I took a deep breath. I thought about what I wanted him to hear more than what I wanted to say. I let it out and spoke. “I’m sorry that this has fallen on you. I understand that you feel overwhelmed. How can I help?” I braced for impact. It didn’t come….
Over the course of my almost 13-year marriage, we’ve had our fair share of fights. Some were justified, as we learned to live with each other—at the beginning of our marriage, after each move, after each change of job, after each deployment—and some were stupid. Fighting over who was more tired, him with working 16+ hour days in charge of 150+ brand-new soldiers or me, three months post-partum with a baby who was up five times a night, homeschooling two other kids, and managing a full-time writing career.
But we had never had a fight quite like this one. The one I was dreading because it was about something neither one of us could control. The one that was going to make him feel as I had so many times and make me say callous things in response. The one that should have been something we tackled together, but since we were thousands of miles apart and at the mercy of the airlines, we couldn’t.
Years ago, ok, a decade ago, I was the “hooah” army spouse. I lived and breathed the tradition, the protocol, the events. I showed up at everything and was involved in everything. Being a military spouse was all that I was.
And then things started to shift. As we grew up, grew together, grew our family, other things filtered in. And I liked them. I found a new strength in being a mother and then being a working mother. I enjoyed progress in the gym. I liked watching groups I was a part of accomplish big things. At times, I even pushed the military spouse thing away. I would do these things anyway, I told myself. I’d be involved in my husband’s career wherever he worked.
Being a military spouse was not as much a part of my identity as it once was.
Would I even miss the community when he retired? Would I need these women, this community after the next move? As we moved from a close-knit unit where we lived on the same installation for five years, to a temporary rental 20 minutes from the commissary, I knew I could do it on my own. And for those sweet, short, six months, I did. Kind of. I didn’t have a military sisterhood. I had one awesome neighbor, three or four couples at church who knew our name, an amazing childcare provider, and a gym family of flight students. And that was it.
I missed my military sisters, but I didn’t really want to go backward. So on our seventh move in 12 years, I promised myself a compromise. I’d get involved where I wanted to and not where I felt pressured to. The latest move brought us to a new place, but one where we had friends from the last 12 years. Old friends brought new friends and I soon found myself as part of the community. So I felt good.
And then Independent and the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation stuck their noses in and pulled my name for the winner of an Empowered Spouses Retreat. I kept trying to come up with excuses not to go. I secretly hoped a TDY would pop up on the calendar or the dates would interfere with the first day of school. But as summer droned on, I knew that this was the right timing for me. If only because I would be without my laptop and cell phone service for four glorious days.
It was absolutely the right choice.
When I arrived in Jackson Hole for the empowered spouses retreat, I knew one other person who was there. Corie was facilitating the event and she was the only familiar face. But by the end of the first night, I was revealing my heart to these 18 women, and them with me. I admitted I didn’t want to come, I shared what I wanted to learn from the retreat.
Throughout our time together, we grew in ways we could not have imagined. We hiked, we swam in a natural hot spring. Many of us shot a shotgun for the first time and discovered how much we like archery. We survived without our cell phones so well that we weren’t sure what to do when we got service back for a few hours on a Saturday.
One of my favorite parts about our time together was about how we were ourselves, and we focused on each of us as an individual. I wasn’t a wife and a mother first, I was Rebecca. In fact, it wasn’t until Saturday afternoon, three days into this that we started sharing pictures of our family. Something we normally start conversations with was pushed aside as we focused on ourselves.
During the sessions at the empowered spouses retreat, we learned from one of the greatest advocates for service marriages, Corie Weathers. She led us through some tough conversations and pushed us in ways we resisted. (She kept giving us journal prompts and I was not liking that!) We shared trials and successes. We were able to help each other through our insecurities and our frustrations. We all left there with more tools in our toolbox than we even knew we were missing.
I could talk for hours about the amazing staff, accommodations, and food we ate while were there, but that would just add to the jealous you’re probably feeling at this point. Let’s just put it this way, food was prepared for us, and it was amazing. As a mother and a spouse, the fact that someone put food in front of me was almost enough to make me cry. I didn’t have to think, plan, shop, prep, cook, reheat, force down anyone’s throat, or even choose off of a menu. I just had to eat. And there was dessert!
The delay heading home was perfect timing.
As with any military or first responder family, we were eager to get home. We had work to do to make our marriages stronger. To make sure we put ourselves first some of the time. To hug our kids and to get the laundry done. But for half of us, our trip was not over.
We spent an extra day battling airlines, driving to Salt Lake City, and putting out fires via the phone. Looking back, it was a good reintegration period. Sort of like the time my spouse spends on airplanes coming back from deployment. Not quite gone but not quite home. In touch with the world, stepping back in instead of being flung back in.
It helped so much. While I was waiting to have a plan for my now delayed flight, I was thinking about the words I would choose to use. My husband would be upset, he would be frustrated, he would be scrambling to get everything covered. We had a plan, his helpmate was due to home to share the burden of parenting again. But it wasn’t to be.
My initial plan of arriving super late that same day faded into arriving home 24 hours later than I thought. Which was the fight I was dreading. But after I ended my “I’ll now be home at this time tomorrow. How can I help?” side of the conversation, I was met with, “What happened to you, did you turn into a hippy or something?” We laughed about it and got on with a plan. The huge fight I was anticipating didn’t happen.
The Empowered Spouses Retreat, left me feeling just that. Empowered.
And it hasn’t really happened since. I’ve been able to take what I learned from Corie, Taya, and the other women at ESR and apply it to my marriage. I think before I speak. I listen when he speaks. I take ownership of my actions, my feelings, and my reactions. I ask specifically for something. I do not assume anyone can read my mind.
As a result, I’m happier. My marriage is stronger. I’m a better mother. And I’m proud to call myself a military spouse. I’m proud to be a part of the amazing group of military and first responder spouses that came together in August in Wyoming and forged amazing bonds. I may not have discovered anything profound on the empowered spouses retreat, but I found exactly what I needed.
Photo Credits: Chris Kyle Frog Foundation