our response to each other’s injury could either heal or further injure the other.

As I reflected on how memories of joy and trauma are secured by the sensory parts of the brain, my husband and I both experience flashbacks of our separate experiences in a sensory way.  When my husband looks off into the distance remembering his friend’s body, I know his past is invading his present.  In similar ways, recounting intense community with fellow spouses during a difficult deployment brings up sensory memories for me.  In our attempt to find a new way to communicate, we coined the phrase “Sacred Spaces”.  Sacred Spaces are multi-sensory, life-changing events set apart from the normal day to day experiences that now take up significant space in our story, individually and together.  It has become a way for us to say, “I’ve been through something so big that I’m different because of it.  I can’t change that, but I need you to tread lightly when I talk about it.  You can’t fix it, and we definitely can’t ignore it.”[iv] In essence, we became healing agents in our response to each other’s most sacred moments by treating them as sacred.

Most military members will never have the right verbiage to describe their most significant moments as a Sacred Space but will viscerally experience it as sacred.  Much like walking into a cathedral, so is the honor of listening to the vulnerable stories of military families.  In order to succeed, we must learn how to not only walk into a sacred space, but through it.  In a culture where a service member must become a god whose actions decide on the life or death of another, it requires another deity that can give them permission to be human again.   Your capacity to sit with them in their pain, courage, grief, insecurity, ego, and humility all at once gives them that permission.  This very moment between the two of you will then become its own Sacred Space where acceptance, forgiveness, and mercy is a glimpse into the deeper question of whether God will respond the same. You then symbolize the community’s role in reintegrating the veteran while also modeling that for the family member.  It is one of the most sacred things we can do for another.

3.  Evidence based is effective, but it is your human connection that will change a life. 

My favorite part of Mantz’s talk (spoiler alert) was that he, at his lowest point considering suicide, discovered a clinician who showed up.  This act of humanity changed the trajectory of his life by modeling that good existed and was in direct contrast to the evil he saw on the battle field.  That moment revealed that the only way to heal the visceral soul tear from experiencing the worst of humanity, is to prove that humanity’s best is far more powerful.  If we wish to model the best of what humanity has to offer to the military community, it must include the human connection.

Evidence based modalities continue to provide some of the best outcomes I have seen to reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress, however, our delivery and approach must equally include human warmth.  Mantz states that it takes moral courage to ‘“dive deep into the emotional state that they are in, truly and inherently understand what they are going through, walk through the depths of hell with them, grab them by the hand and say ‘You are not alone anymore- we are going to get you out of this’.”[v]

Too often, military families and veterans seek counseling only to be met with an immediate diagnosis or treatment plan.  These play a necessary role in progress, but the military community is too raw to tolerate the cold approach of academic treatment plans that lack the human dimension. Death is cold, and so is evil.  Our approach must show a direct contrast to that experience.  When avoidance is already high, many military families fear therapy will feel transactional and assume it will be one more place they feel misunderstood.

4.  You will miss the mark if you forget the family.  Everyone forgets the family.

The military spouse community holds a secret, even amongst themselves, that they have accepted a life of being unseen.  While America is making huge progress in tending to the challenges of careers and deployment readiness, military spouses have an unspoken commitment to put the military and service member first.  The cost to themselves, is an incredible amount of repression and anger that subconsciously destroys families.  It is undeniable to them that their service member’s visible and invisible wounds of war pale in comparison to their own personal suffering.  The comparison is quite real within military marriages with the spouse usually accepting the submissive role as secondary in her desire to see her spouse well and whole from these injuries.  While spouses may present themselves as strong and willing to go “second”, clinicians must not play in to the pattern that exists.

Military spouses are often unaware of the underlying resentment that exists, much less what needs to change in order to be authentic within counseling or their marriage.  It is their patriotic duty to serve their serving spouse rather than take care of self.  In my own life, I saw this to be true when I had the opportunity to travel overseas with the Secretary of Defense and visit deployment conditions.  In my visit to warring countries I never thought I would see, I came face-to-face with my own reflection.  I saw my own resentment of the difficulty that war brought into my life and marriage.

Over the mountains of Afghanistan, I ultimately came to terms with my role as a military spouse  and wife.  I had the greatest healing power of all to show my husband that good could triumph evil. I, even in my imperfection, could be the most consistent experience of the best of what humanity could offer. My ability to embrace the messiness that military life had handed us, could rebalance the scales.  In order for me to do this though, I had to first process through the moral and spiritual injury I had also experienced, the death of my expectations of an easier life. (For more, read my story, Sacred Spaces: My Journey to the Heart of Military Marriage).

In Coffey’s book, she quotes Bessel Van der Kolk, one of the leading researchers of post-traumatic stress.  He tells a survivor, “Pay more attention to the therapist’s intellectual and emotional equipment than theoretical system… Pay attention to whether the therapist really wants to hear the troubles you have to tell. Ask yourself, ‘Do I feel validated?  Is the therapist really listening to my story?’”[vi]  Listening to someone’s story, not just for the story itself, but because someone has a story to tell is one of the highest honors of being a clinician.  As you seek to serve the military community and become culturally competent, think back to what ignited the spark within you to become a healer. There is an entire community waiting for someone to truly listen.


[i] Shira Maguen and Brett Litz, “Moral Injury in the Context of War,” U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs National Center for PTSD, accessed online at http:www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/co-occurring/moral_injury_at_war.asp on March 3, 2017

[ii] Joshua Mantz, “Overcoming Moral Injuries”, Tedx Santo Domingo, accessed online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORBf73HiJns, (2016)

[iii] Timothy Mallard, “Spiritual Injury: Toward a Definition, Criteria, and Treatment Response for Wounded Warriors and Families, “ D.D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center Department of Behavioral Health and U.S. Army Cyber Center of Excellence Unit Ministry Team Interdisciplinary Moral and Spiritual Injury Symposium, Fort Gordon, GA (26 May 2016)

[iv] Weathers, Corie, Sacred Spaces: My Journey to the Heart of Military Marriage (St. Paul, MN: Elva Resa Publishers, 2016), 18.

