His phone buzzes and I check the clock. It’s 2:13 a.m. on Saturday and I know what’s about to happen.
Someone in his company needs him.
It could be any of a litany of issues ranging from an injury to a Red Cross message to a mandatory urinalysis.
Without fail, he shakes off any remaining dregs of sleep and shuffles down the stairs. The faint glow of the kitchen light filters up through the dark and I hear him flip on the coffee pot.
It means he’ll work another day on just a couple of hours of sleep.
It means tomorrow he’ll either be on post dealing with the aftermath or sleeping, trying to recover.
It means I’ll spend another Saturday, hanging out by myself.
It’s hard, sometimes, not to be resentful. It’s not like he plans for these things to happen. Call it fate, Murphy’s law or just bad luck, when the Army calls, he answers, regardless of what we have planned.
Though I grew up in a military family, and learned from an early age that duty and service were the cornerstones of being a military family, as a young military spouse, I struggled not to feel like I was competing for his attention.
Why did it feel like he was always the one volunteering (or being volun-told) to do things?
Why was his unit, the one to deploy?
Why was it our phone that always rang in the middle of the night?
Why couldn’t he just say “no?”
In many ways, it felt like the Army was the other woman. All she had to do was ring him up and he went running to do her bidding. No matter what time of day. No matter what I might have needed him for.
I was left to care for our 3 kids, manage our house and work full-time. I was tired, cranky, and truth be told, a little lonely.
His dedication and obligation to the Army almost cost us our marriage.
In those dark days, I was convinced we would never make it. It took almost a year of hard work and counseling for us to find our way back. It took a willingness for me to accept his role as a service member and a similar willingness on his part to make sure that I didn’t feel neglected or taken for granted.
Our relationship had suffered, not because I was being selfish, and not because he was dedicated. It suffered because we had failed to consider each other in our daily struggles.
We both got so wrapped up in surviving our days that we forgot to be the support the other one needed.
When relationships get hard, it’s easy to internalize, build a wall, and just get by, focusing on what you have to do. For him, that meant being a good soldier. For me, it meant being a good mom. And those 2 things, left to battle it out, would never have organically reconciled.
Service became an excuse to not do the hard work that staying in a healthy, strong and committed relationship takes.
And it does take work – from both parties.
While service members take an oath to serve and protect, marriage also is an oath of commitment.
If the last 19 years have taught me anything, it’s that there will be times when I am asked to do more of the work, but it in no way means that he is free from his obligation to me or our relationship.
I have learned to balance my needs and wants with a fair amount of patience and understanding. But he has also learned that just because I don’t demand his attention, it doesn’t mean I don’t need and want it.
There is a conscious awareness that is required for a military marriage to work. It starts with honest and open communication about needs and wants. It continues with a willingness to compromise and sacrifice for each other. And it ends with a stronger connection, built out of a better understanding of each other, and a genuine desire to build a life together, no matter where you end up, and no matter how often duty calls.