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9 ways to make your military marriage stronger

Marriage is hard work.  Add in the military lifestyle, and it’s a whole different ball game. Long deployments, extended work days, command demands, and even...

161224-N-XQ474-390 NORFOLK (Dec. 24, 2016) A Sailor greets his wife after returning home aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) as part of the Wasp Amphibious Ready Group (WSP ARG) homecoming from a six-month deployment in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in Europe and Middle East. WSP ARG includes Commander, Amphibious Squadron 6; USS Wasp (LHD 1); USS San Antonio (LPD 17); USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41) and 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unity (MEU). #Home4TheHolidays (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Andrew Schneider/Released)

Marriage is hard work. 

Add in the military lifestyle, and it’s a whole different ball game. Long deployments, extended work days, command demands, and even PTSD can wear on military marriages. 

But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to create a healthy, loving relationship.

When you’re apart more than you’re together, it’s important to nurture your relationship in the moments you do have together. 

No matter how many deployments or duty days come between you and your spouse, there are resources, tools, and techniques you can bring into your marriage to keep the relationship strong. 

Here we share nine ways to keep your military marriage strong: 

1. Take Advantage of Marriage Enrichment Programs

Photo by Sgt. Dontavian Harrison)

Marriage retreats are an excellent way to connect before deployments and reconnect after long periods apart. It’s best to participate before there are major problems in the marriage as these programs aren’t just for struggling marriages. You could also start your own enrichment program by reading self-help books as a couple or attending a community or church-based program. Each branch also offers free retreat options, too! 

Each branch has retreats for couples: 

Here are a few other retreat options to check out that aren’t branch sponsored. 

There are a few stipulations for attending these free retreats, but the biggest one is making sure you sign up well in advance since these fill up fast. Another important requirement: one of the spouses must be active duty or in activated Reservist status.

2. Honesty Goes a Long Way 

Being open and honest is an important pillar of any strong marriage. It’s especially important when you are frequently apart from one another. By building trust and sharing honest feelings, it keeps communication paths open for the toughest of discussions. Have full disclosure of what’s going on when you’re apart, too. Don’t let issues fester as those hard feelings will come up later!

Ways to keep conversations honest: 

  • Discuss issues/concerns right away
  • Keep mutual respect at the core of conversations
  • Trying using “I” statements like “I feel…”
  • If you have to hide it, then it’s time to discuss it

Check out the app Love Every Day which offers a new question to ask your partner every single day. It encourages regular conversations which can strengthen your communication methods. 

3. Address Finances Often

Photo by Senior Airman Lane T. Plummer

Money issues are cited as one of the top reasons for divorce. To keep money problems at bay, consider having a monthly finance meeting to discuss bills, debts, and payment plans. Talk about your goals and develop a budget together. 

Ways to make money talks easier: 

  • Take a financial planning class together
  • Download a free budget app like EveryDollar
  • Talk about minimizing debt together
  • Make a monthly budget and stick to it

The more you talk about money, the more comfortable you’ll get with figuring out how to tackle debts and implementing smart spending habits. 

4. Plan for Deployment

Photo by Sgt. Sidnie Smith

Deployments are a way of military life. Since there’s no way to avoid deployments, it’s best to tackle deployment topics head on. Attending base programs focused on preparing for deployment can be helpful in connecting you to valuable resources that you’ll need when the time comes. 

Before deployment consider: 

  • A communication plan – Discuss what’s actually feasible. That may just mean sending letters since cell service doesn’t always work. Consider when you can FaceTime and/or text and chat. Talk about time zone issues since someone will often lose sleep in order to make a connection happen.
  • Be realistic about connecting – The deployed spouse may not be able to communicate regularly. It can be frustrating, but they are away doing a job that requires extreme focus and dedication. Plus, they may not be in an area where they can communicate safely.
  • Getting away – Go on a vacation, spend a long weekend away, or plan a special date night before deployment. It will allow you to connect alone as a couple.
  • Planning for all the scenarios – As much as you can, plan for worse-case scenarios (if the roof leaks, the car breaks, someone gets seriously ill, etc.). Have a list of important contacts, a savings account, and a support system set up for the spouse staying at home. You’ll also want to plan for the more likely scenarios and best case situations, too!

When deployment comes, connect while separated as much as you can. It can be a frustrating balance of waiting by the phone while still living life as the spouse back home. Be prepared as the home-based spouse to share details on daily family events and stories. The deployed spouse will also want to share job details (following OPSEC, of course), including lively stories. 

5. Plan for Moves to Reduce Stress

military marriage
Photo by Cpl. Emmanuel Ramos

Military families may move 10 times more often than non-military American families, which can put extra stress on a marriage and family. Whether you’re moving across the state, the country, or the world, preparing together as a couple can make it easier. Don’t forget to use your on-base resources like the personal property office and reach out with any questions you may have about moving. 

