What happens when you take a woman who serves in the shadows, who is terrified of success and who is flawed like everyone else, and thrust her into the spotlight?
I have tried many times to communicate what I have learned in the almost three years since I was named 2015 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year, but words cannot contain it.
I have learned about my own strength, the crippling power of my own weakness, and both the ugliness and beauty that exists in community.
That intense character growth in such a short time often felt as if I were in a never-ending free fall, while still trying to accomplish everyday tasks.
I am forever grateful for the award and the doors it opened, but even more for the doors it exposed in my heart that I had not noticed.
Here is some of what I see now that I couldn't see before.
There is great wisdom in listening and learning from those with different viewpoints.
We are often limited by our own points of view.
For years, I served "boots on the ground" as a volunteer at events and programming. When you are new to the military, you tend to see all the ways the institution could be doing things differently or better. We rally to make things more modern or culturally relevant. We advocate from the ground up, frustrated by leadership who may not share the same passion.
This approach is not necessarily wrong. In fact, the next generation can be crucial to any institution's success. Good leadership must listen to those it leads, but there is great wisdom from those who have gone before us.
My experience of sitting at the table with wives of generals and mentors who have lived this life for close to 30 years has been eye-opening.
If we would only listen, there are incredible stories of courage and fierce advocacy that led to the benefits we now freely critique.
I have been in awe of the character that has been shaped by years of hard work, sacrifice and maturity of our most senior spouses. Each generation carries unique challenges and victories that are meant to be celebrated together.
We all must listen more.
The military lifestyle can bring out the best or worst in you.
As I have listened to your stories, I have heard of both victories and devastation.
I have seen military spouses do incredible things in their local communities and installations, start their own businesses, advocate on Capitol Hill and run organizations that serve thousands of people in need.
The military spouse community is a fierce force to be reckoned with when they are at their best.
But this lifestyle also has a way of sneaking resentment and pride into our hearts before we can even say "America." In my own life, I vulnerably share in my book "Sacred Spaces" how it impacted my marriage.
The response from the military spouse community has only confirmed what an epidemic this really is. When you spend most of your life feeling out of control, you will control everything you can get your hands on. This inner tension can eventually breed resentment and bitterness if you don't keep a close watch on it.
While there are thousands of military spouses doing great things with a healthy internal drive, there are others who are fueled by the need to have control.
The only way to truly succeed at whatever we have a desire to do is to keep a light on those dark corners, maintain our priorities and be open to truth from those around you.
I would have lost everything had I not held onto my faith, listened to my husband and given key friends access to my inner world.
Outside forces will tempt you away from what will bring you joy.
There are few things on this planet that can bring you real joy.
We think it is found in success, our kids' success, promotion, financial freedom or popularity.
But I can assure you it is not. It is not found in being relevant, the number of likes in social media, paid gigs or even service to others.
I have learned in the last few years that there is an enemy that will distract you if he cannot destroy you -- and I promise you his goal is to destroy you.
Most of us think of moral failings or destructive decisions when we think "temptation," but the stronger, more disabling temptations are in seemingly "good" opportunities.
Our community, as well as the first responder community, is founded on protecting life and promoting peace. We serve our communities and country by sacrificing what is comfortable and convenient.
As military spouses, we often feel we are an extension of our service member by giving similarly in our own way.
It is hard to say "no" to a good thing, whether it is a new nonprofit idea or an unfilled volunteer position.
Across the globe, I have seen many marriages fall apart because of overservice.
Work and accomplishments are good for our spirit. There is nothing wrong with finding purpose outside of the home using our unique talents and gifts.
It is when we find our significance there that it is dangerous. There will never be an end to the need in the world, so we must develop self-control of our calling before our calling controls us.
Otherwise, we will have nothing to offer.
Seasons may change how we serve each other in marriage, but peace is found in the roles God created for us.
I know someone will argue me into the ground on this, but I have lived it and survived to tell you the truth.
And today I have nothing but gratitude and respect for my husband taking on the home for the last two years while I traveled.
In many ways, he did a better job at home than I have ever done folding laundry, cooking dinner and picking up sick kids from school.
I have heard many military spouses utter the resentful words that used to be in my heart, "It's his turn to revolve around me."
I now grieve that I ever entertained that level of selfishness.
The last two years of role reversal have been equally rewarding and difficult, to say the least.
Out of love, he wanted me to see my own potential -- and I did.
