For most military couples, the long-awaited reunion can bring some challenges along with the joy. Amy shares strategies for building relationships that last through deployments and beyond. Her role-playing exercises, personal examples, and team building strategies have helped military marriages, family readiness groups, and extended family members grow stronger through the deployment cycle.
Amy shares her techniques for setting expectations and improving genuine communication, which contribute to the successful reunion. A humorous and understanding look at life after deployment is presented in a way that immediately improves relationships and offers encouragement for marriages that are experiencing great change.
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Happily Ever After Combat
By Amy Stevens
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Amy Stevens
All right reserved.
After writing my first book, America's Hidden Heroes: Survival Tactics for the Families of our Military Forces, in 2004, my husband and I had a few short months together before he deployed to Iraq for another year. Upon his return, he become the Commander of a training battalion working with three states, and has remained very busy, traveling, and serving our country as a Texas National Guardsman at home and abroad.
During this time, I have interacted with thousands of military families through volunteer activities and speaking engagements, and have found the same topics and questions to be prevalent in the minds of most I talk with:
What should I prepare for when my spouse returns?
How do we get our relationship back?
When will things become normal again?
Why does my spouse act so differently?
Are we going to make it?
Over and over I have talked with, counseled, and given speeches or advice on these topics, and have been very moved by the number of people struggling with these questions and the implications of each to their marriage. I have been blessed to work with this audience, and only feel qualified to approach this topic because my husband and I agree that our marriage has never been stronger, more fun, or more cohesive as it has become over the last 5 years, two deployments, extensive separation, and extensive stress.
Taken with my recent graduate level coursework in counseling, I have managed to distill some key concepts and information that I believe is valuable in working on your marriage.
In order to give thanks appropriately, I would need an entire book to recognize everyone that has impacted me and my family over these years. I would like to honor my immediate and extended family, who have helped us every step of the way and gave me unbelievable encouragement and assistance when I was "alone". I am so blessed that my wonderful friends are too many to mention, to include my dear church family, elementary school parents and teachers, and neighbors. With all of these amazing people, God has truly shown me what love and service are through my experiences with them.
I would especially like to dedicate this book to my husband Brian, and our boys, JP and Hunter. You are the most incredible gifts to me, and I am forever grateful for you in my life.
Chapter TwoOperation Marriage
Before starting to provide advice, I felt it appropriate for the reader to understand a bit more about my story with Brian so that it can be demonstrated that I do understand what you may be feeling or going through. Brian and I were high school sweethearts, meeting when I was 16 and he was 17. We started as best friends, and eventually discovered that we really loved one another.
Although this story could now easily head into the realm of fairy tales, it is important that I share the reality of our "perfect" situation. When Brian graduated from high school in 1986, he enlisted in the Army and was assigned to the 1st Ranger Battalion. At that time, I was a junior in high school, so we decided that we would continue to see each other when he was able to come home, and that I would wait for him as long as necessary. After seven days of basic training, he asked me to marry him. We started our engagement as a couple separated for three years, with Brian traveling the world, spending extensive time in military schools and training, and with me attending college in our home town.
Once Brian left the Army after his three year enlistment, I had another year of college left to complete, and was not able to move. So we spent another year in different cities in Texas (although a lot closer than Texas and Georgia), and saw each other on weekends and holidays. Upon my graduation from college, we began the wedding plans and relocated to the same city. Living in the same city was fine, but Brian traveled constantly, and it seemed that we saw each other even less than before!
This continued in the early years of our marriage; with both of us traveling for work, and one particular year we found ourselves on opposite sides of the country on our anniversary.
I share this background information so that the reader understands that I was very capable, independent, and used to being on my own. So it may come as a surprise to learn that his deployment to Afghanistan was the hardest thing I ever had to do, and none of my previous experience really seemed to prepare me for it. With a two and four year old at home, I struggled to maintain our home, a career, and my sanity. It actually took me about six months to get back on track with my attitude and life, and I felt as if I had failed in some way because I was not the same person who could manage everything, feel great, and give to everyone else.
The realization hit me when he returned that I had experienced many situations that actually did prepare me for this type of separation, and I still struggled. How did this feel to others?
