It was about 7:30pm on a beautiful summer evening. I looked out the window of our base housing home and could see other military families all around me. It was one of those few occasions when the majority of the Units were not deployed at the moment. I could see other soldiers were home, some were outside playing ball with the kids, some were walking their dogs, some had their toddlers in the strollers and taking an evening walk, and there was one family grilling, getting ready for a late dinner. It was a very peaceful sight. There was a sense of calm and normalcy about the evening.
Except for one thing…my soldier was nowhere in sight. He was not deployed – although he was gearing up for a deployment. He wasn’t coming home until very late in the evening, sometimes not until the wee hours of the morning. I knew he was in a leadership position and the job was very demanding, but I wanted him to come home and take a break from the stress, while he could. I wanted him in my arms, eating dinner with me, holding my hand for an evening stoll.
I walked out on my porch, looked over at my neighbor. She and her husband gave me a nod of pity as to say, ‘he’s not home again – huh?’ She spoke up and said, “You know you are his mistress, right?” I laughed, although I cringed inside at the reality that the Army was his wife during this time of predeployment/deployment and I was the mistress once again.
At the time, my husband and I had been married over 20 years. I had been in the mistress role before and to be honest I have never enjoyed being the mistress, but I knew what it meant. I had married a Spartan. (Item #945 Understanding the Mission Comes First). This was not a job to him; this was his calling in life – to be a soldier and to be a leader. It wasn’t until I listened to Jacey Eckhart’s CD, “I Married a Spartan: The Care and Feeding of Your Military Marriage” that I truly could laugh and nod in agreement with her words of insight and wisdom about being married to a man in uniform. If you are married to someone who down to their toes believes in what they are doing and thinks it’s their duty and an honor to serve their country then you need to listen to this CD. http://www.amazon.com/Married-Spartan-Feeding-Military-Marriage/dp/B007CMCJSU
But is there a way to get your husband back after a deployment?
This week I was invited to listen in on Michael Howard, EdD, (former Navy Chaplain and Director of Healing Solutions Counseling Center), teleconference, From the Battlefield to the Living Room: Exploring the Impact of Combat Deployment on the Military Couple. He shared the research thus far and the statistics on how combat deployments affect marriage relationships. He also shared published studies about the common stressors on the military couple, verifying that combat exposure is one of the greatest stressors a person can experience in life and what those stressors can do to a marriage and other personal relationships. He talked about attachment theory and how relational dynamics are particularly complex when at least one partner has PTSD due to combat trauma.
As someone who has lived this life, all I could think while he was talking was, ‘Well – duh – I could have told you all of that.’ If you’ve lived this life you know personally or at least know friends whose marriages have struggled in trying to make sense the impacts of war on their marriages.
Dr. Howard’s insight and knowledge impressed me as he shared the importance of “Well designed couples therapy has the potential to help veterans cope more effectively with trauma-related distress, to assist partners to understand and empathize with confusing behavior, and to strengthen intimate relationships” (Sherman et al., 2005, Professional Psychology: Research and Practice p. 626).
Fortunately in the US military, there are many FREE resources to help with the unique challenges of military marriage. Engaged couples, newlyweds, and those celebrating years of marriage can all benefit from military marriage enrichment programs. (Marriage Enrichment Retreats – Item #536 in our book; make sure to read Melissa Seligman’s story about attending Strong Bonds Retreat with her soldier.) Some programs are tailored to couples in crisis and others offer general tips for effective communication, and renewing your marriage commitment. Take some time to research and find a good match for you and your partner. http://militaryfamily.about.com/od/marriage/a/RetreatsForMilitaryCouples.htm
Also outside the military gates, marriage enrichment programs are offered by local churches, non-profit organization, and community groups. Even professionals like Dr. Howard offer free couples retreat for Veterans. If you live close to North Carolina check this link for the upcoming weekend of September 7–9, 2012: http://www.caron.org/media_center/files/veterans%20program%20flyer%20low%20res.pdf
Being married to someone in the military is totally different than many other marriages, which means we need different ammunition in our toolbox of resources. I don’t want to always be the mistress, I want to be his wife, and I will do whatever needs to be done to have that relationship. The first step is to reach out and grab as much information, education and resources as you can about military marriages. No doubt, it takes two committed people to make a great marriage so encourage your spouse to learn more about what it means to be a military couple. Attend military couple retreat weekends whenever possible. Strong military marriages are alive and well, talk with older military couples and learn from them. As my husband and I approach our 29th wedding anniversary I will say, understanding the mistress role in your own military marriage; and being willing to be the mistress every now and then; can actually work in your favor.