By Jaimi Erickson
When I saw Cinderella walk down the stairs in her gown, arm linked to Prince Charming dressed up in his uniform, I figured marriages were like fairy tales. You find the guy. He sweeps you off your feet. You have a magnificent engagement story, and then it’s happily ever after. But then, there is military marriage, which is like a regular marriage, but with deployments thrown in for extra adventure.
The photos in uniform, sword details at weddings, and white, puffy dresses illustrated what I assumed my military marriage would look like. Then, I experienced deployments, field ops and the “I will be home by 6” reply that actually means he has no idea when work will end for the day.
Welcome to the world of military marriage adventures! The real story involves you having to take each day as it comes — and the best advice you can heed is to replace your fairy tale vision with reality.
Now, before you tell me this view is too pessimistic, let’s brighten up the picture with actual positives. There are beautiful moments of military marriage. You do have the opportunity to feel like Cinderella one day every year at your servicemember’s military ball. And, every time your spouse returns from deployment your heart will flutter like you just fell in love again. These beautiful, storybook experiences energize us during the moments and years when marriage feels challenging. If you are going to survive this military life, don’t neglect your marriage.
The odds are in our favor considering that only 3-7% of military marriages end in divorce. To be part of the successful marriage statistics, focus on what you can do to make your marriage meet your and your spouse’s needs.
Healthy Military Marriage Habits
As a military spouse of 20 years, the tricky part has been figuring out the “how” of working on my marriage when my servicemember is gone a lot. Throughout my military spouse journey, I have experienced some tough moments and some good moments. I can offer a few tips on this front. Every marriage is a daily work in progress and there is no perfect marriage out there, military or not.
There are so many nights, evenings, deployments, and odd hours when our spouse will not be home. Use this time to fill your cup. These are opportunities to invest in you, so use them to refresh and recharge doing what you love. Work on your goals, your personal growth and self-improvement. Read encouraging books, listen to stimulating podcasts, or work through devotional studies. Seek self-improvement, which could involve attending a book club with neighbors, attending monthly spouse events on your base, or leaning into the women’s group at your church.
When you work on yourself, you are putting your best self into your marriage.
Fit in Quality Time
Make the effort to build your relationship when and how you can. Since my spouse’s love language is quality time, I knew we needed to make a point to spend time without kids when we could make it work. At first, when we had small children, we could only plan date nights when the grandparents were in town. So, we made a point to go on a date night every time they were around. When we found babysitters at duty stations, we tried to attend events without the kids and go on more regular date nights. Creative date nights at home are an option, too. We plan time after the kids go to bed to have quiet time for just the two of us.
This plan gives us kid-free time to talk, watch TV, and relax. It makes a huge difference after a stressful day.
Communicate About Tough Topics
In our marriage, it’s important that we talk about some hard things at times. Even if I am the only one of us that notices an issue, I always talk about it with my spouse.. For example, when my twins were born, I was drowning in the household tasks. My husband was working varying shifts, so his schedule changed every week. We had to have a conversation about the things he could help with when he was home during the day and working at night. He shared what would help him on the days when he had worked night shift and needed to sleep during the day. We communicated until we found a system of balance that worked for us. It is valid feedback for us both to hear how we can better help the other.
Be open if your spouse mentions difficult topics to you. It takes two-way communication to make a marriage successful.
We Can Teach Cinderella Something
Cinderella may need a helpful chat with us military spouses, so she is not shocked when she sees the reality of marriage. Because when we learn to adapt to what our military marriages need, we can increase our long-term success. My goal is to remember that marriage will be real rather than perfect, letting us get beyond the burden of having to perform perfectly as in a fairytale.