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?”