Marriage Advice I Wish I Had 10 years ago

Marriage advice from an imperfect marriage? Maybe that’s really the only kind there is: Imperfect, full of flaws and failures, but with two people determined to keep their promises.

Yesterday we celebrated our 10th Anniversary! We’re not quite the wide-eyed dreamers we were when we said, “I do,” but we made it. And I’ve gained some wisdom I wish I’d learned much sooner.

The song that was playing in the background the day my husband proposed in April, 2006 (see our amazing romantic proposal video below!) was “Bless the Broken Road” by Rascal Flatts because our lives took convoluted paths to get to each other. But we were so grateful to have found someone to call home. As a military couple, home for us isn’t a place so much as it is our family.

Our wedding centered around the idea that two roads were becoming one journey; a wedding was just a day, but a marriage was a lifetime of love, joy, laughter, patience, forgiveness.

We both knew marriage would be challenging, but didn’t know how broken the road would be AFTER we said “I do.”

Bless the Broken road was our song, we didn't know it would be part of marriage too. Click To Tweet

We thought marriage would be bliss. We would finally be together after years of living in different states or different continents, but that wasn’t going to be the case.

Only weeks after he returned from his second deployment, we got married and had a couple of chaotic months together (wedding, moving, honeymoon and holidays) before he went away to various training schools.

Then we moved to a new duty station where he immediately began training to deploy while I worked full-time in a new teaching position.

Then he deployed again for a third year, and following his return, we underwent the adoption process while still trying to reintegrate as a couple, working around his training to deploy again.

He deployed again three months after our daughter was born. I was a “single” mom and he was in some of the darkest situations he had faced. And when he came home, the war did, too.

While grappling with the compounded effects of his four Iraq tours, we transferred to a new duty station with new challenges. He’s stateside, but works more than ever. And I’ve had health issue after health issue.

Marriage often took a backseat to just hanging on for dear life.

But the first piece of marriage advice I wish I had really known is that marriage isn’t the grand romance we envision the day we get married. It’s the romance in dancing through life together.

Marriage advice from an imperfect marriage? Maybe that's really the only kind there is. Imperfect, full of flaws and failures, but with two people determined to keep their promises.

Getting married wasn’t a solution to a problem. Expecting him to fill the broken places in my life was too much and unfair to him. It left us both feeling discouraged and empty.

Lamentations 3:24 ESV “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

God is my portion. My hope and faith has to be in Him not my husband or I end up having unreasonable expectations.

My husband might be my hero, but he can't be my savior. Jesus has to be 1st focus of my heart. Click To Tweet

Truly learning to put my faith and hope in the Lord has allowed me to see my husband’s humanity in a new light. I’m able to offer grace in a way I never could before.

The Holy Spirit intercedes in my heart daily. Thank heavens!

My husband is just the captain of our team. We have to remember to be a team before we can do anything else.

Which means treating each him with respect and kindness no matter what is going on. Life often can feel like an emergency, but not much of it really is so important that I don’t have time to take a deep breath and respond with love.

Being kind and gentle under stress prevents conflict and builds up your partner during difficult times.

Proverbs 15:1 ESV  A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

I am still learning this lesson. Every. Day.

But my choice is to respond to life, stress, and even a harsh response with softness and the peace of Christ.

Time after time, I’ve seen how gentleness can affect even the most difficult situation.

The next piece of marriage advice I wish I had learned sooner is so simple to say but much harder to do.

Most arguments can be solved in two words, not a thousand perfect ones.

I’m sorry.

Not three – “I’m sorry, but . . .”

This one is really difficult for my flesh. I want to explain away my bad behavior. I want to put the blame on someone else, or point that nasty wagging finger right at him, but the truth is . . .

There is only one thing I can control in the entire universe: me.

Most arguments can be solved in two words, not a thousand perfect ones. I'm sorry. Click To Tweet

I have learned to take responsibility for my side and that’s it. Leave it right there.

Nothing anyone does justifies acting poorly. It sometimes explains my failures, but never excuses.

More often than not, he responds by softening and apologizing because I didn’t demand it or accuse him.

Which leads to the next piece of marriage advice God has really been working in me.

Listen.

We all want to be understood and respected. Taking the time to listen does both.

God has been working on me in this area a long time. I can demonstrate my husband is a priority in my life by focusing on him when he speaks. When I listen, I can hear his heart and share his joys.

I earn his respect in return because he knows that he is my priority.

Sometimes, I have to fight my selfishness when his desire to share with me interrupts my reading, television show, or just my busyness.