I hear many service members wanting the same for their spouses, but the grass is not always greener on the other side. Once you get there, you will always want to go back home.
I constantly fought off an underlying feeling of unbalance and stress. My heart wanted to be home. My attention felt torn, and he felt the same way. It was difficult to concentrate on his own job that provided for our family.
I kept thinking about Nicole Spaid, the 2015 Marine Corps Spouse of the Year whom the other spouses and I call our "Mother Hen." She turned down several opportunities during her year with that title so that she could be fully present for her family. Her resolve has more influence in my life than she could ever know.
Now that my husband and I are finding better balance and taking back the roles that we believe God created in us, we are finding peace in what we believe He originally designed.
I recently saw a quote by Mother Teresa that could not be a better summary of my last few years: "If you want to bring happiness to the world, go home and love your family," she said.
As much as I find purpose in serving others, this season has taught me that there is no greater joy than being at rest with my God and at home with my family.
Entering into this next season, my eyes are open to loving my family with my best first, and then offer the world what I have second.
It might sound crazy, but conflict in your marriage can be a healthy sign.
Two people who see the world in very different ways are never going to agree on everything.
Too often, couples let marriage fighting spin wildly out of control before they realize it could have been handled differently.
But there's a difference between disagreements and a full-blown argument. How do you toe the line?
We're usually not our best selves in the middle of an argument, so it can be difficult to keep that conflict from escalating into a destructive, hurtful conversation.
How do you save yourself from going there? Here are five things to remember the next time you get into it.
1. Think: "My spouse is for me, not against me."
Shaunti Feldhahn is a social researcher who has dedicated most of her career to understanding marriage. She's interviewed thousands of couples who said they were happy to determine just what made their marriages so great.
One of her biggest finds is that 99 percent of individuals she studies genuinely love and have their spouse's best interest at heart.
What does that mean for you? It's likely that your spouse is not intentionally trying to hurt you at any given time, including during a heated argument.
Remind yourself that your spouse loves you and wants the best for you. It means that they had good intentions and still do.
When my husband and I get into a tiff, we remember Feldhahn's research, and one of us will say, "I am for you, not against you." It is a gentle reminder that the problem is the problem, not each other.
2. Think: "I can only control me."
When on the defensive, there is something primal in us that wants to control the other person to calm them down or stir them up. We say things to invoke a response or withdrawal to drive home the point of our hurt.
The military lifestyle doesn't help. Both the serving spouse and supporting spouse can feel out of control, which makes military homes ripe for both spouses to want complete control.
The reality is that we have no control over each. Instead, what we have is influence. Our behaviors and decisions cause consequences, and that definitely influences our spouses. But ultimately you control your reactions, and he controls his.
Reminding yourself of that during marriage fighting can help you remember that you can choose not only how angry you get, but how you will respond in this moment.
Hopefully, you can choose to react in a way that brings you closer and influences him to do the same.
3. Ask, "Are we just HALT?"
When things start to get heated, ask yourself if the emotional reaction you're experiencing matches the situation.
If not, there might be something else going on other than how your spouse said, "Good morning."HALT stands for hungry, angry, lonely and tired. Good decisions are never made when we are feeling any of those things.
Sleep is always a challenge in the high operations tempo of military life. That's why my husband and I decided a long time ago that arguments are not worth trying to resolve after 10 p.m.
Loneliness can also be a big factor for military families. When was the last time you had an honest, fulfilling conversation with a friend or got outside the house?
Loneliness can impact service members as well. If you've recently moved, your service member might be missing the attachment he or she had with the troops in their last unit.
If you think your spouse might be struggling with more than what’s on the surface, be sure to validate their current feelings while gently asking what else might be going on.
4. Know it might not be PTSD.
The prevalence of combat stress makes it easy for us to let it constantly take the blame for the stress in our relationships.
If your serving spouse has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or combat-related stress, symptoms of irritability and mood swings are part of your relationship.
For those dealing with severe symptoms, it can be very difficult to decipher when irritability is due to a real issue or if the symptoms are exacerbating the situation.
After providing counseling to many couples with a variety of challenges, I have found that there are always two sides to a couple's story. In other words, most times there are legitimate feelings that are upsetting your spouse, and the PTSD is not to blame.
By labeling every conflict as PTSD or mood irritability, you might be minimizing what your spouse is trying to communicate to you.