[v]Mantz (2016).

[vi] Coffey, Rebecca. Unspeakable Truths and Happy Endings: Human Cruelty and the New Trauma Therapy. (Baltimore, MD: Sidran Institute Press, 1998) 85.

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Being a military family is tough.  There are not only significant challenges, but endless resources out there to help you.  How do you know who to go to?  Who is standing up for the needs we have?  Is anyone in the upper echelons paying attention?

If you are an ARMY family, then I have a special treat for you.  You may not be aware that there is an Assocation just for the Army that is looking into all of this and more.  AUSA (The Association of the United States Army) is an association that is lobbying for issues that are important to your family, talking to experts who know the research on what our families need, as well as listening to our needs and trying to address them on a national level and a local level.  That may sound like a bunch of stuff that is not in your lane, but the gist of it is- someone cares about you and your family, and wants you to succeed.  Even more than that

Someone is listening…

Today, I have a beautiful interview with Patty Barron, the Family Readiness Director of AUSA.  She is our mother hen in the military spouse world.  She has been to almost every event I have ever been to- listening to what we are saying and working hard to find answers. In this interview, Patty talks about the AUSA Annual Conference and how you can participate as a family as well as what the  AUSA Family Readiness side of things has for you.

Watch here:

Patty talks about:

Family Readiness Spouse Forums:  Webinars on topics that families have requested help on that you can participate in live or watch them at your convenience.

Learning & Leaning In: Military Spouse Led Non Profits Supporting One Anotherhttps://www.ausa.org/news/live-stream-military-spouse-led-nonprofits-supporting-one-another

Update on Military Kids: Annual AUSA Family Forum: https://www.ausa.org/events/ausa-annual-meeting-exposition/sessions/mff1-update-military-kids-how-are-they-doing-what-do

PREPARING FOR A LIFE IN OR OUTSIDE THE ARMY THROUGH FINANCIAL READINESS, MILITARY SPOUSE EMPLOYMENT AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP: https://www.ausa.org/events/ausa-annual-meeting-exposition/sessions/mffii-preparing-life-or-outside-army-through

A Town Hall with Senior Army Leaders: https://www.dvidshub.net/video/486130/ausa-2016-family-forum-3

Local AUSA Chapters in your community.  www.ausa.org

The future of AUSA:
Patty wants to hear from you!  What are your needs an concerns as a military family?  She is willing to pull together resources and experts to answer the big questions that you have.  How would you most like to receive answers to your questions?  Webinars? Podcasts?  Emails?

Our culture tends to struggle, isolated, in their homes not realizing there are answers and help right in front of them.   AUSA is one you definitely need to know about and get involved with!

 

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If you didn’t know, I love Wonder Woman.  As a child, I zipped up my leather boots, grabbed my nylon yellow rope my Dad had in the garage and lassoed trees in the yard.  Forcing them to tell me the truth about where to save the woman or man held by the enemy.  I had little reference for this superhero other than Linda Carter on TV.  Bullets bounced off her bracelets and she could jump to the top of a building so after every show, I’d run outside and see if I could do the same- except for the bullet thing- but I imagined it.

There has always been something inside of me that wanted the truth to win.  I saw no good in secrets and lies other than good secrets like birthday parties and surprises.  Evil used lies all the time and I just knew, way deep down inside, that there was something powerful about the truth- and I wanted to fight for it. In John 8:32, Jesus tells the Jews around him, “If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

I have lived my life, since I was very little running around in under-roo’s, seeking the freedom that truth brings.  So… I became a counselor, aiming to help others discover their need for truth as well.

In the past year, Matt decided that if I was going to be a real Wonder Woman fan, I needed to read her comics.  So we picked up the New 52 series one at a time.  I have to say that I have loved it.  I read it slowly, digesting it in pieces- what I assume a fan really does.  I wanted to share with you what I’ve learned…

  • Wonder Woman struggles with her identity.  She struggles with who she is and what she is here to do. She is always searching for her purpose and living that fully.
  • She struggles with what others expect her to be.  Trying to be all things to all people.  In this series, she is given the task of being the God of War.   Contrasting that is her strength is to love and protect all life.  It turns out, this new role practically eats her alive as she is tempted to be something she isn’t.  She has to dig deep to be who she truly is- someone who brings peace even when it still instigates war.
  • She sees the best in others.  She wants to believe that everyone is good and capable of love as well, and when they aren’t- she can’t comprehend it.  But every time, she can’t help but see the good in them.
  • At some point, she can’t trust her own judgement and has to use her lasso.  Forged by the gods, it is her only tool for seeing things clearly.  Yet, this very same tool humbles her and strips her of her own power.
  • Her desire to love others comes out of her own need for love and acceptance.  It is her greatest weaknesses and is often used against her.  It haunts her, but she brings purpose out of it by loving others.

It turns out… I really AM Wonder Woman.  As silly as that may sound to you, it brings me full circle and a sense of completion way down deep in my core.  My Father, the God of the Heavens, created me with a purpose.  I love others, deeply.  I hate to see pain in their eyes.  I dig for truth, fight for justice, sacrifice sometimes too much of myself for the sake of others to have freedom from whatever binds them.  I know that the truth of scripture is the answer- bringing clarity to confusion, strength to those who need it, and light into the darkest places.  I also know that it brings me to my knees every time.  Revealing the painful truth of my weakness and insecurity.  It reveals that I am not as strong as I think I am.  I largely serve others out of my own issues, and that I can wear myself out in the temptation of thinking that I, too, am a god- when I am not and never have been.  But I AM in the family of the one TRUE God- and that makes me an heir- able to live in the freedom that Christ died for me to have.  If only I could believe that all the time… but my own issues get in the way, confusion sets in, the lies of the enemy taunt me and I forget for a moment that I have a lasso of truth, the Word, at my side- glowing, ready to be used, ready to shed light, ready to free us all.

This is not a spoiler, but this picture showed up towards the end and it is so perfect for where I am in life right now.

