Military Marriage: When You’ve Forgotten
“I don’t even remember why I married him,” my client shamefully shared with me.
Her frustration in her marriage of nearly 20 years led her to seek help which landed her in my office. I nodded my head and asked her curiously, “So why did you marry him?” She looked up at me, tears welling in her eyes, and began to shake her head in frustration. “I don’t know. I’ve forgotten why I even said yes to him and this whole military life.”
My client’s experience is not unusual. And it’s not limited to military life, though this life does have its own nuances. I think back on my own marriage of 16 plus years and wonder if I would’ve ever written the love story we have. Probably not which is what makes this journey so magical, right? Though it doesn’t always feel magical, especially when you are facing the end of one chapter and don’t even know how to start the next.
As military spouses, we are awesome at adapting. Throw a last-minute change at us and we’ll rework the whole situation like a boss. Delayed orders? Pssh, that’s nothing. Last-minute deployment? Irritating, but gonna make it through it. Yet when it comes to the conclusion of a career, that’s a whole ‘nother ball game that many aren’t prepared for.
And there’s a good reason for this. We spend so much time trying to live in the present, putting together the pieces from one PCS to another, dreaming of the day when we’ll finally be settled. But that day doesn’t come for a long time because deployments and new duty assignments overshadow it. And who we were at the beginning of this adventure fades a little more and a little more with each move, each promotion. It’s not that we don’t support the one whose side we strongly stand by — quite the contrary. We’ve contorted our life to fit into theirs. But what happens when that chapter of life no longer requires gymnastic level flexibility?
Where you find yourself one day waking up and looking over at the person sleeping next to you whose hair has grayed and muscles have sagged. The person who you’ve spent the past decade or more following around the world. The person who you once loved so fiercely but have let the years create a chasm that has led you to forget why you fell in love with them in the first place. The love for family and country and freedom have been the mainstays of your marriage. And you wonder to yourself, when did this all begin? What brought us together in the first place? And of course, the more poignant question, where do we go from here?
Transitions can feel like a scary time. Biologically our brains hate it. Our minds love predictability, and there’s nothing I can think of more unpredictable than transitions. If our brains can’t predict, it likes to keep us put with a little tactic called fear. That’s when all the “what ifs” and “hows” flood your mind. It really does have your best intentions at heart since its goal is to keep you safe and alive (thanks, Unconscious Mind, for having my back). As you transition from one chapter to another, I want you to know that it’s normal to feel anxious, weary even. And if you haven’t experienced this already, know that it can also feel very lonely.
When I work with clients who are making big changes in their lives, I try to help them identify an anchor. Something that keeps them grounded and reminds them that they’re attached to something greater. A partner, your teammate, can be one of those anchors (it’s definitely not the only one as they are many). But when the years accumulate and you’ve forgotten what tethered you to your partner in the first place, it’s normal to feel isolated and alone. Which, of course, creates more distance and takes you further and further away from that smile you fell in love with.
Oh, love. Do you remember what it felt like to fall in love? To see your person for the first time that day and totally light up from the inside out. To feel their hand in yours and believe that you could take on the whole world together. To stay up into the wee hours of the night talking (and not talking) about your dreams and future together. If you were my client, that would be one of my assignments for you.
I’d ask you to close your eyes. Take in three deep breaths. And then go back. Go back to the time when you first met that love. Do you remember where you were? What you were wearing? What they were wearing? Do you remember how it felt to talk to them? To desire their attention and physical touch. I’d ask you to tell me about the first time you kissed. The first time you said, “I love you.” About your first argument and how you overcame it.
I would ask you to remember. To remember as much as you can and to feel as much as you’re willing to. Not because they deserve it. But because you do. And your relationship does. The life you have built together matters. And it deserves the time and attention required to go back and remember it all.
You may be thinking, Oh, but Courtney, I’m not that person anymore. My spouse isn’t that person anymore. I would smile and tell you, “Maybe you’re right. But you can be if you want to.” And then I would ask you if you wanted to. If you don’t, that’s fine. I’m not here to judge you if you’re done. But I’m betting that a part of you, even if it’s the size of a sliver, wants to. And if that’s the case, then get ready to remember.
Here’s what I want you to know – we are the ones that get to decide who we are. No one else. You are the one who is the author of this new chapter. But where do I begin, you may wonder? Just like you’ve tackled a troublesome PCS in the past, call on that strength as you’re charting this new course. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from this military life, it’s how you can start over. Again and again. So, today, I want to encourage you to begin again. And remember.
About this author: Courtney Boyer, M.Ed., M.S., CL, is a Relationship Coach and Sexpert who helps high achievers become as successful in their relationships as they are in their careers. She loves coffee, red wine, and serving her military community. You can learn more about Courtney at Stepping Stones Coaching
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