Minimize moving stress by: 

  • Plan well in advance for PCS moves 
  • Keep important papers and passports organized 
  • Map out travel plans 
  • Have a PCS savings account ready

Discuss the impact on the non-military spouse’s career, too. See if it makes sense to go back to school to train for a portable career. “Move friendly” jobs like nursing, medical assisting, and massage therapy can be rewarding fields that are available nearly everywhere. Don’t forget remote or home-based jobs! 

6. Create a Routine

Many military spouses find the routine their non-military spouse uses to run the household important to a successful marriage. Keep your routines as normal as possible during short deployments and longer deployments. 

As you develop a routine, remember: 

  • Be patient – It make take time to establish new habits.
  • Dine together – Meals are an excellent time to bond. Put phones away, turn the t.v. off and just be in the moment.
  • Talk about your day – Set aside a period of time to unwind and share your day. It allows you to connect as a couple and work through problems together instead of alone.
  • Make date nights a thing – Take intentional time away from the craziness of life to reconnect. This is important for any couple, but especially for couples with kids.
  • Don’t force it – If you’ve tried tweaking a part of your routine and it isn’t working after several attempts, let it go. 

An amount of predictability reduces stress for married couples and military families. If you can develop a routine that works well for your family, stick to it!  And remember that reintegration can be quite challenging when spouses return from extended assignments. It’s important to let military spouses take part in daily routines when back from deployment. This creates normalcy and helps them find their place in the family again.

7. Ask for Help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you’re feeling overwhelmed. This can be at any time before, during, or after a deployment for either spouse. For the spouse back home, talk to family and friends. If you have kids, try to enjoy some time out having fun alone. Or ask friends or family  for help around the house. For the deployed spouse, talk to a chaplain or friends if you’re having a hard time adjusting. 

Getting help is ok. Here’s how to do it: 

  • Talk to family and friends 
  • Get a babysitter to escape for self care
  • Connect with other military couples 
  • See a counselor 

Returning from a warzone or any long period away from home requires an adjustment period. If you’re having a difficult time finding your groove as a couple again, seek therapy. Taking time to go to therapy doesn’t make you weak, and it’s a free resource you can take advantage of at any time.  

8. Make Big Decisions Together 

military marriage homecoming
Lance Cpl. William Taylor, a cook with Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, practices the speaker listener technique during a Prevention Relationship Enhancement Program class at the Base Chapel here, Feb. 7. During PREP, couples spend the day learning new communication techniques and ways to keep negativity out of their communication.

As a couple you’ll need to make a lot of decisions together. When you’re apart, you’ll still have to make big decisions. The world doesn’t go on pause just because your spouse goes on deployment. Discuss as much as you can prior to deployment to plan ahead. 

Some major decisions to make together: 

  • Renewal of a lease- If your lease expires while your military member is away, will you want to stay in the same place? Lease the same car? Talk about it before they go.
  • Big purchases – Set a spending limit for shopping. Determine a set number — like $200 — and make sure you consult your spouse prior to spending over that set limit. This will reduce your financial fights if one of you tends to spend too much.
  • Work on the location wishlist together – Even if you really want to live overseas while you’re in the military,  make sure you take your spouse’s feelings into consideration. Work on your PCS location wishlist together.

One of the biggest decisions you’ll face as a military couple is whether or not the service member should reenlist. Never reenlist without discussing it with your spouse first. Those tax-free bonuses can be tempting if you reenlist while you’re deployed, so it’s important to make sure you’ve confirmed your spouse agrees those extra dollars are worth the extra years of service. 

9. Remember It Takes Two 

military relationship
Photo by Airman 1st Class Jensen Stidham

Perhaps one of the toughest lessons in marriage is that it takes two people to make it work.  A healthy marriage won’t be one-sided. It takes a lot of patience and compromise, which undoubtedly gets a bit easier the longer you’re together. 

Some core pillars of a strong marriage to think about:

  • Regular communication 
  • Respect
  • Friendship 
  • Humor 
  • Intimacy 
  • Forgiveness
  • Compassion 

Marriage is a blend of two different personalities, backgrounds, and people. When life gets hard, come back to the above core pillars and the reminder of why you got together in the first place.  Take time to reflect and remind each other why you love one another. During tough times it can be refreshing to go through old pictures and wedding photos or videos as a gentle flashback of how you fell in love.

Happily Ever After Takes Work in Military Marriages

military marriage ceremony
Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Laurie Dexter

Being a military couple is a unique experience not everyone will understand.  

While there are plenty of stressful moments you’ll have to deal with in the military, just remember that you and your spouse are in it together. 

Surviving the tough moments are what can make your military marriage more resilient. 

Try to embrace the fact that plans will always be up in the air. If you can develop a sense of humor, it makes it easier to get through moments that are out of your control. If you’re religious, hanging onto your faith can also help you manage trying days.

Above all? When you’re together, be in the moment. 

Find joy in the simple things like making a budget together, cooking, and handling household chores. It all has to get done anyways, so you might as well do it together and enjoy it.

Happily ever after takes a lot of work. But when you invest in your marriage regularly with open communication, respect, and care, it lays a solid foundation for when life gets tricky. 

What’s the best military marriage advice you’ve heard? Share in the comments below!

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