It might sound crazy, but conflict in your marriage can be a healthy sign.
Two people who see the world in very different ways are never going to agree on everything.
Too often, couples let marriage fighting spin wildly out of control before they realize it could have been handled differently.
But there’s a difference between disagreements and a full-blown argument. How do you toe the line?
We’re usually not our best selves in the middle of an argument, so it can be difficult to keep that conflict from escalating into a destructive, hurtful conversation.
How do you save yourself from going there? Here are five things to remember the next time you get into it.
Shaunti Feldhahn is a social researcher who has dedicated most of her career to understanding marriage. She’s interviewed thousands of couples who said they were happy to determine just what made their marriages so great.
One of her biggest finds is that 99 percent of individuals she studies genuinely love and have their spouse’s best interest at heart.
What does that mean for you? It’s likely that your spouse is not intentionally trying to hurt you at any given time, including during a heated argument.
Remind yourself that your spouse loves you and wants the best for you. It means that they had good intentions and still do.
When my husband and I get into a tiff, we remember Feldhahn’s research, and one of us will say, “I am for you, not against you.” It is a gentle reminder that the problem is the problem, not each other.
When on the defensive, there is something primal in us that wants to control the other person to calm them down or stir them up. We say things to invoke a response or withdrawal to drive home the point of our hurt.
The military lifestyle doesn’t help. Both the serving spouse and supporting spouse can feel out of control, which makes military homes ripe for both spouses to want complete control.
The reality is that we have no control over each. Instead, what we have is influence. Our behaviors and decisions cause consequences, and that definitely influences our spouses. But ultimately you control your reactions, and he controls his.
Reminding yourself of that during marriage fighting can help you remember that you can choose not only how angry you get, but how you will respond in this moment.
Hopefully, you can choose to react in a way that brings you closer and influences him to do the same.
When things start to get heated, ask yourself if the emotional reaction you’re experiencing matches the situation.
If not, there might be something else going on other than how your spouse said, “Good morning.”HALT stands for hungry, angry, lonely and tired. Good decisions are never made when we are feeling any of those things.
Sleep is always a challenge in the high operations tempo of military life. That’s why my husband and I decided a long time ago that arguments are not worth trying to resolve after 10 p.m.
Loneliness can also be a big factor for military families. When was the last time you had an honest, fulfilling conversation with a friend or got outside the house?
Loneliness can impact service members as well. If you’ve recently moved, your service member might be missing the attachment he or she had with the troops in their last unit.
If you think your spouse might be struggling with more than what’s on the surface, be sure to validate their current feelings while gently asking what else might be going on.
The prevalence of combat stress makes it easy for us to let it constantly take the blame for the stress in our relationships.
If your serving spouse has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or combat-related stress, symptoms of irritability and mood swings are part of your relationship.
For those dealing with severe symptoms, it can be very difficult to decipher when irritability is due to a real issue or if the symptoms are exacerbating the situation.
After providing counseling to many couples with a variety of challenges, I have found that there are always two sides to a couple’s story. In other words, most times there are legitimate feelings that are upsetting your spouse, and the PTSD is not to blame.
By labeling every conflict as PTSD or mood irritability, you might be minimizing what your spouse is trying to communicate to you.
Just as women don’t like the “it must be your hormones” comment, we must be careful not to label every irritable response as being connected to a service-related issue.
Tell yourself that this should be treated as a real and genuine concern before you label it “extreme” or a symptom.
This is by far my favorite strategy for helping me gain perspective during a misunderstanding.
Lately, I have been picturing my husband and myself at 80 years old, sitting on a bench holding hands. In my mind, we are far past the petty issues, life has been full and we are full of gratitude.
When I find myself in the midst of marriage fighting and I am particularly worked up, I think about what the 80-year-old version of me would say.
Would she tell me that this battle is worth it? She has been through enough military separations to know that the smallest things that we argue about are ultimately time wasters.
I often picture the future us giggling at current us getting so worked up in the first place.
Then, when I picture 80-year-old me offering current me advice, she usually just tells me to stop making such a big fuss and kiss him already.
Eighty-year-old me is salty, wise and always has extra cookies on hand for the neighborhood kids.
Chances are, you have an 80-year-old version of you waiting to be invited into the conversation.
