Tip # 2: Make Decisions as a Team
The other day, I admit that I was rolling my eyes as a read a military friend’s post on Facebook: “I still get butterflies when I wake up next to my husband, my best friend, soul mate…Happy anniversary!” It just felt so corny and over the top at the time!
Looking back, however, I can admit that maybe I was a little jealous because I wasn’t really feeling any of those sentiments toward my husband at the moment.
I was actually in the middle of a “discussion” with my husband of eighteen years at the time. While I know that arguing is perfectly normal for all married couples, this particular disagreement reminded me the importance of tip #2 in this series: in a military marriage, it’s important to make important decisions as a team.
See Both Sides
Recently, I was super excited to tell my husband of my idea to host an exchange student from Spain. Then we could reciprocate by sending our high school daughter to visit our guest’s country in return. I was so focused on the positive aspects of this homestay—imagining our four kids learning so much and making a friend—that I initially had trouble understanding his hesitance.
I felt that he just had lots of pessimistic questions in response to my enthusiasm. His first question was, “Will I have to drive her to her classes?” He was imagining feeding and caring for a “fifth kid”—all of the responsibility this homestay would require—while I was focusing on the benefits. And, initially at least, this difference really irritated me!
The trouble, however, was that neither of us was trying to see things from the other’s perspective.
Find a Compromise
At first, I wanted to dig my feet in and say, “Well, she is coming! I’ll drive her everywhere and feed her and save the money for our daughter to go to Spain myself!”
But, instead, I decided that it was a lot healthier to find a compromise between our two positions.
I let our daughter know that, while I think it’s a great idea to participate in a Spanish exchange program, we need to find a version that fits the needs of every family member. This meant not accepting an exchange student into our homes when we already have four kids to care for, while asking my daughter to wait until college, when she is more mature, before encouraging her to study abroad.
I’ve found that making decisions from a “we” space is always much better than when I make choices from a “me” space without hearing my spouse’s concerns. After all, opposites attract, so while I often look at the positives of a given situation, my husband can be more realistic about noting the responsibilities involved.
Making Space for Both of You
Think of your military marriage as two hula-hoops filled with your own ideas and dreams within them. In the middle of the two hoops is the “we” space where your personalities overlap. Sure, sometimes they may clash, but with balance, you can both find the space you need together.
• How many decisions do I make on my own, and how many are made in the space that overlaps?
• Is my goal to move the two hoops to overlap more? If so, how far?
• What feels right to both of us?
Think about your hoops now versus how you might see them in an ideal marriage. Share your ideas and comments below.
Tip #3: Fight Fair
It’s easier to make decisions together when we learn to fight fair and focus on the issues at hand rather than waging personal attacks. Some of us, particularly in military marriages, are especially sensitive to certain phrases or actions, so it’s important to remain loving even when we’re angry with one another.
For example, consider my disagreement with my husband from tip #2. When my husband wasn’t on board with hosting a foreign exchange student in our home and I was irritated about it, I could have attacked him with below-the-belt words. I might have said, “Well, I always make dinner anyway!” or “You never want to do anything fun!”
However, rather than attacking the person, it’s best to stick to unpacking the issues themselves. Ask questions when you don’t understand, such as “Are you worried about our daughter staying with a family that we don’t know?”
It can be easy to get angry and lose our focus on the issues at hand, but remember that our military spouses are used to fighting fair, and they really need us to do the same in our arguments.
Focus On the Issues
It’s easier to avoid throwing accusations at your partner by focusing on the topic being discussed. In every military marriage, there are going to be times when you just don’t see things eye to eye. You may want your spouse to share more openly and they aren’t ready.
While we can’t avoid these hiccups, we can try and separate what is happening from our overall picture of our partners. By conflating a single argument or behavior with an overall relationship, we may inadvertently harm our spouses.
For example, one of my clients was abandoned by her father when she was a young girl. So, when her husband storms off in the middle of a fight, she becomes extremely upset and worried.
However, once she realized that her husband is only unintentionally picking at an old wound that he did not cause, she began to calm down. She began to understand that taking some time to cool down can be healthy, and that it isn’t fair to lump her loving spouse in the same category as her father.
Tell Them What You Need
Just realizing these connections can open the door to communication and create space for compromise.
The client from the above scenario eventually told her spouse about her deeper feelings connected with him leaving in the middle of a fight. She also explained to him what she needed in order to feel secure. “It’s fine to go get some air,” she told him, “but can you at least text me and let me know you’re okay and when you plan to come back?”
Her husband agreed that he didn’t want to scare her, emphasizing that he would never abandon their relationship over a simple argument. Once they communicated their own rationales, needs, and stories, they were able to remain close despite the occasional fight without picking at old wounds.
Discuss Your Arguments
Think about how you and your spouse typically argue. At a time when you aren’t fighting, discuss what works and doesn’t work for each of you. Have this talk when you’re feeling connected so that, during your next fight, you’ll both understand each other and avoid unintentionally fighting dirty.
Make sure to leave your own stories in the comment section below. And remember to check back soon for Tip #4.