Just as women don't like the "it must be your hormones" comment, we must be careful not to label every irritable response as being connected to a service-related issue.
Tell yourself that this should be treated as a real and genuine concern before you label it "extreme" or a symptom.
5. Ask, "What would the 80-year-old version of me say?"
This is by far my favorite strategy for helping me gain perspective during a misunderstanding.
Lately, I have been picturing my husband and myself at 80 years old, sitting on a bench holding hands. In my mind, we are far past the petty issues, life has been full and we are full of gratitude.
When I find myself in the midst of marriage fighting and I am particularly worked up, I think about what the 80-year-old version of me would say.
Would she tell me that this battle is worth it? She has been through enough military separations to know that the smallest things that we argue about are ultimately time wasters.
I often picture the future us giggling at current us getting so worked up in the first place.
Then, when I picture 80-year-old me offering current me advice, she usually just tells me to stop making such a big fuss and kiss him already.
Eighty-year-old me is salty, wise and always has extra cookies on hand for the neighborhood kids.
Chances are, you have an 80-year-old version of you waiting to be invited into the conversation.
During a particularly difficult week, I scrolled through Facebook and paused on a post reporting that a local Starbucks gave out customers' orders for free with no explanation. Baristas answered inquiries with merely "Have a wonderful day." Even though I wasn't a customer, I found myself imagining my reaction to the barista.
Maybe I wouldn't say it out loud, but perhaps the look of surprise on my face would give it away. My imagined reaction didn't come from a place of paranoia, although for some it could. The question came from a realization that this business was choosing to lose money in their act of kindness. Why would they choose to do that? Gaining a few loyal customers didn't seem like a worthwhile strategy considering what it would inevitably cost them.
They gave no answer. They simply said "have a wonderful day."
What struck me about this interchange is that this act of kindness rested on a single value- worthiness. Starbucks determined the people it served as worth more than the cost. Each was worthy of kindness, not because they earned it or deserved it, but simply because they exist.
It is amazing how easy it is for kindness to slip from our minds in daily interactions with each other. The closer the relationship, the more we take for granted that the person will love us unconditionally. We expect them to be understanding when we've had a bad day or when we have disappointed them.
And yet, we are the first to point out their unkind tone when the roles are reversed. Perhaps Starbucks has it easy. Being kind to a stranger cost them only a latte and banana nut muffin at wholesale. But being kind in the relationships around us costs far more, so much so that we are shocked when a business schools us on how to treat one another.
Is it just me? Or perhaps you could stand to experience a little more kindness, too?
Kindness can feel like it should be linked to worthiness. It is only costly when we have to sacrifice something within us that wants to make it conditional. Choosing to be kind to my spouse when he or she comes home with a bad attitude is a gift, not an exchange of currency.
But what if your heart has been hurt by others' lack of kindness? What if you simply feel you have nothing to offer?
That is what I love most about the Starbucks story. They didn't have an answer except for "have a wonderful day." They didn't say whether they "felt" like being kind or what "moved" them towards kindness. They just handed out warm beverages with a smile.
Sometimes we choose a behavior and our feelings follow.
Every marriage or relationship has patterns. If we look closely, we will find how we trigger each other into what some experts call a "crazy cycle," or the pattern of usual escalating conflict. The only way to interrupt the crazy cycle in your relationship is to do something different by starting a new pattern. Unfortunately, if you wait until you "feel like it" in the middle of an intense argument, it will never happen.
You must behave differently and your feelings will follow. This usually begins with a willingness to be kind.
Also difficult is having the courage to be kind to ourselves. Far too often I see individuals that give others the benefit of the doubt while internally whipping themselves into submission with shame. Being kind to yourself is also a virtue dependent on worthiness. You do not deserve kindness or forgiveness, you are worthy of it because you are alive. In fact, those you love are impacted by whether you are willing to extend kindness to yourself -- especially children.
In the words of Brene Brown, "'You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging."
But the best part about kindness is how contagious it is. Here I was, struck by the impact of this simple act of kindness in a coffee shop three states away. I didn't even benefit from a free warm beverage, but I don't really think that was Starbuck's point. The message I received, from a Facebook post no less, was that one act can change things.
A shift in your own sense of worth impacts your home. Kindness towards your spouse can change your marriage. Kindness towards those around you can spread infinitely beyond what you can imagine.
Still having trouble with this idea? Here are a couple of ways you can bring kindness into your relationship today.