During a particularly difficult week, I scrolled through Facebook and paused on a post reporting that a local Starbucks gave out customers’ orders for free with no explanation. Baristas answered inquiries with merely “Have a wonderful day.” Even though I wasn’t a customer, I found myself imagining my reaction to the barista.
Maybe I wouldn’t say it out loud, but perhaps the look of surprise on my face would give it away. My imagined reaction didn’t come from a place of paranoia, although for some it could. The question came from a realization that this business was choosing to lose money in their act of kindness. Why would they choose to do that? Gaining a few loyal customers didn’t seem like a worthwhile strategy considering what it would inevitably cost them.
They gave no answer. They simply said “have a wonderful day.”
What struck me about this interchange is that this act of kindness rested on a single value- worthiness. Starbucks determined the people it served as worth more than the cost. Each was worthy of kindness, not because they earned it or deserved it, but simply because they exist.
It is amazing how easy it is for kindness to slip from our minds in daily interactions with each other. The closer the relationship, the more we take for granted that the person will love us unconditionally. We expect them to be understanding when we’ve had a bad day or when we have disappointed them.
And yet, we are the first to point out their unkind tone when the roles are reversed. Perhaps Starbucks has it easy. Being kind to a stranger cost them only a latte and banana nut muffin at wholesale. But being kind in the relationships around us costs far more, so much so that we are shocked when a business schools us on how to treat one another.
Is it just me? Or perhaps you could stand to experience a little more kindness, too?
Kindness can feel like it should be linked to worthiness. It is only costly when we have to sacrifice something within us that wants to make it conditional. Choosing to be kind to my spouse when he or she comes home with a bad attitude is a gift, not an exchange of currency.
But what if your heart has been hurt by others’ lack of kindness? What if you simply feel you have nothing to offer?
That is what I love most about the Starbucks story. They didn’t have an answer except for “have a wonderful day.” They didn’t say whether they “felt” like being kind or what “moved” them towards kindness. They just handed out warm beverages with a smile.
Sometimes we choose a behavior and our feelings follow.
Every marriage or relationship has patterns. If we look closely, we will find how we trigger each other into what some experts call a “crazy cycle,” or the pattern of usual escalating conflict. The only way to interrupt the crazy cycle in your relationship is to do something different by starting a new pattern. Unfortunately, if you wait until you “feel like it” in the middle of an intense argument, it will never happen.
You must behave differently and your feelings will follow. This usually begins with a willingness to be kind.
Also difficult is having the courage to be kind to ourselves. Far too often I see individuals that give others the benefit of the doubt while internally whipping themselves into submission with shame. Being kind to yourself is also a virtue dependent on worthiness. You do not deserve kindness or forgiveness, you are worthy of it because you are alive. In fact, those you love are impacted by whether you are willing to extend kindness to yourself — especially children.
In the words of Brene Brown, “‘You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.”
But the best part about kindness is how contagious it is. Here I was, struck by the impact of this simple act of kindness in a coffee shop three states away. I didn’t even benefit from a free warm beverage, but I don’t really think that was Starbuck’s point. The message I received, from a Facebook post no less, was that one act can change things.
A shift in your own sense of worth impacts your home. Kindness towards your spouse can change your marriage. Kindness towards those around you can spread infinitely beyond what you can imagine.
Still having trouble with this idea? Here are a couple of ways you can bring kindness into your relationship today.
— Tell your spouse you love them without prompting
— Make your spouse their favorite meal
— Choose to end an argument rather than defending your point or being right.
— Forgive your spouse for something you have been holding over them for far too long
— Surprise them with a latte and a banana nut muffin.
I already knew I had a stellar soldier for a husband- but right then I kinda hated it. Perhaps you have one too. The kind of spouse that strives to be his best at everything and sets his sights on maxing out that PT test every time.
Before kids and the military, my husband and I used to go for long runs and chat about our life. It was quality time that usually ended with ice cream and a favorite show (oh how we miss our twenties). Once the military entered the story, early morning PT became his primary time to workout and I fit in exercise around everyone else’s schedule.
On this particular day we decided to go for a long overdue run together. As I laced up my shoes, I was about to remark on how nice it was going to be to run together when he put in his earphones and said, “but I won’t be talking, I’m working on increasing my pace”.
“That’s okay,” I said- more to prepare myself for the pain that was likely to follow, “I’ll do the same.”
