Every marriage needs to be strong, but in a military marriage, couples often face many circumstances that can create problems if you let them —time apart, frequent moves, money troubles, raising children alone.
No marriage is “prefect” and I’ve had struggles in my own. With a year of TDY, a yearlong deployment plus three additional months of TDY all in just over three years of marriage, there isn’t a lot of time together. But so it goes with any military marriage. We sacrifice time apart for the good of the nation and many of us work hard to keep the marriage alive, picking things back up when our loved ones return.
But where do we go from there? When the dust settles as the bags are dropped post-deployment inside our front doors and the welcome home signs are faded from the sun, what can we do to bring our marriages to the forefront? Even if your service member hasn’t deployed for a while but the romance has fizzled or you’re fighting so much you wish they would just deploy again (I’m kidding…), what can you do to stay strong together?
We all first need to realize we can’t do it alone. That doesn’t mean you complain to your mother every time your husband doesn’t pick his stinky socks up off the floor — it means you talk to your husband. No one can make your marriage work except you and your spouse and you need to do it together.
I asked friends of mine how they keep their marriages strong because, really, the best advice comes from people who figured it out through trial-and-error. Here is what they said and almost every single one is tried and true in my own relationship:
- Appreciate the time you have together. No one knows this better than military spouses, but we still often take our service member’s for granted. When you have a weekend to yourselves, have breakfast together, go out for dinner one night or go to a park together. Find an activity you both love and do it!
- Put away the cell phones, iPads, computers, etc. Yes, I know some service members really cannot part with their cell phones because they can be called in at any minute. That doesn’t mean you sit and play Fruit Ninja while your spouse watches TV. Put the technology down and break out a board game to play together, cook dinner together, go for a walk in the evening. You don’t have to do it every day, but at least once a week will make a big difference and help you connect.
- Eat dinner at the table with a home-cooked meal. Enough research has been done that says children do better in school when they eat dinner at the table as a family. Can’t some of that logic apply to marriage? Sitting together at the table forces you to communicate and have a real conversation, unless you like to just listen to each other chewing. And really, who doesn’t appreciate a delicious meal? Even if you don’t do the cooking, try it once or twice a month. Your regular chef will enjoy the time off.
- Take some time for yourselves. I know it can sounds like a contradiction with the first point, but it isn’t. It’s OK to take a night out with your girlfriends or “the guys.” It’s OK to spend time doing a hobby you enjoy while your spouse does something he enjoys. Don’t forget that while you exist as a unit, you’re also individuals.
- Do something nice for each other. Guys, this doesn’t mean you need to buy your wife flowers all the time. And gals, this doesn’t mean you need to dress up and meet your husband at the door (if you know what I mean). If your husband is prepping to go into the field, stick a handwritten love note in a pocket of his bag or uniform. He’ll find it eventually (but don’t fret if it takes a while. My husband took some time to find his). And guys, if your wife has had a long day, help wash the dishes at night or clean up after the kids. You don’t have to nice things everyday, but a gesture once a week can be the perfect change.
- Work on your relationship. The military offers so many ways to work on your marriage — free retreats, free counseling, free workbooks you can do together. Don’t think your marriage has to be failing to do any of these things. A daily devotional (you can find secular or religious versions) forces you to talk about what is happening in your relationship. If you need a little help to talk, try counseling. You don’t even need to go through a military installation if you don’t want to. MilitaryOneSource can find counselors in your area that are off-base and covered by insurance.
- Learn how to communicate. Nothing is more important than learning how to communicate. Both parties need to listen to wants, needs and worries. Problems need to be worked out. Sweeping problems under the rug means they often never get resolved. Don’t yell. Don’t call names. Don’t blame. Talk about how you feel. I’ve heard, “Never go to bed angry.” It can work at times, but sometimes you need to cut your losses and get some shut-eye. An argument going until 1 a.m. on a work night doesn’t help anyone. You only wake up exhausted with puffy eyes. If you need help learning to communicate, get it. It can be hard at first, but good communication is the key to success.
Sarah Peachey is a 20-something journalist from the northeast and living in the Deep South at Fort Polk, LA. She began a career in journalism with The Fort Polk Guardian, an installation newspaper, winning two local awards for her work, and now freelances for military spouse support sites. She is an active blogger on MilitaryOneClick (www.milspousefest.wpengine.com) and her blog, “Stetsons, Spurs and Stilettos” (http://www.stetsonsandstilettos.blogspot.com). She enjoys spending her days on the shooting range or at home with a good book. She considers herself a bookworm, pianist, wine enthusiast and artist.
For more resources on relationships please see MilitaryOneClick’s Family Support Page