Now I know the military isn’t for everyone. Less than one percent of the US population serves in the military and there is a good reason for that. Despite the “free education” or health care benefits talked about, the military is not an easy lifestyle. For instance, not many jobs out there require employees to get up every morning at the crack of dawn, rain or shine, 100 degrees or negative digits, and jog five miles, or carry a heavy ruck sack up a hill, or roll around in the cold, wet dirt, sand, or snow. Not many jobs require their employees to move their families every two or three years or temporarily drop everything (spouses, kids, new babies, pets, homes, etc.), sometimes with very little notice, and deploy to that “dangerous place on the other side of the world” for six months, twelve months, or even fifteen months.
My point is, these are things that can either put a real strain on a marriage or strengthen that marriage like few things can. So for that tiny minority who have chosen to serve their country by putting on that uniform every day, there are some unique marriage benefits to be gained.
Now “the military didn’t issue you a spouse,” is a statement often used in jest by some in the Armed Forces. But, some of the important learned lessons from military life formed the foundation of my own marriage. Here are a few (in the form of lessons learned) that have strengthened Eric’s and my marriage commitment:
- Extended periods of separation can draw us closer together, or push us apart, but the choice is ours. Instead of pushing the “pause” button on our relationship during those weeks or months of separation, we use that time to grow as individuals, support other spouses in the same boat, and stay focused on the job at hand. We make a conscious, verbal commitment that neither distance nor time will derail our commitment to one another.
- Change is inevitable. I am not the same person I was yesterday. I have changed in some way, perhaps physically, spiritually, or emotionally. The military embodies change—“Pick up and go anywhere you’re sent, perform whatever job you’re given, endure whatever conditions you’re handed.” We have learned to embrace the fact that each other may change, grow in an area, or suddenly struggle in another. External or internal, every marriage must face the forces of change.
- Nothing lasts forever. The military has taught me that even though I may be cold, wet, tired, hungry and miserable, it will end—eventually. That training mission will finally wrap up; that deployment will finally reach its last day and I will get on that C-17 airplane to go home. Finally! The rule here is “Endure. Don’t quit.” Marriage can be like that for many couples. Sometimes, it just takes some good, old-fashioned endurance to get over the hard parts.
- “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.” -Anonymous. This one is my favorite. To survive in the military, I MUST be flexible or else, I will be miserable! That mission that I spent months and countless hours planning, bet all your money on it, I will be forced to change it. Not once or twice, but many, many times— Heck, it may get scrapped altogether! If I can be flexible for my country, I can be flexible for my spouse (Comparatively, Eric asks me to be much less flexible than the US government asks).
- We’re never guaranteed tomorrow. For those who have family members in the military, the danger factor is very real and always in the back of one’s mind. Where I work, I pass a memorial every day to the fallen young men and women of my unit. It is a daily reminder to keep the things that matter most in perspective and to treasure my spouse.
When I joined the Army, I had to memorize the US Soldiers Creed. My favorite part reads,
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
The declaration is clear. A good soldier doesn’t give up in the face of adversity and always has his/her buddy’s back. I’ve been thinking about how this applies to marriage:
Love never accepts defeat.
Love never quits.
Love never leaves a struggling husband or wife behind.
Here’s the bottom line. If you are in the military or the spouse of a military member, you’re stronger than you know. You have already been through some really hard times and come through on the other side, “for better or for worse.” We learn from those challenges and they grow our character and resiliency as individuals and families.
To the civilians who have their own unique set of challenges and difficulties, change is inevitable no matter who you are, where you live, or what job you do. Long hours at the office or extended business trips may keep you separated from your spouse and family. Flexibility is no less important for you and your spouse, and endurance, just as essential.
Challenges and adversity in marriage either strengthen the love we share or defeat it. Our marriage may not be Government Issued, but the lessons we’ve learned as soldiers have helped to make our marriage stronger.