There is a saying that goes: take it with a grain of salt. It basically means, “take this lightly”, usually when referring to advice. I have had to learn to take this expression to heart in my life. Often times, “tried and true” advice simply does not, and cannot, apply to the military way of life.
I remember, three years ago, we had a speaker at my MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group come and talk to us about keeping the spark alive in our marriages. I went to the meeting full of anticipation and an excited heart, ready to listen and learn. At the time, we had a one-year-old and I was pregnant with baby boy #2. Our marriage had become about babies and pregnancies and I looked forward to getting some tips on how to bring it back to “us”. Some of the advice was great, but then he talked about “two of the most important things you can do for your marriage”—make date night a priority, scheduling one at least once a week, and intentionally talk to each other, face-to-face, for at least 20 minutes a day—and my heart just sank. I honestly don’t think many people understand how hard it is to have a “normal” life when you are a military family.
Currently, we live on the opposite side of the country from our entire family (in-laws included). We will never have the luxury of grandma wanting to take the kids for a few hours, we don’t have “built-in babysitters” at our disposal. We are fortunate enough to get a date maybe twice a month, thanks to a wonderful program at our church out here. We love those, and we cherish the time, but to expect more than that is nearly impossible.
Another mom in my group that day was a fellow Navy wife and her husband was currently deployed. She asked the speaker, during the Q & A time, what he suggested a couple do, regarding the suggestion of intentional, face-to-face conversing, when a spouse is gone a lot for work. Now, I knew what she meant by this, the other few military spouses in the room knew what she meant by this, but our speaker had no clue what she meant. His answer showed that, suggesting that when you can’t guarantee face-to-face interactions, plan to at least talk on the phone daily. I’ll be honest, at this point, I was defeated and getting a little bitter. I just remember thinking: not all of us have that privilege, when my husband is gone, he is not staying at the Hilton on a business trip… I am lucky if he has access to a computer for a weekly email.
So, does this mean that military couples are doomed? If you had asked me that day, I probably would have said yes. My heart was heavy. But, I realized that when it comes to our marriage, we just need to do what we have learned to do so well in every other aspect of our lives—adapt. My husband and I still can’t have a weekly date night, but you know what? We are OK. We survived 8-months of only communicating through texts while he was deployed to Afghanistan. The fact that I could text him almost daily made me very lucky, the fact that we got an occasional video chat made me the deployment-lottery winner.
My point is that, sometimes, we will hear advice that just cannot apply to us as a military family. It will be easy to get angry and cynical. But, we need to remember that our marriage and our lives have stood up to struggles much greater than finding time for weekly date nights and we have met those struggles head on, coming out stronger on the other side. My husband and I are still intentional about the date nights we’re lucky to have, we make time for each other in our day to day, and we continue to actively seek each other in ways that work for our current situation. Working on our marriage will not always “follow the rules” right now, but that does not mean that we don’t try, it just means that we read between the lines and take that advice with a grain of salt.