Recently I had a man who is in charge of the psyche department in my husband’s line of work, ask me personally what I thought would help couples to survive the kind of stress that is put on marriages when the men (or women) go through their intensive training academy. He said that often the amount of damage that is incurred to the marriage during that period of time is so intense, that even once the men are out and on the street, the “surprises” of that first year or so afterwards are still inflicting pain long after the supposedly painful period is over. By the time the academy training is over, so much hurt and resentment has typically built up, their marriages often don’t survive much longer, or limp along in pain.
He asked me how his team could help wives of officers in particular, to be able to cope with their husbands’ stresses, changes in behavior or attitude – if I had any ideas about how to help or what would practically help them. Our marriage and another (where the wife is a chaplain) are two of the best one’s he’s seen personally. While this made me feel pretty great, I’m under no delusion that we are somehow better, in fact if anything, the great amount of pain and stresses we’d already experienced from outside stresses in our marriage has been what has made us different in my opinion. Not that we somehow “get it” and others don’t, its that we’ve been through enough that we’d already be divorced by now if we hadn’t been forced to have “gotten it” already.
We talked about some implementable ideas, group talks or presentations that could be done or that I’d be interested in doing, and I told him how a lot of it boils down to helping the wives understand the bigger picture, a broader perspective. I told him that I believe things come in seasons. There are simply different seasons in life – even though it may feel like a particular season of pain or suffering will never pass, the truth is that it inevitably will, and that one mental shift in attitude can change one’s entire perspective on pain and suffering in life. Understanding and having the maturity to foresee beyond your particular circumstances at the moment, the capability to visualize your life, who you want to be, your marriage in 5 or 10 years, is an ability that I learned a long time ago.
Another thing I’ve noticed in marriages, and he generally agreed, was that resentments, anger, and bitterness will only continue to build up if the couple is stuck in a cyclical way of thinking that the other is purposefully hurting them or out to get them. When my husband was in the academy, it was the most stressful time in his life to date. His instructors were cruel and mean, even bordering on (at times in my opinion) sadistic in causing the men and women extra stress. Their one goal was to beat them down until they failed or gave up and walked away. They frequently said that they wanted their worst day to be at the academy, and they made good on their promise. The few that remained at the end of the 7 1/2 months were the ones who fought for their position and honor.
Being a supportive wife during this time, while also a mother to a toddler and a full-time working woman was a juggling act to say the least. My husband was gone… his physical body came home at night to rest and sleep, but mentally and emotionally he was just gone. He was under the greatest amount of psychological stress he’d ever endured at that point in his life, and I was his only wife – the only one there to ensure he had all he needed resource-wise to make it through. I would get up early at 5am, spend time with God, make breakfasts, pack lunches, get my son ready for his daycare school, then take him to school, spend all day at work, pick my son up from his school, care for him alone in the evenings, make dinner, greet my exhausted and mentally drained husband, then he’d put our son to bed, and we’d relax or study together. Allowing him to go through this season with grace was ultimately what helped him the most, instead of nagging him, complaining about his exhaustion, lack of help with our child, the household chores, etc. Giving him grace during this time when both of us were feeling the stress on our marriage, while keeping the perspective that it was only a season kept things calm for awhile.
They had uniform inspections everyday, their uniforms had to be ironed and starched to perfection, a piece of lint was enough to get them punished brutally as a group, so to help him, I would iron his uniforms every night. It was here that our marriage started to experience turbulence. Since I’d volunteered to help him with his strict uniform expectations, I would do it at my leisure… which meant sometimes the night before, sometimes the morning of, I always made sure I was done with them by the time he needed them at 5:30am. But due to the immense stress of being late – they threatened to fire men and women who were late, and they were serious – he grew to resent my lackadaisical approach to his freshly pressed uniforms.
I’d never seen this side of my husband, angry, demanding, even shifting into a blaming attitude – we had some heated fights where we both accused each other of being unreasonable. He actually thought I was trying to make him fail and told me so. I thought he was being insanely unappreciative and controlling, and thoroughly enjoyed threatening him with doing his own uniforms on top of everything else he had to do. We had one big fight about it, and in the middle of fighting I suddenly understood what was happening. He felt too much pressure and was terrified of being late and getting fired when I waited to do his uniforms in the morning. For him, the fact that I refused to do them at night when he preferred they’d get done, meant that I didn’t love or care about him. I asked him if this was what really was bothering him, and he admitted that it was. He wanted me to do them the night before so that he didn’t have to watch me doing them when he passed by in the morning and have that anxiety that I might not finish in time (even though I always did). Merely watching me do them was stressful enough to cause him extra anxiety – anxiety that he didn’t need on top of everything else. I realized that loving him meant helping him to feel the least stress possible, he was already undergoing severe psychological stress – why add to it when I could actually alleviate the problem easily.
We sat down and talked like mature adults do who want to work together… and figured out what would solve the problem. I conceded to do his uniforms at night because I loved him and didn’t want him to feel extra anxiety in the morning, and he continued to love and cherish me at night to ease my own anxieties of feeling like a single parent – we were in it together, and for the long haul of it. A major shift for both of us was realizing that the other was not trying to cause pain, but that we weren’t communicating effectively or lovingly in our actions towards each other.
Yes, communicating with our actions. In his mind, he was already sacrificing everything… his physical and mental strength for our family, and still coming home to try to help me with our son. He was giving literally all he had to give and more at the end of the day. Him asking me to do his uniforms at night and my actions – brushing him off and refusing to just because I knew I could get them done in the morning – were unloving to him because it caused him extra stress. My meeting his request with an unloving action – doing his uniforms in the morning when he was trying to be calm before leaving – had him returning with unloving actions until we were fighting like cats and dogs.
Breaking the cycle was me realizing what was really bothering him, realizing that my attitude needed to be loving him in the way that he wanted and appreciated – not in the way I thought he should want or appreciate.
Unloving means it’s all about me, for me, and on my time. Loving is all for one, and one for all.