We started off together, listening to our independent playlists. When we faced hills, he attacked them with purpose as I managed to keep up. When I was forced to stop and fix my hair, he jogged in place and focused on his watch. Finally, as we approached the last mile, my stellar soldier surged ahead- or maybe I started to lag behind. My legs begged for me to quit despite what my heart wanted. I started to accept my fate as officially “smoked”- when I had a thought.
Without realizing it, we were both shaped in two entirely different ways by the military lifestyle.
The military has a way of creating fantastic leaders that translate into fantastic role models at home. Mine appreciates organization, routine, and logical ways of finding solutions to everyday problems. He teaches our kids the values he loves about the military including work ethic, respect for authority, loyalty, integrity, and others.
The military had done something entirely different for me.
As difficult as it has been to constantly maneuver around his schedule, I have learned to embrace the role that creativity plays in chaos. I have to fit in my own self care- not because someone tells me to, but because it keeps me from losing my mind. Relationships in the home are more likely to come before order, and definitely more important than perfection. Leadership as a military spouse has become more about adaptability and a strong “whatever” mindset.
I watched from a distance as he finished his run and then checked his watch. Shame washed over me as I thought about how frustrating it is to be married to someone who folds laundry better than me, often thinks to start the crock pot before I do, and was in better physical shape than I was. To sum it up in view of the finish line, the military had made a stellar leader out of him and leisurely pace keeper out of me.
Unless you are in a marriage where you or your spouse quit along time ago, almost no one likes to be left behind. In fact, if you’ve been married for any length of time, you have likely experienced surging ahead or lagging behind your spouse in one area or another. What you do when you find yourself there, though, reveals the state of your true character.
“Do I finish strong or just slow down in defeat?”
As much as we try to experience life at the same pace, marriage will often ebb and flow throughout the marathon. The military lifestyle almost guarantees we will have different ways of approaching it. Each spouse brings strengths, each spouse brings weaknesses to manage. Both have something to offer when the moment is right. From a strengths perspective, my stellar husband has expressed the same feelings I was having on days where no amount of logic or order fits into the chaos of life. Sometimes, being a leisurely pace setter pays off.
One thing was clear, his pace challenged me to dig deep and find something new within myself or I would fall behind. The military, despite our different experiences, has taught us separately that the kind of battle buddy we are for each other is a matter of life or death for marriage. As a military spouse, I’ve learned that I don’t quit. I can’t quit a deployment. I can’t quit on a bad day. I’ve learned to finish strong even if it’s looks or feels different than I originally pictured. So I did as he waited for me.
It’s not easy to be married to someone who has thrived in the military. He has been a perfect fit for this job from the beginning. But it’s only difficult because he expects so much of himself and in turn I must do the same.
“How do I confront my spouse’s negative behavior?”
“What does it look like to be a godly wife when my husband has stopped caring?”
“Is God is okay with me ending my marriage?”
“How do I continue to love and serve my husband if he is not being a spiritual leader in the home?”
The question is actually about how to deal with sin in marriage. Every marriage will struggle with sin- individual sin, sin against each other, even sin against God.
How do I love like Jesus when I feel so hurt and hopeless?
Depending on your upbringing and whether or not it involved church, this question makes everyone stumble. Betrayal, neglect, anger, pornography, and other negative behaviors are difficult to address when you are hurt enough to leave but scripture and the church seem to tell you to forgive and fight for your marriage. And then there’s that submission thing….
So Matt and I are tackling this question together- because being in a military (and first responder) marriage has extra variables like PTSD, compassion fatigue, and constant changes in roles at home.
In response to my message in Sacred Spaces that we should be pursuing our spouse, I commonly get emails that sound like this…
“How long should I pursue my spouse when they aren’t reciprocating?”
“What if my service member came home different and neglects me and our family?”
“How long must I lead before my husband picks up his role as the spiritual leader of our home?”
These are tough questions and the root issue here is…
“How do we address sin in a Christian marriage?”
I’ve also attached ALL of my favorite resources as well. SAVE IT. You will want to reference it later and pass it to a friend- I promise. You wouldn’t believe how many struggle with this in silence.
Setbacks in Marriage- The Podcast Episode
Women & the Tough Bible Verses– (Topic of Submission and gender roles in the Bible- Authentic Intimacy)
People Are More Important Than Marriage– Authentic Intimacy, When you shouldn’t fight for your marriage.
Sexual Intimacy and Post Affair with Mike Sytsma
How do Affairs Happen? New Life Church, Brady Boyd
When I came home from my extended business trip, it was clear: My husband and our boys had together adopted a new world and language.
