In the dark morning hours, I groggily pulled myself out of bed. I did only the basic necessities to make myself presentable enough to be seen in public. I woke the kids, changed the diaper on my youngest, and grabbed some dry cereal they could munch on in the car.
My husband picked up his large tan bag and loaded it into the back of the van. As we made the quick drive to the airport there was little sound except for the vibration of my husband’s phone as he received texts from the others letting him know they had arrived.
As we pulled up to the curbside parking, we hugged and I savored the feel of that final embrace. He walked around to both sides of the van to give the kids their farewell kiss. He opened the back, grabbed his bag, and said what he typically does in these moments: “See you later”.
My husband, like so many others, has been called to serve his country. This means he’s often away from home for weeks or months at a time. I wish I could say we’re used to this now, but that wouldn’t be the truth. Through our experiences, though, we have learned how to handle it better.
I have also been able to learn from the experience of others, like Corie Weathers. Corie is the 2015 AFI Military Spouse of the Year and the author of the brand new book Sacred Spaces . Corie is a licensed practical counselor (LPC) and much of her work has been devoted to military marriages.
Sacred Spaces chronicles Corie’s journey as she travels for a week with Secretary of State Ashton Carter to visit troops overseas during the fall of 2015.
Corie’s husband, an Army Chaplain, had previously deployed to Afghanistan and endured a difficult deployment with the 3-61 CAV out of Fort Carson, a unit that suffered multiple casualties and an even greater number of injuries.
This trip allowed Corie to get a glimpse of what her husband’s life was like, what deployment was like. To not just hear someone talk about it, but to briefly experience parts of it for herself.
However, Sacred Spaces isn’t only about Corie’s journey to the Middle East, but also to the heart of all military marriages, and the “sacred spaces” that are so often found there.
My husband has not endured the type of deployment Corie’s has and I’m thankful for that. We have not had to walk through those darkest of moments. However, the months apart, the busyness of life, and the addition of two kids have definitely impacted our marriage.
“Sacred” means to be set apart. Webster’s defines it as “highly valued and important: deserving great respect”. “Sacred spaces” is a term that Corie and her husband use to describe those special, set apart experiences that are important moments in their lives which need to be treated with the utmost respect.
Relationships are strengthened through shared sacred spaces, but deployments (or other times of separation) prohibit a couple from experiencing these shared moments. Instead, each person develops their own individual sacred spaces, which their spouse often can’t fully understand.
There are so many valuable lessons Corie learned from her journey that we can apply to our own lives. Here are 8 lessons Sacred Spaces taught me about deployment and how it impacts marriage :
1. We need to “release” our spouse to allow them to focus on the mission ahead of them. Let them know it’s okay for them to go and that you’re in it together.
2. Those deployed enjoy receiving updates from home with happenings of day-to-day family life, even if there isn’t time to respond.
3. We need to be informed of current world events so that we have a better understanding of the role our service members play.
4. Care packages are often given or thrown away because there’s nowhere to keep them. Healthy foods and consumable toiletries are the most useful. However, service members still appreciate knowing that you care about their sacrifice and are thinking of them.
5. It’s okay for each of us to enjoy some aspects of separation.
6. The work never ends during deployment and service members are rarely in charge of their schedules. The work they do is often difficult and draining. During reintegration, it’s important that they have plenty of downtime to recover and reacclimate to their new environment.
7. Also during reintegration, we may have a hard time adjusting ourselves because out of necessity we have learned to live without our spouse.
8. We need to recognize each other’s struggles instead of trying to decide who has it worse.
Serving Our Spouses
When I read Sacred Spaces and came to the part about “trying to decide who has it worse”, it was like a flashing neon arrow, pointed straight to the heart of my own marriage. So much of our bickering and frustration comes from this: trying to decide who has it worse. I hate how petty that sounds, but it’s the truth.
He’s stuck on a ship, constantly working, eating ship food, missing out on his kid’s lives. I’m trying to juggle it all: the house, the kids, the appointments, the yard work, and getting the bills paid on time- all while missing my best friend and the other half of my team.
Who’s life is harder? Who’s doing more? Who’s turn is it to change the diaper, put the kids to bed, or take out the trash?
I don’t know and it doesn’t matter.
What matters is that we recognize each other’s struggles and quit trying to decide who has it worse.
Corie reminded me that when a military couple is at their best, they are a powerful team. Marriage is sacrificial, just like military service. We need to be willing to focus more on serving our spouses instead of serving ourselves. Corie says,
What I did not recognize then, was the role pain and difficulty play in bringing a couple closer to the ideal God intends for marriage; a marriage that is sacrificial, life changing, intimate, and an expression of His love for us. It is in difficulty that we actually learn how to love each other. In this sweet spot, marriage become something powerful”.
It is undeniable that challenging and difficult circumstances often bring people together. Think about the way our country came together in the days following 9-11. The same is true in our marriage. That’s the beauty of sacred spaces. They can bring you closer together, make you stronger than ever before, and solidify your trust in each other and in God if you lean in and let them.
A friend once asked me, “What’s harder for you- parenting or marriage?”. Take a moment and think about how you would respond to that question.
My answer was automatic- “Marriage”.
Maybe parenting comes more naturally because I’ve babysat since middle school, been a camp counselor, an elementary school teacher, and nannied full-time. Whatever the reason, parenting is easier (not easy, but easier).
Marriage is hard.
Military marriage is especially hard.
Sacred Spaces has the ability to help us through those difficult places and I highly recommend all military spouses get a copy!
What I loved about this book is the affirmation it gave me that my feelings are normal. That my marriage is normal. That all marriages (especially military ones) have these gaps, these tough spots.
The military may have taken a toll on our relationship, but it doesn’t have to stay this way. We can make small choices every day to step back towards each other. Sometimes it’s enough to know it’s not just us.
This book is a quick read, well-written, and I believe it has the power to transform military marriages! I encourage you to purchase the book and to join me in taking the Intentional Marriage Challenge.
Click here to get your own commitment card. Let’s close the gaps in our marriages and intentionally pursue our spouses’ hearts!
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