-- Tell your spouse you love them without prompting
-- Make your spouse their favorite meal
-- Choose to end an argument rather than defending your point or being right.
-- Forgive your spouse for something you have been holding over them for far too long
-- Surprise them with a latte and a banana nut muffin.
I already knew I had a stellar soldier for a husband- but right then I kinda hated it. Perhaps you have one too. The kind of spouse that strives to be his best at everything and sets his sights on maxing out that PT test every time.
Before kids and the military, my husband and I used to go for long runs and chat about our life. It was quality time that usually ended with ice cream and a favorite show (oh how we miss our twenties). Once the military entered the story, early morning PT became his primary time to workout and I fit in exercise around everyone else’s schedule.
On this particular day we decided to go for a long overdue run together. As I laced up my shoes, I was about to remark on how nice it was going to be to run together when he put in his earphones and said, “but I won’t be talking, I’m working on increasing my pace”.
“That’s okay,” I said- more to prepare myself for the pain that was likely to follow, “I’ll do the same.”
We started off together, listening to our independent playlists. When we faced hills, he attacked them with purpose as I managed to keep up. When I was forced to stop and fix my hair, he jogged in place and focused on his watch. Finally, as we approached the last mile, my stellar soldier surged ahead- or maybe I started to lag behind. My legs begged for me to quit despite what my heart wanted. I started to accept my fate as officially “smoked”- when I had a thought.
Without realizing it, we were both shaped in two entirely different ways by the military lifestyle.
The military has a way of creating fantastic leaders that translate into fantastic role models at home. Mine appreciates organization, routine, and logical ways of finding solutions to everyday problems. He teaches our kids the values he loves about the military including work ethic, respect for authority, loyalty, integrity, and others.
The military had done something entirely different for me.
As difficult as it has been to constantly maneuver around his schedule, I have learned to embrace the role that creativity plays in chaos. I have to fit in my own self care- not because someone tells me to, but because it keeps me from losing my mind. Relationships in the home are more likely to come before order, and definitely more important than perfection. Leadership as a military spouse has become more about adaptability and a strong “whatever” mindset.
I watched from a distance as he finished his run and then checked his watch. Shame washed over me as I thought about how frustrating it is to be married to someone who folds laundry better than me, often thinks to start the crock pot before I do, and was in better physical shape than I was. To sum it up in view of the finish line, the military had made a stellar leader out of him and leisurely pace keeper out of me.
Unless you are in a marriage where you or your spouse quit along time ago, almost no one likes to be left behind. In fact, if you’ve been married for any length of time, you have likely experienced surging ahead or lagging behind your spouse in one area or another. What you do when you find yourself there, though, reveals the state of your true character.
“Do I finish strong or just slow down in defeat?”
As much as we try to experience life at the same pace, marriage will often ebb and flow throughout the marathon. The military lifestyle almost guarantees we will have different ways of approaching it. Each spouse brings strengths, each spouse brings weaknesses to manage. Both have something to offer when the moment is right. From a strengths perspective, my stellar husband has expressed the same feelings I was having on days where no amount of logic or order fits into the chaos of life. Sometimes, being a leisurely pace setter pays off.
One thing was clear, his pace challenged me to dig deep and find something new within myself or I would fall behind. The military, despite our different experiences, has taught us separately that the kind of battle buddy we are for each other is a matter of life or death for marriage. As a military spouse, I’ve learned that I don’t quit. I can’t quit a deployment. I can’t quit on a bad day. I’ve learned to finish strong even if it’s looks or feels different than I originally pictured. So I did as he waited for me.
It’s not easy to be married to someone who has thrived in the military. He has been a perfect fit for this job from the beginning. But it’s only difficult because he expects so much of himself and in turn I must do the same.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Post 9/11 Military Spouses Chronicle Experiences through New Legacy Project
Multiple Locations, U.S. (August 8, 2017) – A new collaboration has brought together 30 military spouses of U.S. Armed Forces to share their experiences of military life in the post 9/11 era. It chronicles America’s all-volunteer force and how they and their families have made a powerful impact in their communities while being a military spouse and all that entails.
“Behind the Scenes: The Tales of Military Spouses Making a Difference” is a project coordinated by Cara Loken, the 2016 Armed Forces Insurance National Guard Spouse of the Year. The book highlights the men and women who have been contributing to their communities while they and their families meet the challenges facing the very unique circumstances of today’s military community.