My trip was longer than most I’ve done recently, and my husband had held down the home front. Before my trip, we had both simply put up with our kids’ new Minecraft obsession, and worked to control our eye rolling when they talked about “battling the Ender Dragon.”
But when I returned, I could see that the three of them had formed a special bond through a Minecraft world during my absence.
I felt stuck on the outside of my family’s relationship over this game — a feeling I assume many troops experience when they return home after deployment. I struggled for the next few weeks, watching them play together and sometimes go over what we had before decided was our max on electronic time.
From my outside view, this whole thing looked like a video game problem that needed balance.
But for my husband, their newly shared hobby was a fun platform that not only gave his mind a break from work, but provided father-son quality time.
In my head, I wanted to sit in my feelings of resentment and jealousy over their time together and force them to see what I considered a problem.
When it comes to marriage, it is far too easy to assume that our spouses are the problem, especially when it involves hobbies that aren’t shared. In my counseling practice, I often see intense conflicts between couples when one is invested in a hobby more than other would like.
There are endless examples of activities that start off as “cute” in the relationship, only to drive a wedge later — hunting, crafts, sports, clubs, video games and more. At some point, the hobby isn’t cute anymore because one spouse is enjoying it “too much” — a level that the frustrated spouse has determined on his or her own.
Military life doesn’t exactly help with that. When so much time is spent apart, both the service member and the spouse have to find their groove separately. We each invest in activities that interest us, fulfill us and maybe even bring us a sense of purpose. When we come back together, our worlds conflict because, frankly, we each needed different things during the separation.
If you’re a service member, you may have found activities that helped you compartmentalize or deal with boredom. If you’re a spouse at home, you may have immersed yourself in activities that involved community or provided a sense of purpose.
It makes sense that the two separate worlds conflict at homecoming. But that collision can create a gap in our relationships that makes us feel even further apart. We begin to see our spouses as wrong and their interests as destructive, often because they are not interests we share. And if it gets really bad, we start making ultimatums.
The number one complaint I hear from military spouses is that they feel their service member chooses video games or friends over them. And the number one complaint I hear from service members is that their spouses choose the children over them.
The conflict is real.
Regardless of which spouse you relate to, there is something in all of us that gets disappointed, even hurt, when our spouses don’t appreciate what interests us. Whether our spouses care about what we do matters, especially if they don’t share the same passion for it we do.
Balance and moderation are necessary, but so is room for different interests and hobbies. My conflict at my homecoming was not about Minecraft or parenting differences, it was about believing the best about one another and truly listening.
By paying attention only to my perspective, I missed that Minecraft was more than a strange digital world of building blocks — it was an opportunity for my husband build something with his sons. Through Minecraft, he was rebuilding relationships that had endured separations and plenty of previous missed opportunities.
My own mini-reintegration gave me an opportunity to think about how many times my husband faced the same dilemma of being the outsider at homecoming. It’s entirely possible that in the past he had experienced the same choice I had in that moment: Stay on the outside of the hobby or choose the harder option to reintegrate through acceptance and growth. I don’t have to love Minecraft, but we all can benefit from me valuing what is important to them.
You can make this choice too. Choose to believe the best about your spouse. Choose to become interested in what he or she finds exciting. Choose to communicate instead of assume.
Celebrating battling the Ender Dragon together was far better than watching it from a distance. And even better is understanding the sweet exchange between father and sons because I have chosen to listen.
What if we make marriage a lot harder than it needs to be? What if I told you there are a few tips for a happy marriage you can follow to easily bring intimacy and closeness back to your relationship?
The good news is that most couples do not need an overhaul of their relationship, they just need to be reminded that it’s going to be OK. The military lifestyle throws a lot of curveballs, and it can make anyone feel like the relationship is on shaky ground, even if it isn’t.
It is completely normal for intimacy with your spouse to ebb and flow. It can be days before you get an evening together when your service member is training. Some schedules have you feeling like you are ships passing in the night, literally. Even reintegration after a military separation or deploymentcan leave your military marriage feeling disconnected.
For many couples, anxiety runs high wondering if they will ever feel close again. I know this sounds strange coming from a counselor, but sometimes reconnecting doesn’t have to include massive processing or rehashing the relationship.