Again, God has challenged me to choose what to give my best attention to. Very rarely do I really need to ask him to pause and tell me later. Most of the time, I really can drop everything and listen.

Put your faith in the Lord, Respond kindly, Take responsibility for your side, and Listen.

And this advice holds true no matter how long you’ve been married.

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The Deployment Balancing Act – Day of the Deployed

The Day of the Deployed is always a bittersweet remembrance for me because my husband has deployed several times. While I am so grateful he isn’t deployed today, I know that thousands of spouses still wait, life on perpetual pause, hoping their spouses return safely.

I never know how to summarize the experience of deployment for those outside this military community because it’s such a complex experience.

We miss them as husbands, and we miss them as friends. We miss help with baths, bedtimes, homework, housework. While we struggle with anxiety and fear, we simultaneously live for every phone call or email and struggle to live at all.

It’s this terrible balancing act I felt weighing on my heart today. We have to live and find things to live for, not just countdown the deployment.

I can’t press pause on an entire year.

We’ve got to live those months or years they are gone, but . . . we want to freeze time, we don’t want that year of living to pass them by, but we can’t let it pass us by either.

Deployments are a terrible balancing act of waiting and finding the strength to keep living. Click To Tweet

So today I’m sharing portions of my army wife diary posts from this date in 2010, which, coincidentally, deal exactly with this complicated tightrope act.

“Today (Oct. 2010) I was tired, but I had a choice what attitude I would have. The past week or two, I have just been counting days, struggling against the world, but have I been living?

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” -Thoreau

Can I spend 365 days just waiting for him to come home?

I don’t want to get to the end of this year to discover I have not lived.

During my first experiences with a military man, distance and separation, I wrote this poem about living in a hurry to get to a much anticipated future.

Fools’ Luxury  by Jennifer DeFrates
 

Three minutes before heading home,
  striding purposely,
  laying out the evening at hand,
  I passed a quiet man, gray and lined
  silently sweeping piles of dust and off-handed debris
  from ancient tiles pooled with afternoon sun.
  Wish it was Friday –
  I answered his casual query
  Why, he said – giving me internal pause –
  Why would you wish days of your life away?
  Too busy to stop, I flippantly shrugged
  And carried on
  But his simple wisdom rippled inside
  Reverberating against my arrogance of immortality.
  Why were these Wednesday hours less precious?
  Where was my Thursday guarantee?
  In an epiphany flash, I wondered
  How long I’d been always looking to the next finish line –
  Friday        June        next Christmas –
  How long ignoring my life,
  Continuously waiting to live it,
  Procrastinated dreams growing dimmer,
  Days I’d let fall into dilapidation
  Instead of carefully constructing each minute.
  Time is fools’ luxury.
  Those with no more would chide, if they could,
  Would remind that Thoreau at his pond had it right.
  Too many meet death without knowing life
  Failing to embrace its falling seconds.
  So this Wednesday I sit
  And soak in cut grass and dampened dirt
  Shivering in Winter’s dying wind
  and try to teach myself
  To walk the tightrope
  Between looking toward tomorrow
  While remembering to see today.

Am I so focused on the end of this deployment, that I’m missing right now?

Today (2010), I ran late for my doctor’s appointment, then waited for an hour just to get into the exam room. After two minutes, he tells me I need to have two major surgeries. I can imagine the fun crutches will be with a baby.

An emergency trip to the grocery store took too long. When rushing to put away the groceries before picking up the baby, I shattered my coffee pot. So I had to make another trip to the store. Or go without coffee tomorrow. . . HA, yeah, right!

Deployed day is already missing these moments, I don't want to miss them too.
Froggy Bottom Baby

All these things went WRONG, and I came home smiling because I got to choose my response to these situations.

I choose joy.

I choose to live right now, even as it’s hard. It’s hard to truly enjoy the moments he is missing, but I know refusing to be joyful won’t give him back those times.

So, I danced and sang and played with my daughter, making her giggle over and over, reveling in her sweet baby laughter.

I could have spent this afternoon moping and sad and scared and frustrated, but what was that attitude going to solve? Nothing.

Worrying and waiting for my husband’s return isn’t going to solve anything either.
Attitude may be the most powerful choice we ever have in this military life. #DayoftheDeployed Click To Tweet

We struggle with trying to fill our days, keeping mindlessly busy, trying to stop the mental cycle of anxiety and stress, holding our collective breath as we wait for our soldiers to come home.

It's the deployment balancing act - We struggle with trying to fill our days, keeping mindlessly busy, trying to stop the mental cycle of anxiety and stress, holding our collective breath as we wait for our soldiers to come home.

