I spent 10 years searching for joy in the moments that we weren't together. I thought retirement would be easy, that the search would be over, and that the bond we shared prior to deployments would naturally realign us.
The truth is marriage takes work. I love this man fiercely and he loves me, but sometimes that is not enough. Here are three hard truths I've learned about marriage after the military and what living together really looks like:
1. I miss the goodbyes.
I miss the goodbyes. It feels like a betrayal to even write that, but the truth is that goodbyes and time apart became a familiar routine. Whether it was him leaving for training or deployment, or me packing up to head out for another medical trip for our daughter, goodbyes were a constant dynamic of our relationship. And so were hellos.
Perhaps that's what I really miss, the hello. I miss that moment that you catch each other's eye after months apart, that first kiss, that first reconnection. The honeymoon period is glorious, and perhaps I thought that's what we were entering with retirement.
C.S. Lewis talks of a quieter love that enables us to keep our promise of commitment to one another. He says it is a deep unity that is "maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit." He goes on to say that "It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it."
2. We are always together.
Prior to retirement, we both looked forward to hellos. Now we crave opportunities and outlets to explore separate interests. I dreamed about lunch dates and long slow days together. Those lunch dates and long slow days are typically in doctor offices and waiting rooms.
In the beginning, we approached retirement as a honeymoon period when we should have been looking to the bigger picture and the skills we developed during reintegration. Instead of being honest and open about our expectations and disappointments, my husband and I began to hold resentment that only led to more misunderstandings. We had forgotten how essential open communication is during the reintegration period and how living together holds challenges that are new to couples who have spent so much time apart.
We've learned to pause and re-access, to not sweat the small stuff, to communicate clearly, and to not be offended when the other one needs to recharge with friends or some much needed time alone.
The romantic notion of spending every waking moment together is great in short bursts, but that passion is not sustainable for the steady commitment of marriage. There will be moments where we don't like each other. The truth is we are in it for the long haul. That includes hospital rooms, counseling appointments, financial planning, and an occasional rushed meal of ramen before shuffling out the door for one of the many kid events or late night Walmart runs for forgotten school projects.
3. We will get through this
One of my favorite faith leaders is Fr. Richard Rohr who says, "Love and suffering are finally the same, because those who love deeply are committing themselves to eventual suffering, as we see in Jesus. And those who suffer often become the greatest lovers."
I have found that the chaos and trauma that comes with life will either break or strengthen a marriage. Much like deployments and reintegration bring to the surface the underlying issues in the relationship, the difficulties that come with transitioning into civilian life can uncover problems you've stuffed down so deep you've forgotten they were there.
My husband and I statistically should have called it quits between our daughter's cancer and military life. When I'm honest, I have to say that there have been times we almost did.
We all hold the skills necessary to make this new world of retirement life work. It's simply a matter of repurposing the skills we've been learning throughout our military journey.
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