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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