 

I have given all I have in me lately… 

Out of my love for others…

Using every bit of my own strength…

Relying on the prayers that some of you have offered…

Trying my best to listen to His guidance…

Fulfilling the calling He has placed on my heart…

And I find myself in His arms ready to rest.

He has been fighting the worst of the battles for me, but I have been fighting the ones that he has allowed.

Here is the truth-

He has given each of you a calling:

He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

He has given you armor:

Therefore take up the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you will be able to stand your ground, and having done everything, to stand. Ephesians 6:13

He has given you a lasso:

For though we live in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh. The weapons of our warfare are not the weapons of the world. Instead, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We tear down arguments, and every presumption set up against the knowledge of God; and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:3

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. John 1:4

But He has also given you an identity:

‘Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’ Isaiah 41:10

Now Rest

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One of the biggest challenges we can face as a military spouse is when our service member comes home different from deployment. Although thousands of service members return every year unscathed, even the most boring deployment causes a couple to struggle finding a new normal.

Many service members experience difficulties with depression, anxiety, or PTSD and immediately seek the help that they need.  Military leaders are beginning to testify to mental health counseling and we can only hope that this encourages more service members.  I am frequently asked “How do I convince my service member to get help?”  My answer of “you can’t” may sound more disheartening, but stay with me.  You do have incredible influence.

Anxiety, irritability, and aggression from a struggling service member can make it difficult to feel connected in your marriage.  As always, if you ever feel unsafe, please find safety and seek the help of a professional to help you take healthy steps forward. However, if deployment consequences are making it difficult for you to have a connected healthy relationship with your spouse, here are a few ways that you have influence.

  1. Take care of you.  If you are weary from holding down the homefront, it is tempting to feel you are doing most of the work in your marriage.  At no point would I suggest that you stop working on your marriage.  Marriage is hard work, hardest on the days we want to feel entitled to hit a big pause button.  Finding ways to replenish and feel healthy on your own will give you the fuel you need to keep pursuing your spouse’s heart, even when you don’t feel like it.  Running constantly on empty will only result in breeding resentment, anger, and leaving you wanting to withdraw.  Counseling for you individually can give you support, perspective, and guidance on how to set healthy boundaries. Model what it looks like to take care of yourself, but do it for yourself first.
  2. Turn the lights on.  When one spouse “stops working” on themselves or the relationship, it can be scary for the other spouse who suddenly feels out of control.  Many feel they are walking on a minefield around the topic.  While some turn to nagging, others withdraw.  “Turning on the lights” means that we are honest with our spouse in kindness and love about the tension already in the relationship. Tension is already in the relationship, but how we say it is important.  Consider speaking the truth by saying, “Hon, when you refuse to get help, I feel hopeless.  I want us to be close again, but it cannot happen if you don’t try.”
  3. Resist enabling.  One does not find value in something unless it costs them something.  If you are making appointments for a resistant spouse, you are not helping.  Unfortunately, some need to “hit bottom” before they realize the damage they are causing and reach out.  Your best role as a spouse is to “turn on the lights” whenever it seems your spouse’s heart is open to hearing it.  Otherwise, be available to support them when they hit bottom and are ready to do the work.

For more on this topic, read Boundaries, by Townsend and Cloud and subscribe to my podcast, Lifegiver Military Spouse Podcast.

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As a mother of two boys, moving three times in two years has been especially difficult.  I have worried that the military lifestyle will have a negative impact on their lives. Like many of you, I have held them as they cried when leaving teachers and friends.  I have even pulled my youngest son off the fence in the backyard when he was convinced he could run away back “home”.  I absolutely love supporting my husband as he works hard in his calling.  But sometimes, watching my children struggle is enough to make me doubt it all.

Anyone who works with military children will tell you they have an amazing ability to adapt to new circumstances. They learn valuable tools that will make them extremely successful in the “real world”.  As Brene Brown, a researcher, once said “children are hard wired for struggle”.  Over protecting them actually does more harm than good.  Sometimes I have to remind myself that our lifestyle is all they know.  They have not experienced living in one place their whole life.  I also remind myself that what I am feeling inside is not what they are feeling.

Mommy Guilt, is actually shame.  Telling myself “I am a bad mother for _____” is extremely unproductive.  You can identify it by almost any negative statement that starts with “I am…” I am a bad person, I am unworthy, I am unloved, I am a horrible parent… Known as the “swampland of the soul”, shame can spiral into a place where no one can save you but you.  None of it is true, and it is up to you to pull yourself out.  Guilt, on the other hand, is admitting I have done something wrong and then making it right which is very productive.  If we can identify something we have done wrong, we are usually motivated to make it right.  I have already seen the battle of shame start in my child’s life.  Knowing how to differentiate the two and modeling handling it in our own life is a powerful tool to teach our children the same.

So when the warm wash of shame comes over me, I pull myself out of it, comfort my boys, and tend to their heart.  I assure them that life is never easy but we have each other.  If needed, I explain the calling on our hearts as adults and how they will one day feel a call too.  Their role is an important part of our team. To tend to my own heart, I know I can go to my more seasoned military spouse friends who assure me that my kids will turn out more than fine.  They share with me their own stories of parenting and the importance of keeping the marriage team strong.  I am so thankful for these mentors in my life who share how they raised successful well adjusted adults.  Their example and willingness to serve in the “village” of the military culture paves a path of success for my own family that is priceless.  It is also a reminder that we are all part of the village.  That we, too, get to pay it forward as we serve another parent struggling.

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Matt and I have been blessed to provide close to 35 marriage retreats since joining the Army through the Strong Bonds Program.  It is possibly our favorite thing to do.  To see families drive somewhere away from their everyday life to reconnect brings us joy.  We love to teach together, model new skills, be vulnerable with our own story, and watch couples find that spark.  Our retreats are always working retreats.  Much like my counseling style, I love to see people work hard on themselves and their relationships.  I love to look across the room as couples look into each others’ eyes and find that spark again.