Even if your relationship is struggling with bigger issues, here are a few tips for a happy marriage that are not only amazingly simple but effective to “get there” quickly.
When one or both spouses feel insecure, it is easy to go overboard on communication, especially when you haven’t seen each other for a while. A “check-in” is a simple five- to 10-minute conversation that gives your spouse a highlight reel of how you are doing. It’s perfect for early in the morning to communicate how you slept (which impacts your mood and day) or at the end of the work day. You simply take turns briefly answering these questions:
1.How am I feeling (physically and emotionally)?
2.What is on my mind? (i.e. I slept horribly, I have a million things to do, etc.)
3.How can I best serve you today?
Notice that this is not a time to solve problems, talk about bills, or even process emotional wounds. You would be surprised how often your spouse’s mood has nothing to do with you. Speak briefly in one to two sentences per question and catch up. Give each other the permission to not worry about the relationship by checking in.
When was the last time you held hands? As ridiculous as it sounds, we can too easily fall out of this habit. Have you ever tried to argue when you are holding hands? It’s pretty difficult to be mad at someone when you are holding hands. Physical touch is a strong communicator that says, “I’m cool with you.” Often, it is better than words.
Usually one spouse values physical intimacy more than the other and gets a bad rap as if all they want is sex. Instead, it actually means they experience deep connection, love and express love through touching first.
Holding hands goes a long way. Reach out to your spouse, take them by the hand, and try your check-in. It is pretty powerful.
Yep, it is really that simple, folks. Couples who come to me for marriage counseling or who are on retreats tend to sit shoulder to shoulder rather than facing each other. They start to squirm when I ask them to sit knee to knee because it is a more intimate posture.
Technology is also robbing us of intimate moments when our eyes are diverted to something else. Lately, our family is attempting a “Life After 5 p.m.” rule in which all devices are put away at 5 p.m. It is a time to acknowledge each other, look each other in the eyes and be fully present.
Eye contact also opens your hearing in a way that will reduce miscommunication and express that your spouse is the most important person in your world. Want to go even deeper? Stare into each other’s eyes for five minutes without talking. At first, you will giggle, but if you can make it past that, tears will naturally follow. Soul connection doesn’t always involve words; we just want to be truly seen.
The next time you feel like it is all falling apart, try one or all of these things. You will be surprised at how much difference they make. Physical expressions of love, undivided attention and briefly communicating your internal world go a long way.
While some marriages have major issues that trigger conflict (or what I call “minefields”), most if not all can reduce those mountains back to anthills by working on these simple solutions.
Stress a little less by being just a little bit more intentional. It may be just that easy.
How do you know when to separate from your spouse or when to call it quits?
In almost every scenario, I tell a couple to fight for their relationship. Too often, I see couples give up. It’s one of the reasons I passionately remind couples of their vows. Marriage, I believe, gets better only when you work hard and grow closer through difficult times.
But there are a few, albeit relatively rare, situations where you will hear me deliver a different message: one when I say “leave.”
Every relationship has unique dynamics and variables. There is no black-and-white rule book that tells you what to do or when to separate or divorce. Ultimately, it is your decision, and any therapist will tell you that.
But many who need to make a decision like this hesitate because there is “too much at stake,” they say. Fear of your service member losing their career, the loss of military health benefits, violence or the loss of your dream can keep you from seeing your situation clearly.
For this reason, I encourage anyone considering divorce to consult with a third-party professional, pastor or therapist to help you navigate a permanent decision.
That’s why instead of telling you how to know if your relationship is over, which seems scary and permanent, these are instead examples of when to consider separation. Oftentimes, distance can provide safety, clarity, support and the ability to make a decision that feels right for you and your family.
As easy or obvious as this sounds, it is never easy for the person in that situation. If you believe that you are in a sexually or physically abusive relationship, seek a professional to help you establish a plan for safety. If you are unsure what that abuse might look like, here is more information.
Physical abuse is usually entangled with emotional abuse, making it difficult to leave — especially if your life has been threatened. Even if the abuser is regretful, eventually the cycle of abuse will continue.
Whatever reasons are keeping you from getting the space you need to find safety and clarity, they are not as important as you and your spirit. Remember, we are not talking about divorce papers, just gaining enough distance to find clarity and resources. Food, shelter and safety are your main priorities.
Important note: If children are in the home, enabling contact with the abuser can show an inability to protect them from harm. Your main responsibility is to protect them before saving your marriage.
