“I can’t read your MIND, ok?!? I wasn’t that great at it before, but I’m really bad at it now. So if you want something from me you are going to have to just TELL ME.”
It is one of those moments that, even so many years later, remains crystal-clear in my memory.
My husband had returned home from his first tour in Afghanistan two days before Christmas in 2008. I had all these expectations built up in my mind over our 12 months apart: What we would say, how we would feel, how life would be “perfect” as long as he just survived and came home to us. And here we were, just weeks later, fighting angrily in a hotel room in Florida during what was supposed to be an awesome “Welcome Home” vacation for the entire family: his parents, siblings, and our 3 children included.
Why were we fighting?
Having a husband in the military and having survived 3 deployments with our marriage intact has taught me many, many things. However, I think the most valuable lesson it has taught me is that Expectations can never come before Communication. I used to think “If he loved me, he would know what to do! I shouldn’t have to ask!” or “If he really cared, he would just notice all the things he’s doing “wrong” (read: Not My Way) and fix the problem!”
My husband was my Prince Charming, my Knight in shining armor. The Expectation was the fairytale “Happily Ever After.” Except, apparently, Life didn’t get the memo and instead I got…..Well….Life. Just like everyone else. And, you know, Deployment. Just to keep things interesting.
Deployment taught me that if our marriage was going to not only survive but actually thrive, I was going to have to learn a thing or two about how to tell my husband what I needed and wanted from him, and vice versa. We had spent so much time absorbed in just looking forward to “being together” that we failed to make a plan for the inevitable pitfalls and bumps in the road that followed. We failed to look past the grand reunion to the reality that lay ahead. The six months that followed were understandably some of the most difficult of our married life as a result.
But we learned.
He deployed again in 2010, this time to Iraq. It was completely unexpected and his departure was a mere 8 weeks after our 4th child was born. It was different. This time I let him know when I was struggling with something at home. I made every effort to consult him on issues with the kids and our family life. We kept it real. Our focus was not just on getting to the End of the deployment like it was some grand Finish Line….. but instead on continuing to live life, growing and nurturing our relationship despite the distance by communicating regularly and effectively. He returned home once again 12 months later, safe and sound. This time the bumps in the road were smaller, the curves smoother, and the large pitfalls previously encountered had simply become potholes.
Still. We continued to learn.
In April of 2012 he deployed to Afghanistan for the second time, literally barely 3 weeks after we had returned home from Ukraine upon completing the adoption of our 6 year old special-needs daughter. It was difficult and heart-wrenching to say goodbye again. The skills we had put so much time and effort in to strengthening over the last two deployment/reintegration cycles would truly be put to the test. He returned home to us again, just in time for Thanksgiving.
And so far I would have to say we didn’t just pass the test. We aced it!
I no longer expect him to know what I am thinking. I no longer consider his approach “wrong” and mine “right”. I know how to say “I need your help” or “I am really upset” or “How can we make this or that better?” I can see the value in our difference of opinions, I seek clarification when necessary, I attempt to always be considerate to his point of view, and I never set expectations without communicating first. And he does the same for me. Not to say our marriage is perfect, no one’s is. However, the way you communicate to your spouse and how they communicate back to you has an immeasurable impact on a marriage.
Communication, as the saying goes, really is the key.
8 years. 3 deployments. 5 kids.
And our marriage is stronger than ever.
-Lora, My Camo Kids
right photo: Angela Klocke Photography