 

This year, I was humbled to be asked to be an Ambassador for the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation.  I have always felt a pull towards the Foundation as we have similar missions and values about helping marriages succeed.  As my relationship with CKFF has grown, I have been blown away by their humility, integrity, and genuine love for the people they serve.  Even as our talks began with how we could work together to serve military and first responder families, the staff expressed their desire to make sure my own family succeeded.

In the past 8 years that Matt and I have served military families as a chaplain family and counselor, I don’t think we ever asked whether or not we might need to be served ourselves.  It is our calling.  Even as we sigh in exhaustion from leading an event, the satisfaction that another family was invested in, confirms our desire to do it again the next day.

 

Two weeks ago, the CKFF offered Matt and I a chance to go on one of their Revitalization Retreats.  These retreats are given to military and first responder couples who are nominated as needing a chance to reconnect in their marriage.  Many of these couples struggle with PTSD, years of separations and stress, and little time to work on their marriage.  Some may be on the brink of falling apart.  CKFF grants these families that serve the opportunity to go away for a weekend and not work on anything heavy- simply to go and “be” with their spouse.  At first, I wondered if simply “being” with their spouse was enough to turn things around, but as I found out- it is just as powerful as the hard work Matt and I recommend during the retreats we lead.

I felt guilty for accepting the Retreat from CKFF.  I thought, there are so many more deserving couples in need of this opportunity.  The past year has been a flurry of opportunities for me that few would ever get to do.  Yet as the staff of CKFF reminded me, sometimes you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you can care for someone else.  Did Matt and I need a retreat?  You bet we did.  As we thought on it, every get-away but one in our 17 years was a working trip that we tried to turn into an opportunity to care for ourselves too.  Weddings Matt performed, marriage retreats we led for others, we would throw in a date night.  Even trainings for work we tried to claim as a vacation.  Never had we gone somewhere just to be with each other.

The CKFF motto is “When one person serves, the whole family unit serves.”  This is so true.  We affectionately call ourselves #TeamWeathers and our boys have joined in the calling to serve other families.  Marriage retreats are opportunities for the boys to serve in childcare.  Our family has felt honored to be a military family and give back.

All of that, including moving twice in a year had taken a toll.  A retreat like this could not have come at a better time. This year has felt like I had been the one deployed and Matt often sacrificing to be the flexible and available one while still sustaining his own job.

The CKFF Revitalization Retreat came with a flight for Matt and I to Charleston, SC.  But what about our children?  We had just moved away from family and did not have connections to anyone who could care for them for an extended amount of time.  The answer? The CKFF flew my mom to our home as well as gave her spending money to make sure she had a great time with the kids.  Amazing, right?  We have always been able to offer childcare at retreats, but for someone to go to that measure to make sure our whole family was taken care of made all the difference for us to go with peace.

 

The staff, calling themselves “our concierges” for the weekend made themselves available to us the entire weekend.  They asked us what kinds of activities they could plan for us.  If there was something we wanted to do, I’d just call and “Poof!” they made it happen.  There were many tours around Charleston we could have taken advantage of, but because our life has been so scheduled, we opted for lots of free time instead.

They scheduled amazing dinners we would have never asked for ourselves.  Reservation made, gratuity already taken care of, and whatever we wanted on the menu at our fingertips.  A couple’s massage topped it all off.  Our hotel was flawless, with the freedom to order room service and not leave the room at all if we wanted.  For someone who keeps the budget, it was an amazing feeling to have breakfast brought to the room where we could watch the news without the children interrupting and drink coffee before it turned cold. As glamorous as it sounds, it was hard to receive- we had taken the place of serving others for so long, it was humbling to be given such a gift.

We went for walks where we talked about all kinds of things- our life, our shared memories, our vision for serving in the future, the forgiveness we had shared with each other over the years, and we also had moments where we said nothing at all.  Just holding hands, walking down the street on a Spring day.  The newness all around us, reminding us that seasons change and everyday is a day to start again.

 

It seems we did so much more than that, and yet we tried our best to do nothing at all.  Something so foreign to us that we actually had to work hard at it.

If all of that wasn’t enough, we were greeted with flowers when we got home.  “We hope you had a wonderful retreat, Love the CKFF Team”.

For just a moment, it felt like royalty. Not that we felt entitled to it, but that we felt worthy of the kindness and service from someone else.   All I can say, is that I have never felt more loved or valued by an organization that by CKFF and their staff.  First, that they would even extend a retreat to us.  We would never ask for it, but in the midst of our calling, they cared about our marriage thriving.

To be honest, I needed someone to care about that.  In order for me to keep caring for all of you.

We didn’t feel just noticed or acknowledged.  We felt seen.  Truly seen for the sacrifice that we (and so many others) give every day.  With tears in both of our eyes, we kept looking at each other in disbelief.  People really care that much?  It opened our eyes to truly see how powerful it is to just “be” with your spouse.  Marriage is hard work, and should be.  But my marriage already has to work hard.  We needed the reminder that we must also make time to play or say nothing at all.  That spark that was there in the beginning is just right under the surface.  You may just have to simply step out of the stress of everyday life to see it again.

Thank you to the Chris Kyle frog Foundation and all those who have donated to make this and other retreats possible.  You are changing lives, which change families, who then go out and save lives.

To donate to the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation and make this posssible for more military and first responder families, click here.

 

 

 

 

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Recommitting can never come too late or too often.  With Spring around the corner, it reminds us that life can come out of the harshest of seasons, even when you think there is no life left.  Seasons will come in marriage that make you feel that you’ve taken a detour or worse, lost and can’t find your way back.  The power of marriage is that it has the ability to empower and renew even the coldest of relationships.

As I work with couples who wish to “start again”, I often remind them that every day is a chance to start again. In order for your marriage to strengthen over time, a couple must be willing to continuously choose to renew their commitment to grow. The ideal is for both people in the relationship to simultaneously want new things and be willing to do their part to make it happen.  Of course this doesn’t always happen.  Renewal can happen even if you are the only one who wants it, however, you must know where you end and someone else begins.

