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How to Save your Marriage When War Comes Home

How can you save your marriage when war comes home? It's a journey of patience and grace with a whole lot of Jesus filling in the empty spaces.(Last Updated On: November 8, 2017)

When a soldier comes home, War comes home, too. When my husband came home last time, it was our hardest yet. He came home to a stressed-out wife starting her next school year and a toddler daughter he barely knew. Reintegration was going to be tougher than it had ever been on top of the extreme stress of cumulative deployments.

Reintegration means readjusting, remembering things we took for granted: Where is my place? What is my role? How do we do this together?

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For me, a small positive of deployments is getting to organize my house to my little OCD heart’s content. I get to color code and label. And everything stays where I put it. Hooray! A little thing I can enjoy while trying not to worry about my husband being in a war zone.

Remind Him that You Need Him

But when he comes home, I’ve moved his things. The gadgets only he uses got relegated to the back of the cabinets. He feels put away, like he doesn’t quite fit. Our lives went on without him, and we were just fine. Of course, It isn’t true, but it feels true to him.

He’s forgotten how to do the everyday things, and we’ve got our own rhythm.

Coming home took away his sense of mission and purpose. He felt like he left the job undone in Iraq and didn’t know how to change gears. He struggled to find his place in our home and lives. I had to learn how to let him back in, let him be her dad and do things his way.

Be Patient

Truly reintegrating took time. Six years after his last return and we are still finding places in our lives that we’ve held apart, stories we haven’t told, hurts we need to share. Learning to communicate our deepest truths after years of skype and emails takes practice almost like dating all over again, but with piles of expectations and resentment to climb over.

Think marathon, not sprint.  In fact, sometimes, it’s a relay race! Who is coping better today? You’ve got the ball.

When a soldier comes home, War Comes Home, too. Becoming one again is a marathon, not sprint. Click To Tweet

The mental and emotional tolls are only part of the equation. Deployments are also tremendously physically demanding, adrenaline pumping continuously 24 hours a day, everyday.

At least, previous deployments had prepared me to be patient with him. He was a hummingbird around the house, zipping from place to place, barely lingering long enough to be still a moment. I got exhausted watching him.

When a soldier comes home, War comes home, too.

It was weeks before he sat down, then all he did was sleep. His body was wrecked from getting less than 6 hours of sleep a night and wearing 100lbs of gear all day everyday for a year.  When he finally crashed, he slept every empty minute for weeks. My heart broke to watch him sleeping through those precious hours, when I so desperately just desired his presence.

As much as I wanted to authentically celebrate his being home, it took almost a year to feel like he was really home. And then the really hard work started.

Anticipate additional time for healing after he comes home.

The wounds from war are deeper than just the adrenaline and combat; they’ve lost so much time.

I was not as patient as I could have been. I felt like I’d been alone raising this baby by myself for so long, I just needed my husband. But he wasn’t ready to be home with us. He felt robbed of another year of his life, hunting and fishing, and having any time alone after being continuously with others (even on the toilet). As a mom, I can better relate now!

And then the loss of time with his kids was stoo much, he didn’t know how to cope, let alone how to begin reconnecting with them.

A special kind of hurt wraps itself like a noose around your heart when you lose time with your children, much less a cumulative 4-5 years of their lives. Just writing those words grieves my heart.

I. CAN’T. EVEN.

Additionally, the unique, violent experiences he had in combat came home with him too; they live in his heart and mind in a way I’ll only barely grasp. They were tearing him up inside, and I didn’t know how to help or that I was inadvertently making things worse.

We said the word “divorce” too often in the heat of bickering over mundane domesticities that turned vicious. Our house became the war zone.

We reached a point nothing on earth could save us, at least nothing OF earth.

God doesn’t want us to turn to Him because we think His way might be better. God wants us on our knees imploring Him to save us. He wants us to realize our desperate need for Him, so we won’t take another step without him. He wants our full surrender, that moment we truly give it over to Him, quit playing at Christian and become a disciple.

For me, the path to that moment of surrender started when I truly realized the extent war comes home. The smell of it, the frenetic energy of it, the despair, bravado, and horror of it moved in with his foot locker at the end of his 4th deployment.

How can you save your marriage when war comes home? It's a journey of patience and grace with a whole lot of Jesus filling in the empty spaces.

And things got bad. Really bad. Not everyday was bad, but we fought a lot. Tension and anger were the under current of our marriage and home. I didn’t know what to do. It felt like we couldn’t even talk.

I started crying out to God.

But I wasn’t completely ready for total surrender. It took another year for the moment I stood in front of God and said, I just want you, to follow you, Lord, no matter what. I’m standing here until you make me move.

I had to learn to lean on God, completely.

When I finally grasped how I had been forgiven by God, I remember feeling like Paul when the scales dropped from his eyes, my vision changed almost physically. I finally understood that I didn’t have to get cleaned up to come to Christ. I just had to come and he would clean me up.

The next step for me was a book called When War Comes Home: Christ-Centered Healing for Wives of Combat Veterans. God placed this book in my path at just the right time to make dramatic changes in my heart and marriage. I spent the next several months reading a chapter a week and discussing it with a dear friend. We were both struggling with how combat had changed our husbands.

