Military relationships have unique challenges– I think we can all agree on that. Between separations and deployments, weird schedules, trainings, PCSes, (and all of the other obstacles that I’ve missed), it’s easy to let the care and keeping of our marriages fall off our list of priorities. Often, it’s not a conscious choice. It’s not like you wake up one day and say, “Well, it’s grocery shopping or taking care of my marriage today.” It’s just one you kind of slump into– one you don’t notice, usually until a huge fight.
The great news? It’s possible to work on strengthening your relationship in small ways. You don’t necessarily have to go on a second honeymoon or a couples’ retreat. You can spend a few minutes every day making a concerted effort to make your relationship better.
John and I have found that one of the most important things we do as a couple is pray together. Because of our wacky schedule, we don’t always get to do it daily, but we make a point to do it when we can.
Kiss early and kiss often.
I’ll just say this: in five minutes, you can do a lot of kissing. And if you have kids, you can gross them out properly. Make a point to kiss throughout the day, a peck on the cheek, a kiss on the shoulder while you’re (or your spouse) is cooking dinner, a kiss before bed or before work… If it’s not a habit, make it become one.
Commit to being honest.
Honesty can be tough– especially during deployments and separations when “I’m okay,” is far from the truth. Together, make a commitment to be honest with each other. (Okay, if you or your spouse is guarding top-secret government secrets, you’re going to have to work around this one a bit. But you get the picture.) Once you both make the commitment, put it into practice. Lose the passive-aggressive comments or silent seething when something goes wrong, and communicate your anger/frustration/hurt/guilt/whatever honestly with your partner. It might be tough initially– especially if you’re not used to communicating so directly– but it pays off in the long run.
Find time for a compliment.
Compliments don’t have to end when you say, “I do.” Make it a priority to compliment your spouse on at least one thing every day. Start with the way they look in a uniform if you’re not sure where to begin– after all, I’m pretty sure every spouse alive can find something good to say about that.
And while we’re talking about compliments, take time to acknowledge something your spouse does well every day. All it takes is a quick, “Thanks for unloading the dishwasher,” or “Thanks for filling the gas tank before you came home.” Even if it’s something they’re “supposed” to do. After all, everyone needs and wants to hear that they’re appreciated– there’s no point in being stingy with gratitude.
Find something to laugh about.
Humor is invaluable in any relationship– military or otherwise. But I’ve found that humor is especially necessary when so much of your life seems like it could be upended on a moment’s notice. It’s a wonderful– but often ridiculous– life we live. Finding the humor in it is important. (And if you can’t find the humor there, look elsewhere– even if that elsewhere is YouTube and Grumpy Cat memes.) Share that laughter with your spouse and learn how to make him/her laugh, too.
Know what makes your spouse feel loved.
Sooo… confession: I think that love languages are kind of hokey. Maybe it’s the way the book was written or how often people reference it as the end-all, be-all of relationship building. I think you can go your entire life, living in a very healthy, happy marriage without ever knowing what a single love language is. And people aren’t binary– you can want to feel loved in a variety of ways, not just one archetype that someone came up with.
But for as much as I want to roll my eyes about love languages when they come up, I do have to give them this– it’s important to know how your spouse (and how you) most feel loved. Take a few minutes and let your spouse know what kinds of things make you feel loved and ask them what makes them feel warm and fuzzy.
(By the way, If you’re wondering what mine love language is, it’s food. That’s a joke. But not really.)
Get on the same page.
When life seems fast and there’s little time to spare, it’s easy to let days go by without talking about the little (and big) things. And that’s where problems can occur. Take five minutes to discuss the day with your spouse. Set a timer if you don’t have much time to spare, but make sure that you both know what’s going on with each other– even if it’s just the Cliff Notes version for the time being.