In today’s world, it is extremely rare to have a relationship last as long as ours has. Even in my parents generation, the divorce rate seems to be getting higher. I honestly look up to my parents and hope to reach the same milestones. They’ve been married 47 years so far! I commend any and every couple for their longevity. But I know far too many people who’ve divorced, young and old. And honestly, I think the military/veteran divorce rates are higher than their civilian counterparts.
Over the years of our marriage, we’ve been asked many times, “How did you know?”
This is a question that ALWAYS comes up after we tell the story about how we met and how quickly we got married. There’s also another question that comes up after we tell people how long we’ve been married. “How do you do it?”
If you’re not familiar with our beginning, have a seat and stay a while. I’m going to talk about my experiences and my opinions. It may not be fact, but it’s based on my observances over the years and what I’ve come to understand in my own relationship.
I was 20. I just got off work from my job at a plant nursery so I wasn’t dressed up or anything. I was kind of dating some other guy. We were on the outs because he had just told me he was still in love with a girl back home. I went to visit a mutual friend who wanted company while her husband went to play pool at the enlisted club on base. I said sure because I knew how the meat factories worked.
He was 20. He just got off a hard day at work. It was unusually bad and he decided to drink some beer. Of course, he was underage. But that doesn’t seem to stop a lot of people, especially on military bases. He’s also not tolerant of beer. He’s Irish blood. The hard stuff is like water to him. Beer, not so much.
I walked into the enlisted club, got my underage armband and went to sit with my friend while her husband played pool. Some guy yelled something out as I walked by. My friend and I talked. Many guys came up and asked me to dance. I’m very shy and dancing is not my thing. So, obviously I said no.
When I walked by, he yelled, “WOW!” He said I turned around and shot him daggers from my eyes, enough to make him sink in his seat and sober right up. Honestly, I don’t remember this at all. I try to block out meat factories and all their goings on. It’s one of the things he remembers quite well.
After watching me for I don’t know how long, he told the waitress to serve me whatever I wanted the rest of the night, on him and that he was sorry. I remember after the waitress brought me my soda, the guy he was with turned around and started talking to me across the tables first. The ice was broken and he joined in the conversation. Eventually, he came over to the table and sat down so we could talk together. Yes, we got out on the dance floor, after 45 minutes of me saying no. A slow song came on and it seemed safe enough. Still, we felt quite uncomfortable. But talking, that came easy. We talked the rest of the night. They had to kick us out of the building when the club closed. So we moved to the curb outside the door. After a while, the MPs had to come and kick us off the premises so the employees could go home. He drove me to my friend’s apartment so I could get my car. I knew I needed to get home. I was under my parents roof. I had a curfew, but I had passed that hours ago. I didn’t want to stop talking with him. I think I finally showed up at home at 4am.
Five days later, he asked me to marry him. A month later, we were married. And it’s been 25 years since.
So, how did we know? Well, the best way we could come up with explaining this is that it was like meeting an old friend you hadn’t seen in forever and we just had to catch up with everything we missed. That’s how we fell in love. This isn’t something that happens every day. This only happens in movies, right?! Well, even if you don’t have this kind of luck, be aware of how you pick them. Are they your friend? Do you like them? Do you like being around them, talking with them, being silent with them? I think, with our situation, we had a guardian angel looking over us, guiding us, maybe even asking/answering for us. Someone up there knew we were meant to be together.
But that’s only the beginning. More often than not, if someone were to get married so young and so quickly, many probably wouldn’t have seen their first anniversary, or fifth. We count ourselves blessed. We’ve beaten so many odds against us, things that would have torn so many others apart. But our souls are connected, like God made one soul and torn it in two pieces for two different bodies.
What could have possibly torn us apart?
Well, the military for one. I’ve seen so many wives marry, and marry young. Because I was an Air Force BRAT, I knew what I was getting myself into. In fact, I wanted to be a part of that life even as an adult. It was what I knew and understood. The civilian world, that scared me. So I knew the military came first. I knew that he could deploy at any moment. I knew he could come down on orders to move anywhere in the world, with or without me. I knew this. I may not have liked it, but I understood it. A lot of the wives I knew who came from a civilian background, struggled with the fact that they were not the first priority in their husbands’ lives. He got up at o-dark-thirty and came home at o-dark-thirty. He worked weekends. And they sent him everywhere else but home. I hated it. But I got through it. I knew when he came home, I was number one until the Army called him away again.
Second, the “other woman.” Yes, there was a time we had a second “woman” in our lives. He became obsessed with computers and computer games. He would come home from work and be on the computer, sometimes not going to sleep before he had to get up and go to PT again. I despised that “other woman” coming between us. I put up with it, secretly seething inside, for about two years. I guess I hoped he’d get bored? I don’t know. In either case, I came to realize that he wouldn’t get bored. So one day, when he had bought pieces to put a new computer together, I decided “It couldn’t be too hard to build a computer. A few screws, some connectors, and power.” I was in the middle of building that computer for him when he came home a little early. I was greeted with a huge smile, and we sat down and built it together. From that moment on, I taught myself how to use a computer and we began our long history of gaming together.
