The Lifegiver Blog

You Can’t Stay on the Back Burner Indefinitely

In Season 5 Episode 4 of the Lifegiver podcast, Corie unpacked the results of the 2019 Blue Star Military Family Survey. She also discussed an all-too-common mentality that many service families live with:

Mission first. My place is on the back burner.

Supporting spouses often believe that this is just how it is going to be as long as their serving spouse is wearing the uniform. While it is true that there are seasons when this is necessary, it is not healthy for this to be the case indefinitely. And while it is important for the serving spouse (the one in the service) to make positive changes and recognize what he or she can do to prioritize their spouse and marriage, it is equally important for the supporting spouse to learn how to be assertive and ask for what he or she needs.

Approaching the situation from the perspective of assuming the best of your spouse, you will likely find that your serving spouse is eager to help you and happy that he or she doesn’t have to read your mind. Mind reading is a skill few of us have, though we all seem to assume our spouse should already know what we are thinking and what we need. Approaching the situation from that point of view will most likely lead to a reaction of defensiveness, which is not at all productive.

A few tips for approaching your spouse:

  • First, don’t have the conversation with your spouse while either of you is exhausted. Save the conversation for a time when you are both renewed and refreshed.
  • Second, start by encouraging your spouse. Make sure he or she knows that you appreciate what they do for you and for the family.
  • Third, tell your spouse how you feel in a way that isn’t combative. Use “I” statements rather than “you” statements… those can feel accusatory.
  • Finally, tell your spouse what you need. It’s your responsibility to figure out what you need and to ask for it. Your spouse isn’t a mind reader.

If you are able to have a conversation without accusing your spouse of intentionally neglecting you, you may find he or she is eager to find ways to support you.

And if you need some ideas for how to recharge and refresh, here are a few to get you started:

  • Find someone to trade child care with so that at least once a week you get out and do something for you. (Run, go to coffee, peruse a library, window shop, even get the groceries alone.)
  • Consider hiring a housekeeper to come once a week or twice a month. You’d be surprised at how affordable this can be.
  • Spend a night alone in a hotel to recharge your mental batteries.
  • Pick meals that are easy and healthy… slow cookers and pressure cookers can make mealtimes easier.
  • Consider batch cooking and stock your freezer with homemade meals to serve later.
  • Evaluate your sleep habits and determine if you are starting each day already depleted.
  • Set a goal to read a certain number of books this year and prioritize that screen-free time. (Audio books are great for when  you’re driving, cleaning, or out for a walk.)
  • Ask for podcast suggestions from friends… there are podcasts on virtually every subject.
  • Join a social activism campaign that lights you up. Sometimes volunteering is just what you need to feel fulfilled.

Ultimately the critical point is to not assume that your spouse is intentionally ignoring your needs. When you assume the best of your spouse and find ways to meet your needs you will breathe life into your marriage and it will be strengthened. It’s okay to spend time on the back burner, it’s just not okay to stay there indefinitely.


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