Emotional abuse is more complicated to sort through than physical abuse. There are times when extreme manipulation, cruelty and controlling behavior make it imperative to your health to leave.
Other times, spouses believe there is emotional abuse only to discover through professional help that the relationship is salvageable. Talk with a professional to help you decipher.
The topic of addiction is very complicated. It is hard enough to watch your spouse struggle with a disease, but living with the consequences of that disease is even harder.
Regardless of what the addiction is (sex, pornography, alcohol, etc.), recovery is a roller coaster for everyone. It is true that recovery is easier when the individual has a strong support system, but only when that person has admitted that they have a problem and are seeking help.
But If you are living with the consequences of your spouse’s addiction and they show no signs of wanting help or recovery, it may be a good time to implement the natural consequences of distance. Again, we are not talking divorce papers unless you have received help making that decision.
If you haven’t already, communicate clearly and firmly your desire for your spouse to get help, as well as the destructive consequences of their behavior (financial stress, broken trust, the family feeling unsafe, etc.). Then, if your spouse continues to be unwilling to get help, separating is a physical representation of what has already happened emotionally in the marriage. Sometimes, the addict will realize you are serious about moving toward a more permanent separation if they continue to be resistant.
If you have children in the home, take very seriously the behaviors they have witnessed in making your decision.
I hesitate to reference this one because it is easy to label your current pain as “irreparable,” or not able to be repaired, when it may be possible to save your marriage.
Making this decision takes confirmation from professionals around you (sorry, family members are not unbiased professionals). There are some situations that are so destructive, that separation is not only recommended, it is crucial to begin healing.
Spouses living double lives, evil manipulation or violence, extensive un-remorseful infidelity, or cruel mistreatment within the marriage are all very difficult to repair. The overwhelming destruction of these scenarios often includes abuse or addiction, but not always.
If you are asking “when is enough, enough?” the deeper question is usually about whether you will have guilt or regret making this decision.
It is normal to want to know if there is anything else you could have done to save the marriage. Taking a step away can be a less intimidating way to show you are ready to take care of yourself.
You deserve to make this decision carefully with support around you so you are completely assured that it is the right decision.
We all have hope for a marriage that lasts and is fulfilling. What we often don’t expect is how hard it will be when we disagree with our spouse on important values, military marriage problems or finding ourselves moving at a different pace.
I haven’t met anyone who married thinking, “Gee, I don’t plan on making this last.”
Setbacks can happen when we are least expecting it. An injury while training for a physical goal or a career put on hold for a relocation can be incredibly disappointing and discouraging. You may even be tempted to quit.
Most couples have at least one area of their relationship that they are hoping to improve or fix. Parenting, finances and even sex can lead to heated disagreements and (hopefully) deciding together on ways to get on the same page and work together.
Life’s interruptions or an impulsive decision by one of you can make it feel as if you will never reach that goal. In that moment or setback, quitting feels like a very real option.
Sometimes, there are very minor consequences to military marriageproblems or a setback that only require a deep breath, a good night’s sleep, and starting again tomorrow.
But destructive choices such as too much video gaming or pornography use by one spouse can cause even bigger consequences, including feeling like this is a major rift in your ability to be a couple.
For some, the marriage is already on thin ice if you are working through serious issues such as overcoming infidelity or addiction. Destructive scenarios like these involve a more detailed process of change and support to gain traction. You may feel like the setbacks will never stop, and you will never be able to move forward.
No matter what you are dealing with as a couple, whether it’s small or large, setbacks are more likely than not to happen as you work toward a new pattern of behavior for both of you.
But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. With a few tools in your pocket, you can move through them. Instead of giving up, try these three steps.
Learning to develop self-control and hit a pause button when things get complicated is a great practice in general. Self-control gives you the opportunity to think through what is happening, feel any feelings that are naturally there and gain perspective.
Relocations and deployments are a natural interruption in the military lifestyle when everything feels out of order. Basic needs such as food, shelter and safety all take priority, and you might feel distracted from the intense focus you had as a couple.
For example, if you were dependent before your move on a counselor or group for support, it will take some time to find that again.
Try not to rush yourself or your spouse through what you were working through when these bumps come along. Instead, agree on a healthy timeframe to reconnect with support or resume the plan when you are both ready.
Having grace for each other and getting on the same page are more important than aggressively working on the goal. If you find your spouse is not as motivated as you are, invest your energy toward your part by reading an extra book on the subject or taking a deeper look through journaling.
