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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.