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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A military couple sat on opposite ends of my couch.  I asked what was going on and how I could help.  The wife said she felt weary from the responsibilities at home and felt taken for granted.  He snapped back at her about how hard he had been working, providing for her, and that she was ungrateful.  I asked (for her benefit) if he loved her.  “Of course I do!” he said, “I just feel she has to have me roll it in sugar for her to hear it.”  I asked her if she was grateful for what he had provided (for his benefit), “Of course I am!” she said, “but it doesn’t make me feel loved.”  Deep down, he loved her but was too angry to try harder.  Deep down, she was grateful, but was too hurt to show it. Both had a valid need for their spouse to make changes.

Often I see a relationship where there is love, but the unmet needs are so great they only experience tension. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how this couple parallels with our relationship as spouses with the Military.  “Needing” often gets a bad reputation in our culture, leaving families feeling angry with unmet needs on the inside when told they should be grateful for benefits.  Military leadership acknowledges the need for strong families to build a strong military force, but struggles when families don’t trust them.  I’ve heard spouses say that “needing” their service member too much is seen as weakness.  The biggest one is that if I don’t “need him” then I will survive if something ever happened to him. In reality, the Military and families need each other just as much as a couple does, and there is nothing wrong with that need.

A thriving relationship must involve some level of need, just as fire needs oxygen to create warmth. Each of us needs something on the outside to be fulfilled- water, food, shelter, sex, human connection, etc. Neediness, on the other hand, is when we begin to feel entitled to having our needs met and in turn begin to need more to remain “happy”.  Abandoning their expressed need was not the answer for the couple in my office, it was seeing the need of the other first.  It was just as important for him to “roll his words in sugar” as it was for her to express her gratitude.  It is just as important for Military leadership to find new ways to support families as it is for us to remain trusting and positive of their efforts. We can do all of this while still asking for change.

My husband and I often say in conflict, “I am for us, not against us.”  How would the tone of your marriage change if you began to meet the needs of your spouse first?  How could our relationship with leaders change if we say, “We are for us, not against us?”

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