The important thing here is that you process how you are feeling about what happened and avoid doing your spouse’s work.
The actual definition of a “setback” involves a “check in progress.” Most of us see it as a failure, but it is actually an opportunity to think through the progress you are making — or not making. In addiction recovery, we teach that relapse is not necessary for recovery but can be “part of the process” if it happens.
Setbacks can provide an opportunity to take a look at the deeper issues that caused it so you can avoid similar mistakes in the future. If you move too quickly, you will miss huge revelations of yourself, your spouse and your relationship. If you are dealing with a bigger issue such as rebuilding trust, a professional counselor can help you find these answers and build greater empathy for each other.
Keep in mind that stressful times such as deployment, reintegration, relocations or trauma can trigger setbacks or relapses, making them more likely to occur. If this is an intense time for your family, be graceful if the setback happened by learning more about each other and doing a good check on whether the path you were on is working. If you know you are going into an intense season, discuss ways to be proactive to prevent one.
If your spouse caused your setback, it can be incredibly discouraging to think about moving forward. How many setbacks are too many before you should give up? If you are struggling with this question, finding a counselor to talk to will help you determine what is right for your family.
If you caused a setback, the shame is equally debilitating. Even when you don’t feel like it, take the next healthy step forward.
In recovery, there is a phrase — “fake it till you make it.” It doesn’t mean you should be inauthentic. It means you decide to take the next step even when you don’t feel like it. Eventually, your motivation will come back. Shame (in you or your spouse) spirals into an unproductive place and is not the same thing as processing the present disappointment.
Sometimes, the next step is a willingness to physically reach out and hold your spouse’s hand again. Embrace that mistakes in our own lives and our spouses are part of being human. One of my favorite phrases is “start simply, but simply start” and is likely to get you going again.
Every couple has military marriage problems and issues to work through, which means setbacks are going to happen. Who will you be when it happens to you?
It was a silly thing to fight over, especially since it was an argument about fitting as much joy as possible into a Florida Disney family vacation.
I, led by my “mom-guilt,” argued that our boys had wanted to go “their whole lives” (slight exaggeration). And he, fueled by sheer logic, argued that it logistically made our trip more complicated.
Both of us felt right, and both of us had a good case to be right. In an attempt to hold our positions, we dug in and sabotaged three days we could have otherwise spent together by arguing over a theme park made of Legos.
Conflict in marriage can be incredibly discouraging when you desire to be on the same team but feel like you aren’t.
Neither of us woke up that day and said, “Hey, today seems like a great day for an argument.” In fact, most couples find themselves arguing over wanting the same thing. In our case, we both wanted to plan the ultimate family vacation, but we had differing perspectives on what made a vacation “ultimate.”
The ideal, of course, is to quickly see the value in each other’s perspective, but most times couples do the opposite and start digging trenches for battle. And that’s how they end up in No Man’s Land.
During World War I, opposing armies would dig trenches and aim mortars and ammunition at each other. The land between, known as No Man’s Land, lay unoccupied and unowned because of the fear and uncertainty of being ambushed while coming up out of the trenches.
Fighting couples do the same thing. If during conflict you are like me, every shovel of dirt seems to be filled with all the reasons why I am right and why he should surrender. Of course, this is not my most shining moment, but I have a feeling I am not the only one with calluses on my hands.
While I sat in my self-made trench this week, I spent time thinking about the losing battle over No Man’s LegoLand. In a heroic scene from the trailer for the new “Wonder Woman” film, she courageously emerges from a World War I trench. Despite incoming mortars and gunfire, she shields herself from enemy contact and slowly makes her way across No Man’s Land. As a superhero who stands for personal courage, peace and the pursuit of truth, she is the first to emerge from the trenches.
When hurt enters our relationship, we have a choice to remain hidden in the trenches, continuing to load our mortar weapons, or rise up out of them. No Man’s Land will always be scary, especially when the other person is still firing, but someone has to be the first. Someone must be the first to be courageous, first to become vulnerable and first to intentionally pursue the human in the other trench.
It is never fun to go first. Never. The first person to stop fighting and seek peace will usually have to risk the possibility of incoming rounds from the other.
