I can’t believe it’s been four years already! This is my favorite “progress picture,” and I will post it every year so that I can look and see just how far we’ve come!
It really was four years ago today, we celebrated Mike’s Navy Retirement. When we were seventeen years old and making plans for a great life, I could not have even yet imagined how ready I would be for that day and this photo!
He enlisted before 9/11, so we didn’t know what would be in store for him. Twenty years. Eighteen as a Navy SEAL and fifteen operating at a crazy tempo of deployments. There were fourteen overall. This day would change all of the stress and obstacles in our military marriage.
Nope. Welcome to civilian marriage. Transition and moving was the most complex challenge we have ever faced in our marriage. He started a company with Navy friends, and I couldn’t figure out why the guys and the job still got so much of my husband’s attention even in post-military life. I thought retirement from the military meant that it would be MY TIME. I can look back now and see that expectation was asking a lot. That expectation would be the same as asking a tiger to trade in his stripes for cheetah print. You can’t expect someone who has been doing something their whole life one way to flip it around right away.
In the three years that followed, there were fights. There were tears. There were moments where we both thought we were ready to call it quits. There were also a lot of soul-searching conversations. Some were late-night chats, and some took place on the couch of our marriage counselor.
I learned that I had some resentment and was not vocal about it until I burst with anger. I was upset that the business was planned with friends and that I barely had any say in whether I wanted that for my future. I was upset that no one told ME what to expect for my own emotions in transition even though I had played a huge support role in his career while maintaining a career of my own and the home. I was angry that he would still drop everything if one of the guys needed him, which would leave me hanging when I needed him. I learned later, t was not because he didn’t love or respect me.
I discovered it because he struggled to hold onto the identity and the brotherhood that shaped him since he was 18 years old. I learned that coming home from work to do dishes wasn’t the same as riding in a Blackhawk in full kit to protect his country and our family from afar. Wow! What a load to carry. I learned that his new way of protecting his family was building our future through the business and that he would approach it the same way he made his Navy career. He was filled with sheer determination, dedication to his mission, and an unwillingness to give up and walk away from it. He was not going to ring that bell.
Fortunately for us, he was applying that same mindset to our marriage, and when things got really ugly, he fought for it. That was the ME time I hoped would eventually come. It just took a while to figure out. I wanted to share this because I was not owed anything;
Here are a few things I wish I knew:
- I wished someone would have told me in some sort of transition program for spouses that it wouldn’t be a flip of a switch.
- I wish someone had told me it would take Time.
- I wish someone shared that it is okay to have a hard time with it all.
- I wish someone had told me that it took a while to figure out military spouse life; it would take Time to figure out retired veteran spouse life.
- Time. Time and more Time. Don’t give up.
If you are struggling together, it is okay. As long as love and respect are still there, there is reason to keep talking and working to find your new normal. Be patient but firm and communicate your needs and continue to listen to your spouse. Talking is important, but the work is done in listening.
It is not always easy. Often, we still lose our way in the maze of marriage and how to put each other first. It would be odd if we didn’t. However, I am confident that we just experienced the best post-Navy year yet. We have been communicating effectively. Business for the guys has been great. We have both been able to work in a space that fulfills our desire to help others when they need it, which means we are satisfied as individuals. Our kids are thriving in their schools and their activities. We feel like true Floridians now with our incredible circle of friends who came after the military to civilian transition, and we stay close to the friends we grew in military life with. And as we all know, we got that significant slow-down, family, quality time I have been craving over the past two decades… because, well, a pandemic. Oh! Now, if we could do it all again this year minus the Coronavirus!