One day, when I’m much older than I am now, I’ll be talking to younger people: volunteers at the nursing home I will surely live in, or maybe a group of new military spouses, and I will recall the way my marriage began as I tell them the greatest love story of my life.
I was 23 when I met the man who would become my husband a few years later. He walked into the restaurant I was working at and we talked a little at the bar when I was done my shift. He left that weekend for training for a few weeks, but I remember telling the bartender that I was going to marry him– I just knew it. Later in our relationship, I would hear from him that he thought it was love at first sight!
We had all the makings of a fairy tale romance.
We dated about a year and a half before marriage talks came up– the ship was moving from the East Coast to the West Coast and I let him know if he wanted me to go with him I would… if we were married.
It was a simple statement, but it held so much promise. I knew if I married him, I would become a military spouse, moving wherever the Navy sent him and uprooting my life every few years. I loved him, and that was all we needed, right? The radio is full of songs telling us how easy love is. We sing them in the car or in the shower and fall in love with the idea of love and marriage.
We picked our wedding song, wrote our own vows, and embarked on a life together that was going to be romantic and filled with homecomings and the best nautical Americana you’ve seen outside of a Pottery Barn catalog.
But there was something we hadn’t been told along the way: marriage can be hard.
Marriage requires work by both parties involved to keep the relationship nourished and growing: and that’s okay. Military marriage is even harder, filled with an endless string of trials and tribulations, kinks seemingly constantly thrown into the marriage wheel.
I still find myself getting teary eyed when our first dance song comes on the radio. We chose “The Way I Am” by Ingrid Michaelson. It was short at just over 2 minutes, but packed a powerful message and represented our love: “I love you more than I could ever promise, and you take me the way I am.”
We have loved each other through a homeport change, a WESTPAC deployment, an IA tour in Afghanistan, and a move overseas. We’re just coming up on the 7-year mark later this year. Life should be easy, love should be a plenty, and this whole marriage thing should be down to a science for us…but it’s not.
The first three years of our marriage we barely saw each other and by the time we celebrated our 3rd anniversary we had only been together something like 11 months, non-consecutively. With all the coming and going, I had friends recommend that we go to a CREDO marriage enrichment retreat, a service the Navy chaplains offers all service members (both married and looking to get married!). I remember rolling my eyes so hard and boasting about how strong my marriage was! I was a good military spouse and we were in a good place! We didn’t need to be told how to make things work: we weren’t broken. I thought if we went to a marriage enrichment retreat that we had failed.
We finally convinced ourselves to go when we found out he was deploying to Afghanistan– if nothing else it would be a nice weekend away together and we might come out of it learning a thing or two to carry us through a deployment we never thought he would see! We learned how to be better listeners, we learned about our love languages and how to love one another more thoughtfully. We enjoyed our weekend retreat so much that we actually decided to do one again two years later before our next big military transition: moving overseas!
We knew life overseas came with struggles that had the potential to destroy our marriage. Okinawa, in my opinion, will make or break your marriage. At just over a year here, it really began cracking ours. We got sick and tired of the work schedule, we found ourselves in a constant cycle of getting ready for off-island work trips, separation, and then reintegration. Our house became a revolving door and he was gone as often as he was home. At almost two years on-island, it became too much for me to handle and we broke.
I wanted to leave.
I looked up flights and was just shy of booking a one-way ticket home. We knew we had to do something because we truly do love each other more than either of us could have ever imagined standing in that chapel on our wedding day. He went to the Chaplain’s office and see if he would counsel us. Neither of us are religious people, but Chaplains are there to help you with all kinds of things aside from religious work. We made an appointment and we started marriage counseling.
We’ve been going for about two months now and we’re fixing the crack that is now a part of our story.
Once again we focused on looking at our love languages and how to best show the other that we love them. I honestly can’t stress how important I think this is– I have learned that, while my husband never responds to my words during a fight (he’s the strong and silent type), his love language is words of affirmation so sharp words really cut him down. He has learned quality time is my love language and so, while I appreciate him wanting to get up right after dinner and help clean the kitchen, he is starting to understand why I would rather sit on the couch for a few minutes just hanging out.
We wrote out goals for ourselves personally and for our marriage for the next five, ten, and twenty years for accountability. We have what we want to achieve written down and we’ve discussed it with each other. We’ve been told about a “pulse check” technique where we sit down annually or so and discuss where we are in terms of hitting our goals. Even in the short time since we first did this with the chaplain it has helped us tremendously to start a dialogue about what we each expect moving forward in our marriage.
My plea to every married couple out there: Don’t be ashamed or afraid to look for a little guidance! If you are a newlywed and overwhelmed with the lifestyle you have recently been flung into… If you have been doing this life for 25 years and suddenly find yourself preparing for your or your spouse’s military retirement; If orders came in and you’re finding it a little difficult to bloom where the military has planted you: take advantage of the opportunities to grow and learn how to handle each kink military life throws our way! Check for local resources- retreats or one-on-one with a chaplain, to help guide you through the tough times! Military marriage is hard work, but there are great tools to help you along the way!
Elizabeth lives the nomadic life of a Navy Wife and is the author of Cheers, Elizabeth! She currently finds herself residing in Okinawa, Japan for the duration of her husband’s tour in the country. When she is not volunteering her time with the Spouse Club or enjoying her experience in the International Women’s Club, she can be found exploring the island she gets to call home for a short period in her life. You can find her and follow her adventures on Instagram or on her site Cheers, Elizabeth.