I would love to say that I am Wonder Woman every time, but that simply isn’t true. Surprisingly, I have learned equally as much when I have gone second. When my husband is the first to enter No Man’s Land, I am faced with a choice to follow his example or validate the existence of my own stubbornness. It is then that I witness my true character and decide who I want to be.
On Christmas Day 1914, French, German and British troops called a truce to exchange greetings and souvenirs, and even play football in No Man’s Land. Now known as the Christmas Truce of 1914, opposing forces who spoke different languages came together for a moment of peace. My favorite image of that amazing event is that the troops turned a battlefield littered with death into a football field for play.
During the heat of an argument, it can be hard to see the potential of the land that exists between you and the other person. Your marriage was not created to have a vast space of empty land that separates you. It exists to be a playground. You may rise up and take a few hits, but if you choose your marriage over the trenches you have dug, you just might find a place where you have more in common than you thought.
I was reminded this week that foxholes are homes for foxes, not men, and certainly not Wonder Woman. I am not meant to build a house there.
And who won the battle for LegoLand? No one. What matters most is that we both rose up out of the trenches.
Let’s talk about sex.
One of the most beautiful ways we love our spouses is through sexuality. It’s also one of the most emotionally complicated.
Popular culture portrays it as simple, spontaneous and very uncomplicated, but I assure you most couples experience it differently.
Sex is actually one of the top three issues for which couples seek counseling. And the military lifestyle of chaotic schedules and long durations of separation doesn’t help.
Despite your best intentions of picking up right where you left off, if you struggle with all of those interruptions to your sex life, you’re in no way alone.
I recently sat down for a candid interview with Dr. Michael Sytsma, a clinician and certified sex therapist, for my Lifegiver Podcast. (Important note: This episode is for mature audiences only.)
The interview originally aired for InDependent’s 2016 Military Spouse Wellness Summit, but I was able to run an extended version of our conversation. Dr. Sytsma is based out of Atlanta and serves post-affair couples as well as those experiencing sexual difficulty at his Institute, Building Intimate Marriages. I asked Dr. Sytsma about specific intimacy challenges that military couples face at home and during deployments.
Dr. Mike, as he’s known, explained that couples sexually “imprint” on each other. If that concept gives you flashbacks to Jacob in the Twilight series, it may not be that far from the truth.
During sex, oxytocin, known as the connective hormone, releases in the body. It is actually the same hormone released during nursing that bonds a mother to her baby. He clarified that when your spouse is gone for long periods of time, you go through what’s called “skin hunger,” when the body is longing for the touch and the oxytocin to which it is accustomed. That concept explains why during deployment your skin can almost feel like it crawling for something as simple as a safe hug.
Other forms of connection, though, have also been found to release oxytocin, including looking into each other’s eyes, holding each other and even hearing the other person’s voice.
Dr. Mike encourages military couples to tap into some of these healthy habits that support connections during separations. Although you may not be able to hold hands, associating the sound of your spouse’s voice with intimacy and safety will release some oxytocin, even though your body is still going through that skin hunger. Doing that also helps during reintegration when you are getting your groove back.
On the other extreme, Dr. Mike mentioned that he and those in his field have found an opposite result with non-connective habits like pornography. Pornography associates the release of oxytocin with false images and story lines rather than your spouse. Ultimately, this imprinting can interfere with sexual performance with your spouse, especially when life isn’t playing out like a fantasy.
The bottom line is this: Be careful and mindful what you choose to imprint on. Aim for good communication, curiosity and intentionality, and you will be on a path to great and meaningful sex.
There is no doubt that healthy sexuality in marriage is a complicated venture. But I like to think that it is supposed to be. Something this vulnerable requires a heart to serve, permission to be selfish, willingness to forgive, a sense of humor and communication. Healthy sexuality is a balancing act that forces you to be vulnerable in order to stay connected.
If you are struggling in this area of your marriage, there is hope and plenty of resources that can help guide, bring healing and direction. Begin by listening to Dr. Mike’s interview. All of the resources he mentions can be found here. The Lifegiver App is also free and has interviews from leading marriage experts, stories of success and marriage curriculum that can help you get started today.
Maybe now is a time to be proactive. Begin healthy conversations in your relationship if you need them. Look for a counselor or sex therapist to help you wade through the complicated waters of intimacy. Seek out the healing or forgiveness you need to be vulnerable again.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
For more on this topic, read Boundaries, by Townsend and Cloud and subscribe to my podcast, Lifegiver Military Spouse Podcast.
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…
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.