Military life is often filled to the brim with stressors, and a military marriage is no easier. This includes anxiety associated with finances, moving, deployment, and even reintegration. And, to put it lightly, none of these factors make a marriage any simpler!
However, some military couples combat these life stressors with surefire strategies that allow them to not only survive, but actually thrive in their relationships. From their stories, I’ve created a list of the things that happy couples have told me are key ingredients in their fulfilling partnerships and I’d love to hear from you guys too.
As with any goal, we need to define what we want in our marriage. Only then can we focus on the things that are going well. What we focus on grows, so if we can stop focusing on being competitive and instead try to create more intimacy, laughter, and compromise, we’ll begin moving in the right direction. And I know as a mom of four, at the end of the day we are tired and giving another person attention can be tough, even when we love them. So don’t feel bad if things aren’t always smooth in a long term marriage, it’s normal!! Sometimes military life is what is draining us and we subconsciously blame our spouse, this can be a sign that you need support. And getting support is okay. You can either attend a marriage retreat, go to a counselor, or read books on improving marriage. We see results when our energy goes to healing, so take the time to make your marriage strong and your kids will thank you for the efforts. It’s not easy, but I have helped lots of spouses drastically improve their relationships.
Tip 1 – Create a Marriage Vision
We don’t have a lot of role models when it comes to great marriages. People on the media are hooking up quickly (yes, I watch Bachelorette) and divorcing left and right (look around at Hollywood) but that doesn’t mean you can’t envision a strong marriage and strive to achieve it. I hear so many military spouse clients tell me, “I don’t like X about him” or “I am so frustrated with this marriage because of Y.” In response, I say, “Okay, we agree on what you don’t like, but what DO you want your marriage to look and feel like?” Having an image to strive for makes it SO much easier. You envision someone helping more, but you envision the way that spouse asks as well and you end up with a much better idea of what you want. I say make a marriage vision board.
Yes, this often causes them to look at me with blank stares, but it works.
We then work to focus on what is going well in their marriages, as well as what they want to build on. Just as I have career coaching clients make vision boards for their ideal jobs and lifestyles, I ask military spouse clients to make vision boards for the kind of marriages they want.
We will talk a little about this in my next free declutter training where we talk about decluttering the bedroom so it’s a peaceful place for rest and connection! Join me for the free call. You’ll be invited if you are on my e-mail list or just shoot me an email and let me know to add you to my list! email@example.com
Tip 2 – Make Intimacy a Priority
Intimacy is important in all marriages, but it’s especially essential in military marriages because it can be more difficult to feel connected. When you’re miles apart or your spouse is dealing with physical and emotional challenges that extend beyond the norm, coping can be incredibly difficult.
Sometimes spouses share that they were very intimate in the beginning of their marriages before that excitement began to fade. They just want to create a new normal versus constantly feeling bad that the intimacy isn’t as steamy as when they first connected.
Spouses are always surprised when I say, “you are not alone” after sharing various struggles—and I think it helps to share our difficulties. Sometimes, just talking it out and defining our ideal visions of what connection looks like can help tremendously.
Finding That Flow Again
Most military spouses both want to continue to be intimate with each other, whatever intimacy looks like for them. However, between deployments, frequent moves, and other stressors, it can be hard to get back into the swing of things once the pattern has been disrupted.
Many of my coaching clients have also admitted that intimacy ebbs and flows in a military marriage (just like any other), even when both partners are living under the same roof. Intimacy can mean different things for different couples, including everything from handholding to sharing stories to love making. One person may want a more sexual relationship than the other, but remember that intimacy comes in many forms, many of which build upon and complement one another.
Even when a couple isn’t as intimate as they would like to be, they can still admit that it’s an important part of their lives. And a simple comment can have a huge effect here. Statements like, “Honey, I know I’ve been working late all week and this recruiting job is making me exhausted. But I want you to know that I’m so psyched about hanging out with you this weekend…” can go a long way to show your partner that you do prioritize your time with them, even when that time is limited.
Creating ‘Intimacy’ During Deployment
Even when physical intimacy isn’t possible, you can still maintain that closeness and romance that brought you together in the first place. Consider writing each other love letters and making plans for when you do reconnect. Be creative!
Anything that can help you feel connected despite the miles will go a long way in bridging the divide. Plus, it will build excitement for when you finally do reunite!
Whatever keeps you connected and thinking of each other will help create intimacy in your military marriage. One client and her husband started playing a phone Scrabble game during the day. Another client started sending her husband fun and sexy emojis even when she was busy.
What can you do today to feel more romantically connected to your spouse? How might you spice up your love life when your partner is in town, and how can you bridge the distance when he’s away?
Tip 3 – Be 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, and check back for Tip #3.
Tip 4 – 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.
Tip 5 – Laugh At Things
In most military marriages there is a tidier partner, a more frugal partner, a more spontaneous partner, a more health-conscious partner, and so on. Whatever the reason, it truly does seem that opposites somehow attract!
However, the more I work with couples, the more I find that it isn’t the differences that divide us, but not respecting those differences. Sometimes, it’s hard to remind ourselves that, just because someone has a different approach or mindset than us doesn’t mean that they’re wrong.