However, that isn’t living.

None of us want to realize that we have not lived, but sometimes it’s hard to find a way to live deliberately when now is painful.

Find one thing to smile about and hold onto it as long as you can.

Crying will happen, it is part of this army wife life, just don’t let it be what fills your time until tomorrow.

That Day of the Deployed was five years ago,

and the last one I personally experienced with a spouse in harm’s way.

We tumbled through deployments tied to cell phones and Skype, just trying to find our footing.

I, like many military spouses, had to master trying to find the delicate balance of waiting for them and living in the present.

Save that new action movie, wait to try the new sushi place, but have joy in the life we have now, instead of just impatiently waiting for tomorrow. Life doesn’t stop for hard, neither should we.

Matthew 6:34 ESV  “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

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The Red, White & Blue

Red, white & blue are the colors of the day. Flags will wave more today on American soil than any other day of the year. And every country music station will be streaming “I’m proud to be an American.”

And I am.

More so as a military wife because I live the sacrifices we honor on days such as these: Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Flag Day.

In fact, my husband won’t see us today. He kissed me a sleepy goodbye at 5 a.m. and will be home tomorrow. We have our share of missed holidays due to his service to our nation.

We miss weekends, we miss birthdays, Valentine’s Days and anniversaries. We’ve lost years of growing together. I know he has paid a huge cost to keep us free in his heart and with his body.

So regardless of the politics of our nation, I understand the pride of honoring those who’ve sacrificed to serve this unique nation of freedoms.

But maybe we should be celebrating another red, white & blue.

Yesterday in church, I wondered if American Christians have placed too high a priority on our patriotism over our real citizenship.

Have American Christians placed too high a priority on patriotism over our eternal citizenship? Click To Tweet

As we stood in worship singing, “Nothing but the blood,” I realized the real freedom RED represents is the blood Christ shed to redeem humanity, to redeem me.

Red, white & blue are the colors of the day. Flags will wave more today on American soil than any other day of the year. And every country music station will be streaming "I'm proud to be an American."

What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood. The imagery was graphic as I thought about how American soldiers have shed blood to secure my rights to live and worship freely, something I will never take for granted, but I was overcome as I sang thanking Jesus for my eternal freedom.

What red could ever mean more than that?

His sacrifice washed me white as snow.

When my Abba, Father God looks at my life, He sees only the purity of His Son in my stead. The black sins that covered my past in shame are purest white today.

The blue field of stars reminds us of the heavenly places to which we turn to worship, which we will someday call home with Christ our savior.

I celebrate the unique freedoms of our earthly home today and the Christian foundation of our country, but given the polarizing crises facing us politically and culturally; I realize my U.S. citizenship is temporary. No matter how much I love America, nothing will ever compare to my commitment to His Red, White & Blue.

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Memorial Day Grace and Perspective from one Army Wife

Before 2005, Memorial Day wasn’t really on my radar, even coming from a family of servicemen.

It was the beginning of summer, and I could wear white shoes again.

But wasn’t real in a tangible way, until I kissed my young man goodbye and sent him to war.

I’m lucky that when I gave my heart to a soldier, he came home to me.

Not every military spouse, child, sister, parent, or friend is as lucky as I have been, and I cannot speak for them.

I can only speak for my heart on this issue.

Starting a few days ago, posts began circulating on social media about knowing the difference between Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Armed Forces Day.

Spreading knowledge is admirable, but the tone of some posts was almost hostile.

“Don’t thank my husband on Memorial Day.”

“If you wear the uniform, Memorial Day isn’t about you.”

I can only imagine the grief that spurred those posts, but they missed the real point of honoring military service.

Absolutely, Memorial Day is about those who gave all.

It honors those who won’t ever come home: Dads, daughters, sons, mothers who sacrificed everything to stand for our nation.

Absolutely, Memorial Day honors those who gave all, but all gave some. Don't miss a chance to thank them. Click To Tweet

The depth of that sacrifice is too great to quantify. Boys left home and never returned to marry waiting sweethearts. Men left pregnant wives never meeting their child. Mothers kissed babies goodbye and will never kiss them goodnight again. Sons graduated, but never had the chance to live the lives they imagined.

It’s too heavy to grasp unless you’ve lost someone.

Not sure what to say on Memorial Day? or if you should say Thank you? Here's some Memorial Day Grace from one Army Wife's perspective

But I look at those white crosses lining green fields and see people who will never hear another heartfelt, “thank you for your service” and my husband who came home but will never be the same.