Of course, along the way we’ve had our fair share of arguments. Well, you can’t classify them as arguments, really, because arguments require two sides. For me, I avoid confrontation/arguments at all cost. I clam up in order to keep the peace. Him, well, he’d simmer in his head and not talk to me for days. Being a very emotional critter, I fell into my sad state, my negative voices screaming at me because everything was always my fault. In the end, he would come around and we’d make up. However, the last fight we ever had I can remember I finally stood up for myself. We both don’t know what we were fighting about; but what we remember is that he was holding a flashlight and it slipped out of his hand and crashed into our glass end table. Perception is always the key to everything. And I perceived that he threw it down in anger. So I commenced to say, “You want to be an asshole? Well, I can be an asshole, too.” At the time, we were in Tae Kwon Do and I broke the other end table with a grand ax kick. Staring at what I had just done, flabbergasted, he finally said, “Our shoes were under there.” We broke out in laughter and that was that. Never again did we have fights.
Well, I cannot say never. Throughout the years, though, with chronic pain, PTSD on his side and my own self-confidence and internal issues on top of Secondary PTSD, we have had many, MANY struggles. We didn’t have struggles again until after his accidents, when chronic pain and his demons set in, plus all the medication and doctor trials.
This was the most trying times for us, I think. The ones that would have torn us apart had it not been for our…my persistence. I honestly think he would have given up a long time ago had I not been constantly looking for remedies, answers, help. Even to this day, I feel that I NEED to keep hope alive for him in some manner, even if it’s just reminding him that he needs to keep fighting the VA for what he is owed.
Sometimes, alcohol/drug, verbal and/or physical abuse are involved. If this is part of your life, it is imperative to seek help, for both of you. This is where therapy REALLY comes into play. However, I’ve noticed that many vets don’t want to admit they have a problem. It’s been drilled into their heads from birth, reinforced in the military, to suck it up and charge on. Most of them are men. Emotions mean weakness, something to be ashamed of. And with society’s hush-hush attitude about mental illness, well, that definitely doesn’t help our veterans seek out help. There’s only so much one person can take, no matter how strong you are. Everyone has their breaking point. I think it’s our duty, as caregivers and spouses, to keep at it, to keep offering help to them.
It wasn’t until he went to the VA for help that he finally opened up to me. Little by little his communication channels grew and I felt included again. I began to understand him more and learn the man he changed into and learn to love him better. Because, he was different. He wasn’t the man I married anymore. Or even the one I knew before the accidents. And this…THIS is the hardest thing any spouse caregiver will ever have to overcome. Because this isn’t who they married. They didn’t sign up for this. This isn’t how they envisioned their lives, their marriage, their family to be ten, twenty years down the road. But it is a covenant. One in which we promised to love, honor, and cherish. Through better, for worse. In sickness and in health.
As for us and our lives, there have been medications on top of everything else that affected his mood and his psyche. Most of those earlier times, before we found the right medication cocktail to lessen the pain, before we understood his migraines, before we had a diagnosis of PTSD, I walked on eggshells around him, waiting for the explosion that was inevitably bound to happen. I’m one of the lucky ones where physical violence has never been apart of our lives. But this constant awareness, heightened sense of impending doom, fear of the explosiveness of the situation, it all added up to me sharing in his battles while I battled my own.
By very definition, communication requires a minimum, two people. If one holds back while the other opens up, then there’s no sense in continuing. I held so many secrets, so many thoughts and emotions inside for so very long. I thought that if I expressed myself, spoke my fears and tears aloud to someone else, then they would be real, tangible and I honestly would be a horrible person for feeling and thinking these things. I started my own journey to own my feelings, here on this blog. It started off with the negative feelings. Admitting that I had them did not make me a bad person. I’m human. We are all human and deal with the same emotions when going through these crises. It’s all in how we handle those situations and emotions.
I worked through these negative emotions for a year. Then I needed to look at myself on a deeper level, especially when TheHubs asks some very hard questions of me. After my own counselling sessions, and the fact that I wholeheartedly believe in communication as the key to every relationship, I took a deep breath and opened up a very deep seeded problem that addressed his question, one that I had been holding on to for 25 years.
You would not believe how liberating it was to get that out in the open. I’m learning to love me. I’m accepting the fact that he loves me without fail, beyond comprehension, and unconditionally. I never understood how he could when I was such a horrible person. But that’s my negative voice, the one who breeds insecurities and lies inside my head. I’ve been learning how to squash that voice. And I think I may have conquered a HUGE barrier. Once I spoke the words out loud, to him, the wave of relief and love that washed over me has set me free.
Life changes after they return home. What used to be normal is now missed. We grieve for the life, the love, we once had. There is a new normal we must adjust to. If we cannot admit this, we cannot accept it and move on and learn to live the new normal.
Everyone’s relationships are different but the one fact that remains constant is that communication is the foundation for EVERY relationship. If you don’t have that, you can no longer keep that relationship going.