How do deployments impact the woman who has never really been away from her spouse?
Who has never had to be fully in-charge and now has to juggle all of life's demands?
Who may be dealing with sick children, parents, or her own health issues?
This is when I realized that I could not allow others to do what I did, and I knew that they need to know more upfront. I began a frantic search for information, but found at that time that there was not much available. There was some preliminary family readiness information and were some publications, but not a lot of organization to them, or specific information regarding how the deployments really feel to the family member. I felt that we didn't need military briefings ... we needed support, guidance, and encouragement for what we were going through.
Thus, the first book was born.
Writing it was actually very simple, as I just wrote what I wished I would have known. Then it spilled out of me. Publishing it, however, was not simple, as I was scared to put my feelings in print, and didn't want to come off as a "know it all" or be criticized. But Brian read the proof and was very moved. He said he never realized what it was like for me and how much I and other spouses had to deal with; and he insisted that it be published.
For those readers who are preparing for or currently experiencing a deployment, I might recommend the first book: Encouragement for America's Hidden Heroes: Survival Tactics for the Families of Our Military Forces, available online from many sources.
Chapter ThreeWar and Marriage
After Brian deployed a second time, we found that some things were easier than before, as I was more used to being alone, I had developed a better network of support, the children were a bit older (4 and 6 instead of 2 and 4), and we were better prepared for what would be happening. But we also noticed that we did some things a little differently from most people while he was deployed, which helped to strengthen our bond with one another when he returned.
After reading much research, studying books, taking graduate counseling courses, and talking with hundreds of military families, the following seven bullets summarize some of the best strategies to build your relationship and communicate effectively with your spouse during a deployment:
1. Talk to each other honestly.
Honest communication can often be recommended, but until it is clear what this really means, it is quite difficult to do. I am not suggesting that saying hurtful things in the name of honesty is appropriate. I certainly do not need my husband to provide me a list of everything he might do differently if he were the one at home. I also do not need a play by play on what a combat situation looked like, with all of the violent details. Likewise, he does not need a description of how many times our son has cried for his Dad, or a list of all of the items that are broken in the house.
So what does honest communication sound like?
Sharing feelings, encouraging one another, and listening are three key elements of the type of communication I am recommending. Brian did need to share some of what he was seeing with me, and I listened without overreacting or making him feel worse. I did need to share with him some of what was happening at home, but also needed to convey that I was in control of the situation and that he didn't need to worry. He also needed to hear that he was missed. He needed to hear that I needed him. This was always communicated, however, in the context that we were all right.
2. Throw guilt out the door.
Working with many families across the country, I have seen how couples begin to blame one another for the stress in their lives or for the difficult situation that they are experiencing. For example, one couple I met was struggling because the wife encouraged the husband to join the National Guard for extra money, and now he was deployed to Iraq for a year, and very unhappy about it. He blamed her for the situation he was in. I have also seen women who believe that the soldier somehow has it easier, and is doing what they "want to be doing" while she was "left behind" or had to halt her career.
Neither of these situations is appropriate, and the guilt associated with either one is damaging to the marriage. The opposite also occurs, where the spouse at home feels guilty about the other being in a war situation, or the soldier feels guilty about leaving the spouse behind.
The best way to combat these feelings is to accept the current situation, and work together to build up the other person while trusting that they can accomplish what is set before them. Guilt breaks down communication and sets the stage for problems for both partners.
3. Focus on the other person.
It is very easy in a deployment situation to think of yourself and your own hardships. Often both parties are completely saturated with things to do, have little time alone, and often are operating on little sleep. While it could be easy to have a "poor me" discussion with your spouse, the conversation becomes much more interesting and fulfilling when you are each able to focus on the other person.
4. Become good listeners.
During our first deployment, I realized that our time on the phone was quite limited. Because I am an extrovert, I really wanted to cram in as much information as I could into those phone calls, and found myself often talking too much and listening too little. By deciding in advance that I wanted to listen more, our second deployment found our communication to be much more rewarding.
Does listening still apply when we live in an age of email, face book, and other technological communications? I believe that it does. Though we personally rarely have access to these tools during a deployment, I have heard from many families that there is almost a constant connection in their cases. I recommend that you treat your typing just like you are talking to one another. Are you reading what the other is saying? Are you trying to read between the lines? Are you really "hearing" your spouse?
