It was two days before our first deployment and the anticipation was nauseating. It was our last chance for a date before he headed off to Afghanistan. There were so many unknowns, so many emotions and not enough words to convey them all. We had no idea what that deployment was going to do to us, but we made a promise that has shifted our marriage ever since- “Thrive, don’t survive.” In that little booth, we verbalized individual and couple goals we would work on while we were apart. “By the end of this year, we will be better than we started,” we promised. We could not have known the stress we were going to face in the years to come, but that promise continues to shape how we do life together.
Military life can often put you in survival mode before you know it. As I sit in a hotel room waiting for housing, it has taken everything in me to not just survive the last two weeks and it will be months before we are fully settled. Constant change, or the anticipation of it, has a way of making a person feel crazy. All the personalities in your family can leave you wondering if the moments of joy will ever catch up to the stress. Add deployment, reintegration, relocation, drills, and other stressors to the mix and it is a recipe for marital destruction.
Choosing to be proactive instead of reactive is one of the most powerful tools you have in your pocket. It can change your marriage, parenting, determine your path to reach goals, and prevent apologies later. It is simply taking a breath, a pause, to remember that while there are many things over which you do not have control, you do have control of yourself. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has one of my favorites metaphors to explain what it means to be proactive. In one hand, shake a water bottle and in the other shake an unopened Coke bottle. During stress, if we react without pausing, we will explode (or implode) like opening the shaken Coke bottle. Imploding is equally destructive. It is a quiet internal explosion in the form of depression and/or anxiety. Personally, I would rather “be” the water bottle. Choose to be someone who not only remains calm during an escalating argument with your spouse, but models mature, adult self-control. When you feel your patience wearing thin with your child be proactive…take a breath, stop, and think about who has ability to handle the moment.
Thriving in the chaos of constant change demands that we not wait until we are in the midst of stress to become proactive. We must proactively set goals and put self-care options in place before the day starts. For me, getting up early and having a moment of quiet makes a huge difference. This can also involve seasonal goals where you read and discuss a book with your spouse, start a fitness goal, or begin counseling before life feels unmanageable. This simple concept, can result in a better you when the chaos subsides.
Thrive, don’t just survive- it’s your choice.