Exciting. Romantic. Frustrating. Annoying. Proud. Struggle. Patriotic. A roller-coaster ride.
There are about 20.4 million U.S. veterans, and each of them has been impacted by their time in service. Talk to a handful and you’ll hear many similar stories and feelings, but each one also has been touched personally by their time in the military. Some emerge stronger, more resilient and proud, but at the same time they may be wounded (mentally or physically) and have hidden battles within, which can impact their relationships with others.
My husband and I were both in the Army National Guard. Then in 2008, following our first deployment to Iraq and struggling to find a good paying civilian job during the height of the recession, he chose to switch to active duty Army. I was excited because I’ve always loved an adventure, but it was a struggle at first and still can be at times. Over the past ten years of marriage my husband has deployed two more times to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. We’ve moved six times. I completed my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. I served in the Guard for five more years. We had an amazing little girl who is now 6 years old! Needless to say we’ve made some wonderful memories and endured some very difficult trials together.
Through my own experience I have learned that being in a relationship with a veteran has its ups and downs. So many factors come in to play such as; if you were with your veteran during his/her time in service or if you met him/her after, the severity of any injuries incurred, what the veteran experienced during their time in, and the list goes on. All of this also affects your level of understanding what they’ve been through. No two experiences are exactly the same, so I cannot pretend to act like my situation or my view of things will be the same as yours. However, every marriage has its mountains and its valleys, regardless of you or your partner’s career or background. With Valentine’s day upon us, I would like to share with you a few things I have learned.
Don’t underestimate the importance of weekly/monthly date night, especially if you have kids! Staying connected is incredibly important. Try doing things you don’t usually do together, like going to the shooting range, exploring antique stores, strolling through the park, or making a dessert together at home and playing cards. You may discover new things about yourselves and strengthen your connection.
You may not be able to change your partner, but you can change the way you respond. My husband looks at things in a very systematic way. When he was struggling with depression he wanted to know; what the next step was, when exactly could he expect the medication to start working, why did it feel like the treatment was not working fast enough, etc. At other times he can be very calm, cool, and collected. Whereas, I tend to get more emotional about things. Empathizing with him and reflecting on his thoughts and feelings helps me to respond to him appropriately. It also helps me calm my frustrations when my way of thinking doesn’t line up with his. Sometimes all it takes is a calm response to a situation to completely change the poor direction it was heading.
Nothing can replace the camaraderie that was shared with fellow service members. We recently had a 10-year reunion with a bunch of guys and gals who served in the National Guard during our first deployment to Iraq. We spent all weekend telling stories and joking about our time together and catching up on where everyone is now. It was a blast! There are things from my time in service that I would like to forget, but there are many more good memories that I want to remember forever. The bond that is forged during intense times when you’re all “in the suck” together, cannot be replicated. This is an aspect of a veteran’s life that could be difficult for civilian spouses and family members to grasp. It is essential to understand this aspect of the veteran experience and know that your relationship is important too.
The grass IS NOT greener on the other side. Sometimes it may be tempting to think so, but that grass on the other side is fake, plastic, painted, and won’t last. It may be tempting to think that things may be easier if ___________ (fill in the blank). That is not reality. Marriage takes effort, a lot of effort. Try putting all your effort and energy into fertilizing, watering and caring for the grass you have. Start by taking steps in the right direction and look for the good in your relationship.
Communication is key. Change is inevitable. Be supportive. Seek support. So oftentimes in relationships we make assumptions, but that tends to work against us. Ask questions. Listen to your veteran. Share your thoughts, dreams, hopes, and fears with them. Talk about your future. Talk about your needs. Be open to changes that life throws at you. You are not the exact same as you were when you were a teenager, nor will you be the same when you are 60 that you are at 35. Same goes for your partner, times changes us all. Adapt to changes in your life together. Lean on each other.
I acknowledge that there are couples and families that are encountering or have been through much more challenging circumstances. Illness, injury, side effects from medication, and mental health struggles are all things that can complicate our relationships. Good medical care and solid social supports are critical in these situations. It is important to remember that all relationships are a work in progress, and no one is perfect. No relationship is perfect. Be kind to yourself and enjoy your journey. “A great relationship is not when the ‘perfect couple’ comes together. It is when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences.”
This blog entry was written by Sheri Beck, Bastion's Director of Organizational Development.