“I kept hearing story after story of the life-changing things that spouses everywhere were doing in addition to meeting and conquering their own day-to-day challenges. When these women and men see a need, they fill it. It was important to me to put these stories together so all Americans know just how very remarkable the people behind our service members are,” said Loken, a military wife and mom. “I’m sure the tales will inspire others to find their own way to have a lasting impact.”
Each chapter is written from the perspective of a different military spouse author with a focus on their own personal journey. While the writers are scattered in locations throughout the U.S. and overseas, they all share the common thread of seeing the firsthand evolution of the homefront during continuous wartime operations. The book is also a charitable endeavor. 100% of the proceeds of the sale of the book will go toward charities picked by each author.
“This collection of memoirs provides a window into the hearts and minds of our military spouses and is filled with stories of strength, courage and determination,” said Lori Simmons, Chief Marketing Officer for Armed Forces Insurance, and sponsor of the Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year ™ Award in addition to numerous military spouse businesses and programs. Cara and the authors of the book are very important to us and assisting them is AFI’s mission.”
“Behind the Scenes” is now available for purchase online on Amazon.
About Behind the Scenes: There are roughly 1.1 million military spouses of the US Armed Forces spread across communities around the globe. They are entrepreneurs and volunteers, educators and lawyers, authors and elected representatives, stay-at-home parents and advocates. These men and women embody the American dream by sacrificing on behalf of the pursuit of freedom, while chasing bold dreams of their own. Often told are the stories of the selfless service of the heroes in military uniform, but lesser known is the everyday imprint being left on the nation by those who support those service members. This book seeks to capture the inspirational tales of those military spouses who continue to make a difference daily.
To learn more about the project along with biographies on the authors, visit our Facebook page.
Barbara Pflughaupt, 212-707-8181 or Gabrielle Torello, 917-312-2832
"How do I confront my spouse's negative behavior?"
"What does it look like to be a godly wife when my husband has stopped caring?"
"Is God is okay with me ending my marriage?"
"How do I continue to love and serve my husband if he is not being a spiritual leader in the home?"
The question is actually about how to deal with sin in marriage. Every marriage will struggle with sin- individual sin, sin against each other, even sin against God.
How do I love like Jesus when I feel so hurt and hopeless?
Depending on your upbringing and whether or not it involved church, this question makes everyone stumble. Betrayal, neglect, anger, pornography, and other negative behaviors are difficult to address when you are hurt enough to leave but scripture and the church seem to tell you to forgive and fight for your marriage. And then there's that submission thing....
So Matt and I are tackling this question together- because being in a military (and first responder) marriage has extra variables like PTSD, compassion fatigue, and constant changes in roles at home.
In response to my message in Sacred Spaces that we should be pursuing our spouse, I commonly get emails that sound like this...
"How long should I pursue my spouse when they aren't reciprocating?"
"What if my service member came home different and neglects me and our family?"
"How long must I lead before my husband picks up his role as the spiritual leader of our home?"
These are tough questions and the root issue here is...
"How do we address sin in a Christian marriage?"
- Matt and I continue our discussion on gender roles in a godly marriage
- We share some of our own story of how we addressed unmet expectations in our marriage
- Matt talks to service members who have come home different and need hope
I've also attached ALL of my favorite resources as well. SAVE IT. You will want to reference it later and pass it to a friend- I promise. You wouldn't believe how many struggle with this in silence.
Also, don't forget you can watch or listen from the Lifegiver App! It's FREE and so much fun.
There's a whole lot more than this, but these are some of my favorites:
Podcasts:Setbacks in Marriage- The Podcast Episode
Women & the Tough Bible Verses- (Topic of Submission and gender roles in the Bible- Authentic Intimacy)
People Are More Important Than Marriage- Authentic Intimacy, When you shouldn't fight for your marriage.
Sexual Intimacy and Post Affair with Mike Sytsma
How do Affairs Happen? New Life Church, Brady Boyd
Articles:So You've Hit a Marriage Setback: 3 Steps
Military Marriage: When to Separate
Mike Sytsma- Betrayal & Affair Recovery (articles and video)
Protecting Your Marriage from an Affair
Books:Mission Ready Marriage: My Life As An Active Duty Wife Claire Wood
Sacred Spaces: My Journey to the Heart of Military Marriage Corie Weathers