By listening you may find that your marriage can fulfill the ideals of Charles Jeffrey, a 19th Century writer:
"We have lived and loved together
Through many changing years;
We have shared each other's gladness
And wept each other's tears."
If you are truly listening, you may find that you do have more sharing of both gladness and tears, which both contribute to and strengthen a friendship and marriage.
5. Work as a team.
On any team, the workload and activities are shared while the team works toward a common goal. A project team at work might have one person who does research, one who puts together the presentations, and one who builds a product- but each with the goal of creating something new that combines with the efforts of the others. A basketball team has ball handlers and shooters, but each member of the team wants to see the scoreboard increase.
In the context of a military marriage, the team is responsible for both a mission abroad and a mission at home. Neither one should be seen as more or less important, or more or less difficult. They are simply the assignments we have been given, and the goal is to successfully handle both missions while maintaining a strong relationship with one another.
Respecting what the other is doing, while honoring and complimenting them for their contribution is very important. It is so nice to hear Brian tell me how proud he is of me and how he is thankful for me. This goes a very long way in making me want to do my best and do my part.
6. Pray for one another.
There is something so amazing and powerful about admitting your needs to one another and praying for those needs. Not only does prayer bring you closer to each other, but brings a sense of peace and hope to any situation. When Brian and I began to pray for each other, we both were blessed by the results and experienced enrichment in our marriage.
Maybe you were not brought up in household that prayed together, or it may not be something that you believe in. The type of prayer I am speaking of is in no way tied to any tradition, rule or recitation of any particular church. There is no formula for this type of prayer. You do not need to be a member of anything or have ever done it before. This is simply asking God for help for the one you love, and thanking God for that person. By sharing with God in this manner, it actually brings the marriage closer, and brings peace and healing. Simply share your own thoughts with God, and He will hear you.
7. Keep your goals and dreams.
During deployments in can be so easy to put things off until "this is over". I have found in my speaking career that this is not unique to military families, and that most Americans are always waiting for something to happen before we think we can take action on something else. When the kids grow up, when we have more money, when I'm retired, when we move into a new house, when we pay off the bills, etc. etc. etc. Always putting actions into the future can rob us of time to make progress today.
What are you and your spouse passionate about doing?
What actions can you take to move you toward your goals and dreams now?
Chapter FourComing Home
If you are reading this book while your spouse is deployed, it would be wise for you to begin implementing some of the concepts from the previous chapter. But don't worry! If your spouse has already returned, and you don't feel that your communication was good during the deployment, this can be addressed and worked on together now. All you need is a commitment that you want to get to know each other again and that you want to have a wonderful, close relationship with one another.
I don't believe that deployments cause marital problems, as very often there are problems before the deployment and the stress simply magnifies those things. I do know that practicing the concepts from these chapters throughout your marriage, regardless of your deployment cycle, can turn many things around and make a relationship more positive and able to withstand the hardships that will inevitably come along.
When we got the news that Brian would be returning, we were completely ecstatic, anxious, relieved, and even a little nervous. We learned that there would be an opportunity for us to meet him at the base gym immediately after the buses arrived. As it turns out, this happened to be in the middle of the night, approximately an hour and 1/2 away from our home, so we stayed in a hotel by the base that evening anxiously awaiting the phone call. Getting the children to sleep that night was quite a challenge! When we received the call, we put on our clothes, I re-did my hair and make-up (of course ... it had been a long time since we saw each other), and we headed to the gym along with many other families, children, and troops.
Excerpted from Happily Ever After Combat by Amy Stevens Copyright © 2010 by Amy Stevens. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsChapter 1. Introduction....................1
Chapter 2. Operation Marriage....................5
Chapter 3. War and Marriage....................11
Chapter 4. Coming Home....................19
Chapter 5. Tour of Marriage....................23
Chapter 6. The Family Mission....................35
Chapter 7. It Can Be Hard to Come Home....................43
Chapter 8. From War to Wonderful....................51
Chapter 9. How to Help a Military Family....................53
Chapter 10. Resources for Military Families....................55
About the Author....................59