Dear Ms. Vicki,
Is my 15-year marriage over? I feel like I'm a failure after everything I have done for my husband and this marriage.
We constantly yell, scream and fight. We argue about anything and everything. My husband has been deployed several times, and I have handled so much difficulty alone.
It upsets me when he comes home and all of a sudden he starts to complain about things. Well, how can he complain when he hasn't even been home? He should be thanking me for keeping his family together instead of going against me.
This is so hard for me because it's like he won't take a look at what he is doing to make the problem worse -- like blaming me and calling me names. I have a lot to deal with, like teenagers. My mother is sick and lives in California. We don't even have the money for me to make trips to visit her so I can help take care of her.
I know his parents are getting older and they are not well either, and I try to understand. I don't know how to stop all of the arguments. When I try to talk to him, he shuts down and doesn't want to say anything. What can I do about Mr. Shut-Down?
Sincerely, Mrs. Shut-Down
Dear Mrs. Shut-Down,
I think your story is an example of the fact that military couples may indeed experience more stress than many civilian couples.
I'm not saying that civilian couples don’t experience stress, but when we look at multiple PCS moves and transitions, multiple deployments, being away from extended close family and friends, and even parenting alone and taking on many roles, this can be stressful and impact communication.
You and your husband are experiencing other stressful life events that are common to the life cycle. For example, you mentioned that you have young teenagers, both of your parents are in poor health, and you are experiencing financial difficult. These are common, but can cause communication problems and conflict.
On the other hand, escalating arguments and constant conflict are not good. You and your husband really do need quick intervention to help you communicate better.
Some parents want to shelter their children from everything, but I think it is very healthy to allow children to observe conflict without screaming, yelling and name calling.
As a couple, you have experienced a lot of stress over the past 5-7 years and it's taking a toll on your marriage. For this reason, I would definitely recommend marriage counseling. Even if one spouse does not want to attend sessions, the other spouse should attend the sessions alone.
Many people don't know this important fact: When one person changes, the entire system will change. So if you have to go alone, I think you should go. The support and self-knowledge you gain will be very impactful and have a positive effect on you and your marriage.
Check on base for the availability of counseling sessions, couples communication classes sponsored by Army Community Service, and marriage enrichment service sponsored by the chaplains. If none is available, contact Military OneSource 24/7 and they will connect you to a provider in your local area. The services are free.
Take a look at five other quick tips below. Please keep in touch with me and let me know how you are doing. Thank you for taking the time to read the column and for writing to me.
- Your Tongue Is Sexy. Spend small amounts of time each day talking and avoid sarcasm, finger pointing and name calling. Don't rush into tough topics. It's best to try to connect over small talk to improve your emotional connection. It's a great aphrodisiac!
- Quit Before You Hit. Listen, someone has to take the high road and let it go. Both parties should respect the request for a "timeout." Simply say, "I need a timeout" and go to separate rooms, take a walk outdoors etc. Anything will help to de-escalate the situation. Anger can lead to name calling and progress to physical violence. We don't want to say or do anything in a heated moment that will cause regret.
- I Want to Give You What You Need. This communicates to your partner what you need instead of saying "you this" and "you did that." Those words keep your partner on the defensive and you risk the other person shutting down. Shutting down is detrimental to a relationship.
- The Problem Is the Problem. Attack the problem and not each other. Many couples spend time fighting each other but never solve the problem. Try to recognize what the problem is instead of fighting each other. You are not the problem, and your husband is not the problem. As humans, we spend time searching internally by blaming ourselves and other people when we should look externally for solutions.
- Eyes Are Watching. Don't forget how this will affect your children. Children are great resources for imparting wisdom to situations. They see things just as they are. Because they are young, their "screens" have not become jaded. So include them in problem-solving family meetings but not the heated escalated ones. Remember they are watching, and it's great to let them witness parents solve problems. They will learn good coping skills as a result.