Protecting your military or first-responder marriageWritten by Erin Prater
What's inside this article
"How can you be excited to go to war?" I asked my husband, Travis.
The question perplexed me as much as it irritated me. Travis would be deploying to Iraq – a reality we’d faced since our courtship.
I’d heard the stories from his previous tour: of recovering the burning bodies of fallen comrades and the mental anguish that ensued, of becoming numb to the corpse-laden aftermath of a firefight. It was enough to convince me that Iraq was no place anyone would want to be.
"I’ll finally be doing what I trained to do," my husband stated matter-of-factly during a family get-together.
"But me," I beseeched. "Won’t you miss me?"
"Yeah. I will." His eyes remained fixed on the TV.
I burst into tears. I didn’t get it, and obviously his mom didn’t either.
"How can you be so coldhearted?" she chided him, patting my arm. "He’ll miss you when he gets over there."
So I’d have to wait for him to miss me? I sobbed harder.
"Mom, I will miss her, but she knew what she was getting into when she married me. There’s nothing she can do to change it."
Passion for adventure
I braced myself for a cold and lonely 12- to 18-month deployment and prayed Travis would return to me without a body bag. Broken and helpless, I was right where I needed to be for God to teach me a valuable lesson: My husband’s sense of adventure was God-given and, yes, good – without it, he never would have been able to so bravely serve his country.
It’s a syllogism common to the marriages of military personnel and first responders: She loves him. He loves the challenge and thrill of his job – be it running into a burning building, pursuing a wanted criminal or patrolling the streets of Baghdad.
The conclusion of the syllogism likely depends on your gender.
His conclusion? Therefore, I love both.
And hers? Therefore, he doesn’t love me.
Care packages and divorce decrees
I was shopping at the commissary on a damp spring evening when I noticed a young mother choosing many of the same items as I was.
"Packing a care package?" I asked.
She nodded, stating her husband had been deployed 10 months. They were nearing the homestretch.
"How long have you been married?" I inquired.
"Five years," she said. "The only reason it’s lasted this long is because he’s been deployed so much. Otherwise, it never would have. It still probably won’t. I can get over a lot of the things he’s done, but I can’t get over him being excited about going to war, excited about leaving us. I’ll probably divorce him when he gets back. I just don’t want to do it while he’s over there."
With that, she turned and walked away.
Packing a care package and contemplating divorce, I thought, deeply saddened. She loved him, but she didn’t get it.
Not so long ago, my husband’s battle hunger had perplexed and deeply hurt me as well. It was then I realized how detrimental this misunderstanding, left unresolved, could be.
Danger and adrenaline
Such misunderstandings plague far too many military and first-responder marriages, says psychologist and author John Trent. For him, this Winston Churchill quote clarifies a lot: "There is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at without result."
"Battle, or the potential for battle, really trumps most of real life from an adrenaline standpoint," Trent says. "God wired men to respond to challenge. The adrenaline produced by those challenges can become addictive to the point where all focus goes into occupational challenges presented instead of relationships."
So what’s the key to building stronger marriages despite God-given differences and life-threatening situations? It lies in a shared walk with the Lord and frequent reconnecting.
"Everybody’s great at courtship because we see it in movies, but so many of us don’t see the continuation of a great relationship lived out," Trent says. "Men need to be challenged to work on their relationships. If they don’t, all women will see is their warrior picking up his sword and walking away to battle."
Despite all the insights from relationship experts, sometimes I still wonder what makes men tick.
Last February, Sovereign Grace Ministries founder C.J. Mahaney blogged about a surprising example of Biblical manhood as displayed at an ice hockey game. His entry focused on a statement made by Russian Alexander Ovechkin, left winger for the Washington Capitals: "Today was special day. I broke my nose; I have stitches; I scored four goals."
It’s the kind of boyish fervour we so desire (albeit reluctantly) for our sons yet find tough to cope with when displayed by our husbands.
Driving home from work the other evening, I listened to a radio feature on chess. "Some wonder how a man could get so worked up, so insanely irate over a game," the narrator stated, "but when the chess fanatic looks at his board, he sees a battle, he sees violence."
For a moment, I wished Travis could fight his battles through a wooden board game. The world is full of armchair activists, I thought. Why can’t my husband be an armchair warrior?
It was then I realized, as I so often do: I love my warrior. I love him for being a warrior.
My husband is the inspiration of a thousand prayers I would have never prayed – would have never needed to pray – had he not embraced his calling. He is who he was created to be, and by being so, makes me who I am – the wife of a warrior.
A no-nonsense guide to loving your warrior
Know when to bite your tongue. Open communication with your spouse is essential. But repeatedly expressing your concern for his safety might damage his morale. Let him know you care about his well-being, but look to God, family members and your church community for emotional support.
Know when to speak up. For every wife there comes a time when, try as she might, she just can’t (and shouldn’t) keep quiet. Reckless thrill seeking is far different than selfless heroism. When his pursuit of adventure obscures his common sense, your silence is not what’s best for him or your relationship. Remind your husband you need him more than his generous life-insurance policy.
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