Wartime has been the guest in my home (and likely yours) that has long overstayed its welcome. Yet, as a military couple, we chose a lifestyle of service to our country that includes adding a seat at the table and sometimes a guest room for this “visitor.” Plans are made around whether or not deployment is the in the future and uncertainty of world events impacts the training calendar.

If you are like me, you have gotten so accustomed to the “guest” that is war that it has become more like a member of the family – adopted, even. Personally, once I accepted this addition to the family, my ability to support my husband got much easier. Like some second cousin twice removed, it seems to come and go and sometimes stay for way too long Many of us welcomed the military lifestyle with open arms. We were full of blissful visions of yellow ribbons and flags on our porch.

We did not anticipate wartime setting up camp at the foot of the bed.

For some of us some, war still sneaks into the bedroom and whispers memories into your service member’s ear or fear into the heart of a spouse. Few talk about it, though. Looking down the block, they see everyone else’s flag flying and assume their adoption of war was smooth and flawless. They don’t see the truth behind the flag: war is always messy.

I love the name of this new feature, Love War. Figuring out how to love in the midst of war takes a level of intentionality that rivals that extended family member who takes over the whole house. We tend to present our best selves when guests first arrive. We utilize a level of self-control that we didn’t even realize we had.

Unwelcomed guests like war get old really fast.

I believe a revolutionary idea: that it is completely possible to not only love, but to love better in the midst of war. Finding the courage and desire to intentionally be our best selves even when life gets more challenging is not easy.

Yet therein lies the secret to a better marriage: Great marriages are not void of difficulty. Character, both our own and for our marriage, is developed from digging deep, dealing with our stuff and choosing to be our best even when our spouse, or guest, seemingly “deserves” our worst.

The strong couples that I have talked to look back on their most difficult seasons and appreciate what it did to help them grow up.

I am inviting you to be more intentional in your marriage. Whatever impact wartime has had, or is having, on your marriage today, allow it to build the character in you to become better.

If you are in deployment, allow it to challenge your communication skills. If you are in reintegration, push it out of the bedroom by replacing it with shared memories and moments. If you are transitioning out of service, you may be wondering how to love each other if this guest is suddenly making you feel like empty nesters.

Whether wartime has just moved in or overstayed its welcome, love in the midst of it by intentionally loving better than you did before. Dig deep, pay attention to your own stuff, then be your best.

One of the biggest challenges we can face as a military spouse is when our service member comes home different from deployment. Although thousands of service members return every year unscathed, even the most boring deployment causes a couple to struggle finding a new normal.

Many service members experience difficulties with depression, anxiety, or PTSD and immediately seek the help that they need.  Military leaders are beginning to testify to mental health counseling and we can only hope that this encourages more service members.  I am frequently asked “How do I convince my service member to get help?”  My answer of “you can’t” may sound more disheartening, but stay with me.  You do have incredible influence.

Anxiety, irritability, and aggression from a struggling service member can make it difficult to feel connected in your marriage.  As always, if you ever feel unsafe, please find safety and seek the help of a professional to help you take healthy steps forward. However, if deployment consequences are making it difficult for you to have a connected healthy relationship with your spouse, here are a few ways that you have influence.

  1. Take care of you.  If you are weary from holding down the homefront, it is tempting to feel you are doing most of the work in your marriage.  At no point would I suggest that you stop working on your marriage.  Marriage is hard work, hardest on the days we want to feel entitled to hit a big pause button.  Finding ways to replenish and feel healthy on your own will give you the fuel you need to keep pursuing your spouse’s heart, even when you don’t feel like it.  Running constantly on empty will only result in breeding resentment, anger, and leaving you wanting to withdraw.  Counseling for you individually can give you support, perspective, and guidance on how to set healthy boundaries. Model what it looks like to take care of yourself, but do it for yourself first.
  2. Turn the lights on.  When one spouse “stops working” on themselves or the relationship, it can be scary for the other spouse who suddenly feels out of control.  Many feel they are walking on a minefield around the topic.  While some turn to nagging, others withdraw.  “Turning on the lights” means that we are honest with our spouse in kindness and love about the tension already in the relationship. Tension is already in the relationship, but how we say it is important.  Consider speaking the truth by saying, “Hon, when you refuse to get help, I feel hopeless.  I want us to be close again, but it cannot happen if you don’t try.”
  3. Resist enabling.  One does not find value in something unless it costs them something.  If you are making appointments for a resistant spouse, you are not helping.  Unfortunately, some need to “hit bottom” before they realize the damage they are causing and reach out.  Your best role as a spouse is to “turn on the lights” whenever it seems your spouse’s heart is open to hearing it.  Otherwise, be available to support them when they hit bottom and are ready to do the work.

For more on this topic, read Boundaries, by Townsend and Cloud and subscribe to my podcast, Lifegiver Military Spouse Podcast.

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