I try to help clients learn to laugh at each other’s differences. Lovingly teasing can be fun in a relationship, as well as acknowledging when you’re doing something you know your partner doesn’t approve of.
Find a Middle Ground
I have a client who is trying to save money and whose husband keeps buying things in bulk and on sale. While these are essential items, like extra shampoo and extra detergent, he ends up buying far more than they need, especially since she’d rather pay off their debt than have 20 cans of tomato sauce!
He is one of those guys who really likes to feel prepared. So, I suggested that she compromise by setting aside a little money each month for him to put toward his Noah’s Ark syndrome. When she shared this plan with her husband, he laughed at himself and agreed to focus on paying off their debt while keeping his hoarding to a minimum.
Sometimes we just need our spouses to understand us without necessarily becoming the same way—the balance between us can be extremely beneficial.
Rely on Your Shared Sense of Humor
For little things, however, a “talk” can feel daunting. So, instead, using intermittent humor can get a point across without an irritation escalating into a fight. For example, when my husband tells me, “Krista, there is another package out front from More Crap, Inc.,” I get the hint that I might need to take a break from online shopping!
My husband is also used to military style tidiness—he irons his undershirts and loves spraying the counters with Lysol. Sometimes, I tease him by calling him a “neat freak,” while being more than okay wit him calling me a “free spirit” in return. After all, I would much rather do an art project in the kitchen than scrub the house like Cinderella.
I try to respect his neat freak ways in the same way that he respects my free spiritedness. We meet in the middle, using our shared sense of humor to laugh over the little things.
Communicate Your Truth
Most days I try to tidy up a little more than I would naturally out of respect for my husband’s needs. However, when the house gets really messy—as can happen with four kids— I at least let him know that I recognize he may be frustrated with the situation. I might call him and say, “I wanted to clean up the kitchen today but I had to leave for work before I got a chance to do the dishes.”
I find that telling on myself lets him know that his needs are important to me. I can show him that, just because I didn’t get to a task yet doesn’t mean his needs have been completely disregarded.
My husband also loves eating dinner right after work, while I could literally be fine with just a bowl of cereal to avoid cooking altogether. However, when I realized that it didn’t have to be a big fuss, I found lots of ways to create win/wins. For example, if I don’t feel like cleaning I might say, “Since I cooked for us, would you mind loading the dishwasher?” Or on a really busy night, I might just use paper plates.
After talking with my husband, I eventually came to realize that he just likes to eat and doesn’t really care how much time I spend preparing food. The idea of him loving a huge, home cooked meal was all in my head! So, most nights, I now try to plan something healthy but also feel completely supported by my husband when I tell him I’ve had a busy day and am picking up takeout instead.
I walk in the door with a dozen white boxes, chopsticks, happy kids, and a happy husband who forms half of a marriage where we try to respect each other’s desires most of the time. I forgive my husband for the occasional lapses, just as I’ve learned to forgive myself for needing a break every once in a while. Forgiveness is an essential component of a military marriage.
Check back soon for the final tip in my series – this time on the importance of planning date nights. And make sure to share your own suggestions in the comments below.
Tip 6 – Plan Date Nights
I love going to plays with my husband or even staying in and playing Scrabble together. However, I can forget how important this couple’s time is when we get incredibly busy, such as during the spring sports season when all four of our kids, ages 8-15, have practice, games, school, and so much more.
When things get especially hectic, date nights seem to disappear from our shared calendar. However, these are actually the times when we could use a date night more than ever! Nothing keeps a busy parent’s head on straight like a nice evening out to see a movie or even a picnic together.
Schedule Couple’s Time
Now that my husband and I have come to realize that we have a tendency to deprioritize our date nights, we make sure to get up early a few mornings a week to coordinate our schedules. Then we find the time to plan a monthly date and get it in ink on the calendar.
It doesn’t really matter if we go to a fancy restaurant or just take a long walk together—it’s just about finding some time to spend alone as a couple. We have just as much fun grabbing a coffee and browsing the bookstore as we do attending a night at the theatre, so I like to keep it simple, both in terms of cost and time.
Use Your Resources
While military marriage is challenging, one of the huge benefits is being able to see different parts of the country and becoming part of a loving and super reliable community. If you and your spouse are living in a new city, ask other spouses for fun date night spots. Or schedule a childcare swap with another couple so that both of you can get the date nights you need.
One military spouse friend of mine schedules a “date night” with her husband where they just get takeout and rent a movie. Because it’s time they have pre-planned to spend together, they make sure that it takes precedence over any other tasks that may arise.
Scheduling date nights ahead of time allows us to prioritize them, allowing us that special night out or in that we could use with the spouse of our dreams.
Share Your Success
Keeping the romance alive can take work, but our relationships are definitely worth the commitment! Ask yourself: What are some of your favorite date night activities? Have you ever tried a virtual date during deployment?
I hope these six tips (probably reminders) will help you in your own military marriage—make sure to share your own successes and tricks in the comments below and join me for my spring teleseminar on decluttering where we connect as military spouses and get rid of what isn’t serving us to make room for what is!!!
Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to join me for the free training!