Boundaries in marriage takes some people by surprise.  We often assume that once we say “I do” we are to own everything including our spouse’s choices.  In reality, we can only control ourselves.  Understanding that we each decide how we behave and that you can’t control your spouse is the first step to empower real change in your relationship.  If you are unhappy with the current pattern, begin by owning your part of the pattern.  Is there something your spouse has asked you change and you haven’t?  Is your spouse’s negative behavior triggering something in you?  Map out the unhealthy pattern, then take ownership of you by choosing a healthier path.  It will not be easy and will take some time, but it is definitely possible start a better pattern.  The good news is that only three things can happen…

  1. The other person will cause chaos (quiet or loud) to pull you back into the old pattern. This almost always happen first. It is natural because all of us get comfortable, even with unhealthy patterns we despise.  The question is, can you hold the new healthy pattern long enough to outlast the chaos.  You will most definitely fall into the old pattern by habit at some point in the process, just start again.  If you outlast the chaos, then only two things can happen…
  2. They can abandon the relationship or
  3. They will join you in the healthier pattern.

Of course no one wants the other person to abandon the relationship.  We must overcome that fear and realize we never had control over their choice to begin with.  Do you want change enough to risk it?  In all of my years of counseling, the only ones who have abandoned the relationship were the (very) few that had already done so in their heart and never planned to change. Some complex situations may be more difficult so please find support from a professional. Everyday boundaries can be done with love and kindness.  Some examples are:

  • Having dinner at a scheduled time even when a spouse is notoriously late
  • Allowing the natural consequences of a parent’s distant relationship with the kids instead of fixing or explaining it away.
  • Choosing to end conflict by providing a warning then calling a “time out” instead of having a yelling match.

It turns out, you have more power than you think.  You have the power to a healthier you.  A healthier you has incredible power towards a healthier relationship.  For more, consider reading Boundaries by John Townsend and Henry Cloud.

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By now, you hopefully know me well enough to trust me as I address a topic that many couples are afraid to talk about- SEX!  Although I can’t cover everything, I thought I would tackle the most common issues I hear about in my counseling office, especially with military couples.  While some may have differing opinions on the matter, these suggestions are my clinical opinion on ways you can keep your intimacy healthy and avoid destructive minefields.

  1. My husband wants to have sex more often than me.  Although it is more common for men to have a higher libido than women, there are many women who can identify.   Differing sex drives can be difficult on a couple.  Finding a balance that works for both of you requires communication and planning (which sounds very unsexy).  Talk about whether the issue is frequency or quality and how you each would define those.  Assuming this is not an issue of sex addiction but difference in preference, remember that your spouse is wanting to express his love for you.
  2. How do we stay “connected” when we are separated? Sex in marriage is designed to be a language that goes beyond words.  There are only a few circumstances where I would recommend to a couple that they not be intimate. So when a couple is separated by military missions, it is important to decide together how you will handle the separation sexually.  Pornography is destructive, only encouraging an attachment to false images and feeding unrealistic expectations.  Consider finding safe and creative ways to keep you focused on each other as much as possible. And remember, your need for emotional connection is likely just as strong as his need for physical connection!
  3. Issues from my past make it difficult for me to fully enjoy sex. This is a bigger issue than you may realize.  1 in 4 women (and possibly men) have experienced sexual or physical trauma that makes intimacy in marriage a real challenge. Counseling can make a huge difference on everything from getting to know your body to learning to relax and stay connected to your body.  Like many things in marriage, sex requires a focus on self and your spouse, sometimes at the same time. Preparing yourself ahead of time by taking charge of the evening or taking a bath to ready your mind can make a big difference.

Sex is intended to be both a playground and a place to emotionally connect.  With it, you have powerful influence over your spouse feeling loved and needed.  That is an awesome opportunity, and only you get to do that!  Remember, marriage is an iron-sharpens-iron dynamic that is designed to make you a better person.  Intimacy is often the crucible where that happens.  It requires communication, grace, and a servant heart. This is the most fragile place for a couple to show up, so take care of it!

Here are some extra resources that can help:

Authenticintimacy.org Full of blogs, podcasts, and bible studies on healthy ways of making progressi n your sexual intimacy.

Books by Shanty Fedhahn: Through A Man’s Eyes, For Women Only, For Men Only

Dr. Douglas E. Rosenau:A Celebration Of Sex: A Guide to Enjoying God’s Gift of Sexual Intimacy

 

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Sacred Spaces and “Not Understanding”

It was the day before the packers were coming.  I had spent every day for the last two weeks cleaning out drawers and rooms while the kids and my husband were out of the house.  To say I was tired was an understatement.  “I think we need to sit and talk”, my husband said.  The kids were acting out and that was tempting me to act out.  I was frustrated that everyone was not giving me their last bits of energy to complete my pre-move checklist.  I was a week away from a trip that would take me across the world to experience deployment from a military spouse perspective.  Christmas was three weeks away. Did I mention we were moving?  Agreeing to go on this trip would mean that my husband would have to receive our household goods and handle the kids’ first week of transition on his own.  I had been wearing myself out in an unconscious attempt at relieving my guilt for leaving.

“This is all part of the process.” Matt said, “I know you feel bad for leaving, but I will be fine.”

I was shocked.  I didn’t think I was doing it out of guilt, or at least I wasn’t ready to admit it.

“These last minute tasks that you are stressing about are not worth it.  You are leaving in a week, Corie. Think about it.  You may know that you are going to be safe, but the only thing the kids know is that you are going to Afghanistan.  We need to cut them a break. The priority doesn’t need to be the house at this moment.”

Great.  Now there was no denying the guilt I felt for leaving- leaving in general, leaving during a move, leaving before Christmas.

He continued with a loving smirk, “If you are going to experience what it is like for a soldier, then take note.  This is all part of the process.”

I paused.  He was right.  I sometimes hate when he is right.  Up until this point, I had been more excited at the opportunity given me and working out the logistics of how to plan for a trip like this on such short notice.  I hadn’t thought to pay attention to my own feelings of pre-departure.