And I think, who cares if you get it wrong and thank a living soldier on Memorial Day? or an active service member on Veteran’s Day?

Gold Star families who lost someone might answer differently, but I imagine if they could say thank you or invite you to thank their loved one one more time, they would.

So I want everyone to know why we celebrate Memorial Day, to recognize and honor those who paid the ultimate price. We stop to pay homage because if we don’t honor those who sacrificed all, the next generations won’t understand how valuable their freedom is.

But if you also thank a living veteran or active soldier, GOOD.

Because All gave Some, too. No one came home the same. No one serves without risking it all.

Take every chance to say thank you while they are alive.

Memorial Day is also remembering those, like my husband, who went willing to make that sacrifice, and knowing he lived things that haunt his nightmares so I can sleep in peace.

Not sure what to say on Memorial Day? or if you should say Thank you? Here's some Memorial Day Grace from one Army Wife's perspective

As a military spouse, I want to invite you to understand this military life, its costs and sacrifices as well as its joys and adventures; but there is a price, and I don’t think we can honor those who pay it too often.

Last week, my husband didn’t stand when they honored all service members at his son’s graduation, because he doesn’t consider himself a hero.

I love his humility, but later, I held his hand and reminded him that he stands not for himself, but for those around him: so his family recognizes that his service matters to our country, that what we all lost carries weight, and so that those around him can connect a face to the sacrifice of those who serve.

Memorial Day may be about those who’ve died, but it’s for the living, for us to remember the cost of our freedom. And there is no wrong way to do that.

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Go with the flow: My best tips for losing Control

I’m in a control recovery program. It’s called Jesus. And I’m learning that control was really a temper tantrum about not wanting to trust God for my future.

Go with the flow would never have been used to describe my personality. NEVER. I still need five minutes for deep breaths after a surprise change of plans. I’m learning to embrace changes, but I’ve had a lifetime of practice with my control habit.

I was strong-willed and controlling in preschool, maybe the womb.

Even at ten, I had a handwritten spreadsheet for when all my stuffed animals would sleep on my bed. I taped this chart to my closet door to keep everything fair and tidy.

I color coordinated textbooks and folders in high school.

Now, balancing our budget and organizing the checkbook makes me happy in weird places inside my head.

So being a military wife with little control over my life has been a growth experience for me. We don’t get to plan where we are stationed; we often can’t plan family vacations or even date nights. Last year we didn’t get Thanksgiving together last minute.

Learning to love him through the Army curve balls has taught me to let go of my ideas of perfect and see the greater gift of God’s perfecting me: gentleness, forgiveness, and humility.

Sometimes growth brings growing pains, but I’ve learned so much about flexibility being a gift to my family and myself.

One thing I’ve learned is that my desire for order and cleanliness is often more about trying to control my life than good housekeeping. Having my house clean, plans made, and neat little budget gives me this feeling of having control over my life.

But it’s really an illusion.

Control is more than an illusion. It's a lie we use to avoid trusting God. Click To Tweet

or more than an illusion: it’s a lie I use to avoid fully surrendering to God and accepting His plan for my life.

At any second the illusion can be shattered: the car breaks down, someone gets sick, the army moves my best friend.

I'm in a control recovery program. It's called Jesus. And I'm learning that control was really a temper tantrum about not wanting to trust God for my future.

Learning to lose control was a relief. No one was expecting me to keep the world spinning. Even with all the practice I have being neurotically in charge, often the best I can manage is damage control and survival mode.

Frankly, I only look like I’ve got everything together when life is smooth sailing. I’m occasionally able to hurdle some speed bumps without face planting, but I’m still winging it (and I don’t mean eyeliner).

But I have a few beginner tips for losing (the need for) control:
  1. Spend time with God. He really IS in control. Knowing His voice in my head gives me direction and peace. Letting Him be the master of universe if pretty freeing. I can have more reasonable expectations for myself.
  2. Accept what you can control. Hint-hint, it’s mostly your reaction to the rest of life. Be gentle, be humble. Breathe. Very few things are emergencies even if our emotions suggest otherwise. It’s ok to wait to react. See #1.
  3. Make choices that please God: be a good steward of the money, time, children, and seasons of your life. You’ll be better able to deal with emergencies after wise decisions over time.

Losing control is becoming this place of ‘go with the flow’ abandon and accepting this roller coaster ride isn’t Hallmark movie perfect. I’m starting to be able to see that the real chaos was trusting in my human frailty and sinful nature, believing the lie of having control in the first place.

My house is less organized, but my new, messy trust, flying into the Father’s arms is so darned beautiful.

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