The book is written by combat veterans, wives, and experts from a Christian perspective. It costs about $25, but is a priceless resource. The book deals with everything from grieving the changes any combat veteran might experience to the most severe PSTD, offers insight and biblical solutions, as well as resources for help, counseling and domestic abuse if necessary.

I learned so much about forgiveness and commitment, God’s truths, and our real enemy in this world. Some content might not relate if your spouse isn’t a veteran, but so many raw truths about love being an action, not just emotion make this a trusted marriage manual I could recommend to anyone.

I was able to start understanding what he had seen and how he had lived in a way I hadn’t before. Compassion blossomed in my heart.

I had prayed for God to change my husband, and He did, but His answer was, “you first.” Today, I am tearfully thankful for that.

I remember one evening after a rough day, I was standing over dishes and a mess not of my making. My husband walked in from work and was being kind of a jerk. I felt my frustration start to rise. I was so angry I didn’t even know what to say.

My mouth clamped shut and I prayed in my head, “Lord, help me see him the way you do.” Instantly I saw the chains around him dragging him down: war, anger, death, loss, grief, shame. He wasn’t a jerk on purpose; he was too wounded to be anything else.

How can you save your marriage when war comes home? It's a journey of patience and grace with a whole lot of Jesus filling in the empty spaces.

Lord, please change my husband. His answer - You first! Tearfully grateful for His grace. Click To Tweet

“Oh, you’re having a hard time just being you today . . .” I said. He froze. His eyes immediately softened and changed. “Yes, I’m having a hard time being me.” “What can I do to help you?” “Give me five minutes to myself.” Done! Easy peasy lemon squeezy as my kiddo likes to say. So simple.

Ditch the expectations

And that was the beginning. I stopped expecting ANYTHING from him beyond going to work and coming home. While that sounds drastic, he couldn’t handle the pressure of my expectations. And I had been counting on him to make me happy when I should have been finding my joy in Christ.

I finally realized, he couldn’t fill my longing for true and everlasting love. Human love would always disappoint, but God never would.

Eventually, he began to unfurl in the security of God’s love for him through me and be able to relax again, laugh more, and take back some leadership in our home.

It’s been a couple of years, and I am still just barely scraping the surface of how war comes home, how what he has seen changes everything for him: the sound of a child crying, watching political debates, going to the movies, driving down the road.

We are just learning to trust and rely on each other again for the most secret places of our hearts.

After years of self-reliance, it takes practice to risk being vulnerable with each other again. I had to learn to listen with my heart to a person God loves more than I do, and I had to stop taking his anger and emotions so personally.

But God has worked miracles in my heart that are healing both of us and our marriage.

39 thoughts on “How to Save your Marriage When War Comes Home

  1. What a beautiful, honest & raw insight into the effects a military life has on the entire family. Thank you so much for sharing. You & your husband are amazing. God bless
    Sam xx

    1. Aww, thank you! We are blessed by the lessons we are learning.

  2. Such great advice! I can only imagine how hard it is for everyone in the family when one is away for so long.

    1. It really is! Time and distance are hard enough without the trauma from combat. Thank you for the encouragement.

  3. This is a wonderful post and even though I’m not a military wife, I live in a military town. I know lots of women who deal with these areas and I feel better equipped to lend and ear and help when needed. Thank you.

    1. I am glad it still is beneficial.

  4. Thank you so much for the frankness and openness of these accounts of deeply personal struggles that you and your husband have had. My fiancé is in the early stages of joining the army (actually, he’s going through the physical exams and we’ll find out if he is medically cleared in the next few weeks), and I am doing what I can to be emotionally prepared for the challenges of military life. I really appreciate your writings on these painful topics.

    1. You can’t always be prepared for every situation but knowing where to find hope and peace has been crucial!

  5. “Oh, you’re having a hard time just being you today . . .” What a beautiful thing to say to your husband! It assumes the best and whatever is wrong is not attributed to who they are.

    1. Pointing to the problem is always healthier than pointing to the person.

  6. This is such a beautiful and genuine post! Thank you for sharing your heart and your insight into this part of military life that so many don’t understand. I had the privilege and honor of working with service members and their families at Offutt Air Force Base to help them understand PTSD and reintegration as a family. The best situations were when the family had faith and brought GOD into their home for healing. God Bless!

    1. Thank you! I know I couldn’t do it without my faith.

  7. This is very moving. When I lived apart from my husband for two years (not by choice but necessity), reintegrating our lives took a couple years. It was like we had to go through some of the pain of early marriage again to reconnect. I can’t imagine having the added burden of war on top of that.

    1. It is really hard. And doing it every other year meant that we didn’t really get past this before he was leaving again. Six years later and we’re still learning ways to be a better team.

  8. There is so much insight in this post. It really gives a window into what a military couple must go through. Thank you for helping us on the outside to understand!!

    1. I hope it did that because while the experiences are different, the cure is the same.

  9. I’ve been on both sides of the coin- my husband deployed to Afghanistan in 2006 and I went to Kuwait in 2011. We both came home angry and changed, and it has taken many years to grow back together. But I have to say that God is what kept us together; we were both broken and needed His help. Thank you for sharing how war comes home with soldiers because there are people that need to know they are not alone in this fight and that God can help them heal!