So many times I have thought about how dual military couples understand each other.  There are few experiences in the job that they don’t understand.  They understand the paperwork that has to be filled out for leave and the procedures in the field.  Military spouses rarely have a glimpse into the world of a service member.  We might see office life while they are home, ruck marches on post, and even listen to gun fire at the firing ranges from our backyard.  Yet, somewhere along the way, I had resolved that I would just not understand a lot of my husband’s career, and maybe I was okay with that.

Sure, it had caused problems during reintegration.  I had my moments during the deployment that took every bit of courage, grit, and independence to get through and there was no way he could have understood that.  He had zipped his friends up in body bags and there was definitely no way I could understand that.  After many arguments that were more about wanting to be heard, we had resolved to just respect those places as sacred spaces.  There was no way one experience could compete with the other and we resolved to not fully understand those life changing moments our other half went through. So we would live in respect to them.

When I think about whether or not accepting “not understanding” negatively affected our marriage, at first I say no.  Sacred spaces provided terminology for significant moments in our lives.  Allowing each other to have sacred spaces provided neutral territory to say “I’ve been through something so big that I’m different because of it. I can’t change that.  But I need you to tread lightly when I talk about it.  You can’t fix it and we definitely can’t ignore it.”  I had learned to ask questions when he zoned out.  If he opened up, I would try to be protective around the rest of his day.

So in some ways, these “unshared experiences” had matured us and brought us closer. I was more confident because of my sacred spaces, knowing I could do “anything” on my own if I had to.  He embraced the fullness of life.  I thought we were better people because of this military lifestyle.  Better because we chose to implement a phrase my counseling professor once taught me, “everything is

grist for the mill.”  Grist was corn that was often taken to a mill to be ground into flour, meaning every part of it was usable for profit.  In our life, it meant that no matter what we went through individually or together, we would choose to eventually bring good out of it.  But now, I was beginning to wonder, what could be the harm to having so many sacred spaces?

A few months back, Kate the Editor and Chief of Military Spouse Magazine was blowing up my phone while I was in the school carpool line.  “Call me right now!  You aren’t going to believe this!” she texted.  The anticipation was killing me.  The almost daily adrenaline spikes of change and opportunities since being awarded the 2015 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year were less shocking now, but my adrenal gland was definitely waning to keep up. The Secretary of Defense office had called asking for a military spouse to accompany the Secretary overseas for his Holiday Tour to visit troops.  Kate told them I was perfect for the job as MSOY and a clinician who fights for military marriages. The DoD recognized that they had never taken a military spouse overseas to see what it is like for troops.  I would get to fly in Secretary Ash Carters plane and be a correspondent for the magazine.  Kate being a military spouse too, freaked out with me over the brevity of the opportunity.  Secretary Carter?!?!  This is like… the main guy!  The main guy over all the branches of the military… who reports to the President!  And the plane… if the President gets in this same plane that they are inviting me on, it is AirForce One.  I admit I had a lot of Googling to do.

As my kids got in the car, they over heard my gasps of shock.

“What!? Did something bad happen?” they asked.  Coming quickly back to reality, I hung up with Kate and had to tell them the truth,  “You can’t tell anyone right now though, okay boys?  In order to keep things very safe, no one- not even your friends or teachers can know yet.”    I thought about what a heavy burden that must have been to give them.

“That makes me want to cry” my eleven year old, Aidan said.

“Oh honey, they wouldn’t take Mommy anywhere that would be unsafe.”

“No,” he interrupted, “The idea of you visiting those troops around Christmas and telling them “Thank you”.  That is such a great opportunity it makes me want to cry.”

In that moment, my eleven year old put perspective on my mission and cast vision for me.  All my fear that this lifestyle was ruining my children was for a moment replaced with pride that they were “getting it”.

Two days later, I joined a call with the Secretary’s office and the magazine to cast strategy on the trip.  My goal, thanks to my son and my passion for marriages, was to make my experiences overseas meaningful to the 1.1 million military spouses who were not able to go.  I know service members do their best describing everything from the gym to the DFAC, but perhaps I could aim to say it in a way that filled in the gaps.  I told the Secretary’s office the number of times I had pictured something my husband had described only to realize how off I was when he shared the same story at a dinner party with friends.  Extra details would come out, I explained, and I would suddenly discover that the images I created were simply that.

As a reference to how meaningful this experience could be to families, I told about the time our brigade chaplain took the FRG leaders and me to the field for the day during our first duty station.  We got to walk into the TOC (Tactical Operations Center) and see the computer monitors, drink bad coffee, stand by heaters, and eat MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) in the makeshift DFAC (Dining Facility).  I had never eaten an MRE in the field before and was encouraged to learn how to warm meals were possible.  We watched as the soldiers performed their dress rehearsal for deployment by playing what looked like laser tag in the field.  When a soldier went down, the medics came over and did their job from beginning to end.  That day was huge for me, I told the Secretary’s office.  That brigade chaplain provided a picture that would stay with me during the deployment.  It reduced my anxiety on so many things that you would think don’t matter.  But when my husband said he would be spending the day in the TOC, I knew he was safe, warm, and informed.

A grueling week later, we finally heard the trip was a go, pending some world event that could interrupt it.  I spent a majority of my time calming my anxiety by running and taking supplements to communicate to my adrenal gland that I still wished to be friends.  My strategy was to make the trip as multi sensory as possible.  I noted how misunderstanding increases the fewer of the five senses are being used during communication especially in marriage.  If I could write about what I saw, felt, smelled, and touched each day perhaps I could bring comfort to others.  Each night, I would record a raw video journal of my reflections of the day and post it to my Youtube Channel and my Lifegiver Military Spouse Podcast.  The Secretary’s office loved it.

As I looked into my husband’s eyes, this evening before the chaos of relocating, my emotions flooded me.  I had been in survival mode for a long time, even before news of this trip.  I had been checking things off my to do list and getting through each day.  We had bought me boots, a jacket, and even pants from the Army surplus store that would be suitable for visiting Iraq and Afghanistan.  I had stressed through outfits, visas, and passports but I hadn’t thought about what this really meant for the #TeamWeathers (as we called ourselves).  Another parent was leaving for the Middle East and while my little ole’ week long trip couldn’t begin to compare to a deployment, you couldn’t tell my children that.

