You've both got jobs to do, a household to run, and maybe even children to raise. So the time you spend alone together is limited. How can busy spouses, especially those dealing with a military lifestyle, build a sound, lasting relationship in such a high-speed, ever changing world? A loving relationship needs careful attention and constant nurturing. But it's easy to lose sight of that when you're racing through the day, trying to meet so many other demands.
Here are some suggestions to help you cultivate quality and endurance in your marriage, so that it will go the distance.
The heart of the matter
What makes you a great couple? It may begin with knowing yourselves and not trying to change each other. Loving, long-term partnerships aren't born. They grow from a rich feeding on acceptance, commitment, ritual, and empathy. Here are some strategies to help you strengthen your connection:
- Adjust your expectations. Accept yourself and your spouse as you are now. It's natural to want the "honeymoon phase" to last forever. But it doesn't. Over time, both you and your spouse will change, and the relationship itself will change as your lives become more complicated. For instance, after you start a family, you are transferred to a new installation, or experience your first extended separation due to deployment. You may find that you've lost some of the spontaneity that you once enjoyed, or perhaps your emotional needs have shifted because work takes more of your energy. If you accept that relationships evolve, you won't be disappointed when the honeymoon phase ends and life as a couple begins.
- Date each other. Spend time alone together to re-ignite the intimacy and romance in your relationship. It will help you remember what brought you together in the first place. It's important to "make" the time to be alone together, because you are unlikely, especially with the unique demands of a military lifestyle, just to "find" it. Once a week or once a month, schedule the kind of date you had when you were single or before you began your family. Agree not to discuss the children, the in-laws, or finances. Dress up and go out to dinner, see a movie, or spend a "quality" evening at home with the phone turned off. Take turns planning the activities you'll do together. If you want to sustain your passion and rapport, romance must be an ongoing part of your relationship - not something that's limited to birthdays and anniversaries.
- Become friends. It's not enough to love your spouse, and it's never too late to become true companions. For long-term happiness, couples need to genuinely like each other - to be both lovers and friends. Friendship develops from shared values and mutual empathy. Spend more time having fun. Get involved in a "joint venture" that interests you both - gardening, making home improvements, or volunteering at church. Or take up a new hobby together, like dancing, jogging, or coaching your child's softball team.
- Create rituals. They're the cement that helps hold a relationship together. The rituals you create together become familiar shared pleasures you can look forward to when you're dealing with challenges at work or in the other parts of your lives. Rituals take many forms: a goodbye kiss before work, breakfast in bed with the crossword puzzle on weekends, or an annual holiday shopping trip together. Develop your own rituals for daily life and holidays. Then practice them. They will enrich your lives by providing stability - you'll have acts of beauty, joy, and tenderness whenever you're together.
Partnerships take maintenance
"Maintenance" might sound like something for your car, but in fact anything you value and that you want to last needs attention and care. And you want your relationship to stay solid and run smoothly for years to come. The biggest part of maintaining your relationship may be awareness - noticing how each of you feels, and acknowledging the things that need to change to keep things functioning well. Here are a few practical tips from the relationship maintenance manual:
- Take the pulse of your relationship. Just as you take stock of your career periodically, look carefully at making the changes you want and need. What makes each of you feel close as a couple? Is it physical affection? Relaxing together? Talking over coffee after the kids are in bed?
- Discuss how you're feeling about the time you spend together. Is it enough? Do you wish it were a higher priority for your spouse? Are you communicating clearly, honestly, and frequently about things that bother you? Or are you seething in silence about something that happened weeks, months, or maybe even years ago? Put all the issues on the table and begin making the compromises that will bring you into more harmony.
- Make a habit of talking frequently. Just a quick phone call from work to "touch base" can help remind you of the priority of your relationship and give you both a sense of continuity. Some people use a phone call during the day as a way to settle family business, so that when they do get home they are freer to simply enjoy each other's company. If deployed, be creative. As phone calls can be costly or simply not an option, use e-mail or write notes of love and support in advance. Make sure notes are sealed in separate envelopes to be opened on specified dates. This small gesture can play a major role in assuring your spouse that he or she is loved and appreciated.
- Plan in advance for getting around roadblocks. It's helpful to "pre-discuss" situations that you already know cause friction between you. For example, you may have disagreements about who stays home from work when a child is sick or how you want to celebrate the holidays. Mapping out a game plan in advance will help you deal with such occasions when they arrive. Remember that compromise and teamwork are key. Ask yourselves, "What are the two of us going to do to solve this problem?"
- Share household chores. Research shows that women spend more time on household chores than men do. Working women can feel as if they have two jobs - the one they go to and the one they come home to each day. The result is often a mountain of resentment. Running the household together takes work on the part of both partners. Men may need to play a bigger role, and women may need to stop criticizing their partners for doing chores "the wrong way." (After all, there may be more than one way to scrub the sink or do the laundry.) Try rotating chores to minimize the boredom and drudgery factors. For example, suggest, "I'll cook if you'll clean up tonight."
- Be flexible. No matter how well you and your spouse talk about your differences, you won't agree on everything. And that's normal. In fact, your differences are probably part of what attracted you to each other in the first place. Recognize that not all differences of opinion have to be resolved. Sometimes you just need to agree to disagree - and be willing to listen to your spouse's point of view.
- Give each other space. Your relationship will be stronger and more interesting if you give your spouse time and space without you. Remember that one person can't possibly meet all your needs. Both you and your spouse must keep and nurture outside friendships and interests.
Taking courses, developing new hobbies, and going off on short trips alone can be exciting and refreshing, too. Your spouse will come back revitalized, with a new perspective to share, and new ideas to discuss.