    1. Wow! I am glad you were able to cling to God through it all. I hope I portrayed the redeployment and reintegration process well. It’s hard to summarize something that literally takes years.

  10. Jennifer,

    This post captures the struggles of multiple deployments and the impacts they have on the military family and the marriage beautifully. My husband, having deployed twice to Iraq, once to Afghanistan, and once to Kuwait has had experiences that the human mind is ill equipped to handle…..but as you suggested here, when we turn our lives over to God He can heal, restore, and strengthen, even the most battle-wounded heart. Thank you for this beautifully heartfelt blog that is filled with absolute hope for any military spouse that has ever felt overwhelmed with the unique struggles of the military life. May you continue to always be a blessing and encouragement to people everywhere the Lord sends you and your family. You have a true gift for writing. Hellos and hugs from a fellow military wife and sister in Christ.

    P.S. Please give Allyson a squeeze from me and tell her that she is one precious girl in God’s sight, with a beautiful smile and a huge heart for Jesus!

    -Brandi (from Co-Op)

    1. I am so glad you found this post to be encouraging. We sure miss you guys! I gave her your message and it tickled her. She said, “Thank you, we appreciate it!” She’s hysterical. Such an old soul. Your girls were so good to her. I am glad they got to know each other.

  11. Thank you for sharing this heartfelt message… and your journey obviously has not been easy. I am so glad for you that God dropped that book full of resources into your lap! I am a Navy veteran….. and so is my husband…. of many, many moons ago…. and the military life is one that is well, oh so very different. But you have captured the day in day out difficulties of your journey. Blessings!

    1. Thank you both for your services and sacrifices.

  12. Thank you for sharing. As a new bride many years ago I lived through my first deployment and then another one after 9/11 and then one more when our second son was a month old. It is not an easy thing and many don’t understand or even think of the sacrifice the spouses make.
    I appreciate your words and you and your husbands service.

    1. Thank you for both of your sacrifices as well.

  13. My father is a veteran and he deals with issues daily Yes he did bring the war home with him it seems to change them. I love the beauty that God can create out of the trouble that we in counter here on earth
    come see us at http://shopannies.blogspot.com

    1. Thank you for his service.

  14. one step at a time, one minute at a time – and always trusting God for the outcome…

  15. Jennifer, I was made aware of your article by one of my staff who served as a military chaplain in Iraq and Afghanistan. You provide great insight. I work with a film company and for the last three years we have been interviewing combat veterans, spouses, and experts about the effects of deployments on the soldier and his/her family. Our first film was specific to PTS and our latest film which will be released in May deals with moral injury. We provide copies of these for free to veterans, active military personnel and their immediate family members. If you are interested, you can learn more at http://www.invisiblescarsproject.org and view film clips at http://www.honoringthecode.com

    1. Thank you so much! What a wonderful project. I am glad that people are really starting to talk about the realities of combat trauma. It changes everyone, not those who aren’t tough enough and we need to help our soldiers, families and society really understand that and how to help with healing. Thank you again for sharing this! I will be sure to check it out. Please let me know if I can help in any way in the future. Feel free to share my post with anyone who would benefit.

  16. I cannot imagine the pain/trauma a man must feel/have after experiencing war. And I’ve thought it would be super difficult for a family when that man comes again – things are so different, children grow up, marriages can be distant. I don’t have any military men in our family, so I don’t have firsthand experience with this. But i see so many blogs out there addressing this very issue and lots of books. And there’s always our loving God to give wisdom and direction. Praise the Lord for working in your lives for the better!

    1. What has been on my heart all day is that our marriage is BETTER for having worked through this. What was intended for our destruction, God used to bring me closer to Him and strengthen our marriage.

  17. Thank you for being honest and vulnerable to those like me who don’t understand. I admire your transparency.

    1. I am glad it might help people understand outside of this life.

  18. Wow! Thank you for being willing to share your heart with us! I just want to wrap you up in a big bear hug right now!

    1. Aww, you’re sweet. It is all part of God’s plan. I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for where I had to go.

  19. Hey Jennifer,

    Thank you for sharing parts of your story. You two are in my thoughts and prayers this morning. I often hear that there are struggles when a soldier returns home. Thank you for the personal insights, as it helps me to be more compassionate, empathetic, and understanding. It’s another excellent reminder to me, to treat others with kindness, because we never know what struggles and challenges those around us may be going though. Than you for a very real and authentic post.

    1. It is a good reminder that all things work together for our good when we believe. God is writing this story and He isn’t wasting the hard stuff. He is using it to make us His!

  20. Thank you for this very personal insight in dealing with conflict in marriage. While I am not married to a veteran, there are things in this post that put the minor difficulties in any marriage into perspective. The rawness of the post is very moving.

    1. It is good to have perspective but don’t discount your hard is still your hard. The fact that it is different than mine doesn’t make it easier, but it can give you perspective. Marriage is hard or most of them wouldn’t end in divorce.

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