I took my husband’s advice and allowed myself to sit in the pocket of my thoughts and feelings.  I felt guilty that I was leaving him to receive our household goods alone.  The fact that my Dad had agreed to come physically replace me didn’t take away the feeling that I was abandoning my husband during a stressful time.  I knew he would work himself to the bone trying to get rid of all the boxes by the time I would get home and I hated that I couldn’t stop him.  I am normally looking out for changes in my kids behavior as they go through transition and I would miss the initial feelings of excitement and sadness as they entered in another new home.  I would miss them visiting their first day at school and shyly saying hello to new teachers.

And yet, I felt the excitement of leaving on a new adventure.  I was supposed to be on this trip, I had a complete peace about it.  I am gifted at taking these kinds of experiences and using learned lessons to make a difference in marriages.  I wanted to go.  I wanted to stay.  I wanted to run from the opportunity and choose family, just to prove it to them.  I wanted to get on the plane because I was called to do it and set that example for my children.

I abandoned my checklist for the evening.  “Let’s go get Chinese” I said to Matt.  “You are right.  We all need to hit a reset button.”

 

 

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According to the 2015 Annual Military Lifestyle Survey by Blue Star Families, 60% of spouses reported that employment was a top stressor in their life.  This is not surprising, as our culture of spouses includes those who want a sense of purpose inside and outside of the home.  Blue Star also reported “military families with employed spouses experienced greater financial security, better mental health, and higher satisfaction with the military lifestyle.” This doesn’t imply that you need to have a job to have better mental and financial health, but for those who have a longing (or need) to work, the path to employment can feel like the American Ninja Warrior Games.

I remember sitting at my kitchen table in tears grieving the loss of a job. I was exhausted at the thought of interviews and transferring my license to a new state.  I remember feeling the seed of bitterness grow in my heart towards the military, and my husband was the target.  I love him, it wasn’t his fault, but I had no where else to direct it.  My guess is that some of you have felt those same feelings!  If I could go back and sit down with my discouraged tearful self, this is what I would have told her.

1.Your family is more important than your career.  At the end of the day, the question we ask ourselves is not how much money did I make, but was I who my family needed me to be? If this falls apart, everything falls apart. Your marriage is the one “home” you will take with you everywhere you go. Invest in this first so that it is a place of peace and strength that you both want to come home to.

2. Know which “itch” you are scratching.  There is a difference between having a passion or talent that you want to fulfill and feeling restless about life in general.  A job can provide community, accomplishment, and build confidence, but it is not a cure-all.  It will not address deep insecurity, marital conflict, or general dissatisfaction with life.  Ask yourself what the longing inside is and what you are missing. Some of what you are feeling may be a call to address what is at home, first.

3.  Be patient with your stage of life.  Looking back, what I wanted to do in my 20’s and 30’s was not possible, even if we weren’t in the military.  To be honest, I don’t think I could have handled it!  Don’t underestimate the wisdom and maturity that is building through these years.  It makes you patient during stress, experience (inside and outside of the home) to call upon in your career, and trust with the people who will provide references later.  Enjoy what is in front of you- whether it is on the playground or the entry-level assignment you have been given.

Serving families in my career has brought so much joy, but I would walk away from it all if my spouse or children needed me to.  What is it that you are longing for today?  Take time to journal it out, then take the next step that is most wise–  and don’t forget to ask for help if you need it.

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Forgiveness is easily misunderstood.  We expect it from others but struggle with giving it.  And let’s not forget the struggle with forgiving yourself!  That can be the most difficult!  The burden of shame seems much easier to carry than the thought of letting yourself heal. Why is forgiveness so hard?  Why do we fight to hold on to so much hurt?

Forgiveness is hard because it cannot happen without letting something go.  It is letting go of prideful feelings of entitlement and anger for another person  and instead offering grace and mercy.  I believe forgiveness is most difficult for women because we are made to nurture everything around us.  If a woman enters conflict, she often feels disconnected.  It feels like a betrayal, like a knife to the back.

Insecurity runs just as deep for men as they experience disconnection in the relationship as failure, weakness on their ability to lead, and inadequacy.    It is no coincidence that when hurt happens in a marriage, the woman will put up a wall, the man will distance himself, and the cycle continues to spiral out of control!  If you want an answer to finding intimacy, it begins with breaking down the barriers, owning your part in the disconnection, and asking for forgiveness.  Right now I can hear hearts hitting the floor, so let’s talk about what forgiveness is, and what it is not.

Asking Forgiveness:

  • IS about recognizing what you have done, knowingly or unknowingly, to cause hurt in someone else, then admitting that face to face with the other person.
  • IS NOT putting a band-aid on the problem by only saying “I’m sorry.”
  • IS receiving their forgiveness as an opportunity to change.

Offering Forgiveness:

  • IS NOT forgetting, we are not God and only God can choose to do that!
  • IS taking back lost territory of the space in your mind you have given to that hurt
  • IS NOT becoming, or continuing to be a victim.  On one extreme, firm boundaries might be needed, on the other it might be vulnerability and opening your heart to trusting again. Finding the right balance for your situation, perhaps with the help of a professional, is important.
  • IS taking responsibility of what that hurt is doing to you.
  • IS NOT about waiting for justice or change in the other person’s life.  Instead it’s praying over blessing instead of curse on their life.
  • IS saying goodbye to hurt we hold, and giving grace because we know the mercy of God; at the least know what it feels to be released ourselves.

Need a place to start?  I can’t tell you who should make the first move, but if you are the only one reading this, then it will have to be you. Setting the tone of your home, your words, and your heart to encourage life out of those you love will give them the security to create more intimacy that can change everything.  Join me on the Lifegiver Podcast available on iTunes for more topics like these.

