This post is sponsored by the UCLA/VA Veteran Family Wellness Center (VFWC).
When you consider your family as a unit, you put its well-being before everything else, including yourself. After almost 8 years of marriage to my veteran, there are times I’ve had to dig deep into my well of patience. When my partner just said something so incredibly pig-headed that I, an angel, am left wondering what bloated, booger-eating alien just inhabited his brain and made his mouth move, I have to stop, take a breath, and remind myself that we are a unit. Is being right the most important thing in this moment? Is what I’m about to say or do going to serve the strength of the unit, or am I going to spin my wheels trying to outmaneuver my husband in an argument?
Despite what you might think, leaning back on things I’ve learned from the military lifestyle is what helps us keep comms open and clear.
We don’t argue much these days, which I attribute to years of practicing a combination of honoring our commitment to love and respect each other and using direct communication to problem solve together. Through our time in the military, he, the active duty service member, and I, the spouse, have developed the skills to say what we mean and let the rest fall away. Neither of us are much for jabbering, but there’s additional value in speaking directly that is hugely beneficial to a partnership. There is a purpose, a kernel of truth, to every message. The more you can make that purpose known, the less work the receiver has of deciphering the message.
Imagine a JTAC calling in for close air support from the F-16 in the sky with, “Hey, um, it would be super boring if you went south tonight — so maybe head west, if that’s cool. I was thinking this building we’ve confirmed for housing arms for I.S. was super ugly and could use some redecorating — like, with it and everything inside of it being on fire. It should be empty of people around 1930 zulu, unless Game of Thrones is on and you want to watch that instead… so if you felt like buzzing by and dropping a bomb that could be fun.”Providing communications for Balikatan
Speaking passively with suggestions for what could be done, rather than what needs to be done, leaves a lot of room for error. It requires that the receiver, the F-16 pilot, cross a field of uncertainty to reach the intended point of the communicator, the JTAC. What if the pilot interpreted the message any other way? Turns out Game of Thrones is on at that time and she does want to see what happens to Tyrion Lannister. And why not? The JTAC said it was okay, and that building will still be there tomorrow. She can bomb it then.
There’s a reason military communication follows a formula. It gives the communicator tools to say in shorthand directly and with clarity what needs to happen. When there is a goal, every element of the message should inform as to what that goal is. In other words a successful message is objective-oriented, which is another skill we practice at home.
I am a quality time person. Gifts are nice and compliments are sweet, but I really feel loved by my husband when we spend time together. When we are hanging out and I have his attention, I feel fulfilled, deserving, and lucky in love. And then there are spells when that well runs dry. If he’s busy at work for a long amount of time, then comes home and gets on his phone to read Group Me texts from his coworkers, I start to grumble. I know more than a few times I’ve looked over at his phone, huffed, and said, “You spend 9 hours a day with those guys. Don’t you talk to them enough?” And twice a week he goes to rugby practice, often with games on Saturdays. It can be easy for me to say, “You sure play rugby a lot” to which he would probably say “…yeah.” (Fair. Was there a question asked? Nope.)
These brief conversations are tense and a perfect example of missed communication. He’s not getting what I’m saying, but he can tell I’m irritated, which in turn makes him irritated. If I were to try a direct approach, this would play out differently. What’s my goal? To have his attention and feel loved. With an objective-oriented approach in mind, I would say, without attitude, “Hey, I haven’t seen a lot of you lately and miss you. It would mean a lot to me if we can spend some time together.” I would have his attention in a second! He would put his phone down and hear me, and probably tell me about his day.
U.S. Coast Guard
I know this because we’ve had this conversation many times, and after years of practicing this kind of direct communication at home, he’s developed a radar on his own for opportunities when we can spend time together. This way, he still goes to rugby practice, but maybe the next night we go get a cappuccino and do a crossword puzzle. He gets to know I still crave him and he surprises me in ways to show me he cares. We eliminate the confusion of wondering why the other person is a jerk who just doesn’t get it. I’m happy. He’s happy. Win-win.
BONUS: In a more literal sense of using military communication, we just taught ourselves Morse code. Last month, we went to the symphony and during Beethoven’s String Quartet in C Minor, started tapping dirty words on each other’s palm to try to make the other person laugh. There’s always that.
This post is sponsored by the UCLA/VA Veteran Family Wellness Center (VFWC). If you are in the Los Angeles area, you can request a free Lyft ride to take advantage of their benefits for veteran families.