 

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(Written 4/10/2014) This week, I attended a Mental Health Conference Sponsored by Give An Hour on treating the needs of military members, veterans, and their families.  You may have not heard of Give and Hour, or some of the many other amazing non-profits that are working hard for military and veterans- and that is the reason I’m writing this.  We (referring to those of us in the military culture/bubble) need to have a serious discussion on the services that are available to the military and veteran community and why you don’t know about them.  Before you log off, this is not a VA/government bashing post, but a truthful effort to expose a very big problem called “endorsement”.

As a fellow military spouse and off-post therapist that is contracted with TRICARE and Military OneSource, I have committed my talents to serving the military beyond supporting my husband’s selfless service to his soldiers.  In the past several years, I have paid attention to the civilian community (individuals, corporations, non-profits) desire to love on our military families by providing free or discounted services.  We have developed a skewed perspective of the civilian’s support of us and it is not our fault.

As I advocated and attempted to be a voice for military spouses in DC, I met countless organizations (Home Depot, Habitat for Humanity, Lockheed Martin, Give an Hour, and numerous others) who were excited to tell me all they were doing for the military and how they wanted to do more.  There was a deep sadness and frustration in their eyes when I was one more military member that told them I had not heard of their efforts.

My best kindergarten description of the problem is this: “Endorsement” is when one entity specifically supports another entity.  When you see a commercial with a celebrity mentioning a specific product, they are endorsing that product.  The Military makes it a point to make sure they that do not “endorse” specific companies or corporations.  The original intention is good, in that it keeps soldiers and families from being taken advantage of.  They are very strict on for-profit companies, saying that an organization is more likely to be promoted to the military culture if they are non-profits- as they are not making money off of the military or military family.  However, when a non-profit offers to help, they refuse to refer families to them as well so as to not “appear” that they are sponsoring, or showing favoritism.  This is a big problem for the non-profits that want to be part of the solution.  That means that families are not told or made aware of any civilian services either way.  The military’s answer to the problem is, (and seems to be set on) to take care of their own- which is great… if the military funded services are good quality and can meet the demands of those who need it (that’s a topic for another day).

Let me provide a real example from my personal experience.  I worked at a non-profit organization that offered counseling to military families and even took TRICARE and Military Onesource- meaning it ends up free for the soldier and/or family.  We had open offices and counselors ready to receive.  For six months I traveled around on post to close to 30 leaders and post employees I could think of that might need to know that this resource was available just 5 minutes outside the gate.  I was hung up on repeatedly and not one person called me back- the fear of endorsement on the ground level and fear of losing their job was clearly a real issue.  Money should not have been the problem, considering TRICARE covers the costs of therapy.  They told me they would maybe get the word out if it was free, so I began to offer free education and services to alleviate the 6 week waiting list soldiers had for mental health services.  When they realized I was also a military spouse, I was told “Understand this.  You are no longer considered a military spouse to us, you are a competitor.  We will not make referrals out because all the services and money need to stay in-house.” I don’t know if I was more upset at the personal betrayal I felt or for the many families that were not going to get the referrals they needed.

This is an epidemic issue, friends.  There are non-profits and small businesses outside your door step that are suffering because they want to serve military families, but no one is walking through their door.  Even worse, they are discouraged and considering not offering those services anymore because the system doesn’t work- there is great need, but no way to direct those in need to the services. Did you know that Habitat for Humanity has a non-profit connection that will help you budget and buy a house within your price range?  Did you know that they provide a service where a veteran can call and speak with another veteran and spouse speak to another spouse to get financial/budgeting advice for free?   Did you know that veterans have to hand write their resume rather than be educated oh how to develop a LinkedIn page because it is endorsing LinkedIn? Did you know Give an Hour has a network of 7,000 mental health therapists waiting to donate free weekly counseling to you, your soldier, and even your mother-in law without the red tape of TRICARE or getting permission from post?  Thousands of civilian volunteer their time and energy to reaching out to veterans and families, but you will not here about it, or often hear them thanked for it, because it could be seen as endorsement/sponsorship.  Meanwhile, we feel like America has forgotten us.

    Let me give you a few examples of how this affects you:

For those of you who have a soldier struggling with Combat Stress and PTSD, it means that you will not hear about the new, amazing, techniques and treatments that are making huge strides in reducing symptoms and restoring families.
It means that your soldier may be forced to wait on a waiting list on post if he needs counseling and finally decides to ask for it
It means that when the community wants to welcome home our soldiers, they won’t be allowed on-post so they can say “thank you”
For those of you who are getting ready to get out of the military, you won’t hear about the hundreds of organizations that are waiting to hire you both or help you transition into the civilian world.
For those of you who feel alone, you may not hear about the non-profits who are making an app to help locate other veterans close to you.
If you are a spouse struggling with employment, you won’t hear about the non-profits that want to help you promote your business.
It means that when you finally leave/retire from the military, you will be likely to go out into the world feeling like “unicorns” as if you don’t belong because you thought no one noticed you were gone- when in fact, they were trying to tell you they loved you all along.

Just as much as we need to know the amazing supporters that exist out there, we also need to be told which supporters to stay away from.  This is just as important as a few years ago there was an issue of some schools taking educational funds from soldiers and not giving them the education they were expecting.  Yet, I’m not sure I remember being educated on any of those either.  So here is how you can be part of the solution.  (UPDATE 9/10/15:  Former United States Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has now encouraged posts to allow non-profits better access to families in order to support their efforts and military families.  It is still a lengthy process and will likely be decided on a case by case basis).

#1 Care- Open your eyes to see that there is possibly quality treatment and services available for you and your family and ask for them.  One size does not fit all.  There are civilians and organizations that specifically care about military spouses. I am determined to find them and share them with you because I know spouses need to be tended to.  The military is not required to care for the spouse, but America is standing in line waiting to.

#2 Share without fear– We (spouses) are not limited by regulations.  The military may currently have a rule about not endorsing/sponsoring, but we are not held to that rule.  Join me in finding them and sharing them with your fellow spouses.  Spread the word so families can get the unique services their family needs.

#3  Get involved with your Community. Whatever you are passionate about, get involved outside the gates.  Local businesses need the education and support that you can offer.  Once you know what is available, you have influence in sharing those resources with your Commanders and family members.

America does care, let’s start spreading the word.

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