MODERN life places myriad stresses and strains on partnerships, which are often compounded by the military – not least separation, uncertainty, frequent moves and, increasingly for many, weekend commuting.
However, early investment can help us better cope with the bumps and scrapes of military life.
Ben Campbell-Colquhoun, a former commanding officer, explained: “I know only too well that divorce is an unfortunate reality, but I believe more could be done to proactively prevent reaching that point.
“The challenge is getting couples to engage on this issue. Either life is good and there is no need, or things are difficult and they don’t want to admit it – until the point where it can be beyond repair.
“It is at this stage that the Army Welfare Service usually gets involved.”
The good news is that there are simple steps you can take to keep your relationship on the road. Relate’s Relationship MOT Quiz is a great starting point at helping couples to identify areas to work on. Its website is packed with useful guidance to help prevent relationships reaching the divorce courts.
Relate counsellor Denise Knowles said: “Giving your relationship a regular tune-up can be an effective way to focus you on relationship niggles and nip them in the bud before they become major problems.
“It can help you identify underlying feelings that may be bubbling away and take steps to work through them. It can also help to focus your mind on what’s going well.”
It’s good to talk
Army&You spoke to Army spouse Kate Brown, who has been in a relationship with her soldier for nearly 23 years. She believes communication has been the key to a happy partnership – despite frequent separation.
“We’ve always been good at keeping dialogue going in our marriage, whether it’s one evening a month over a pub meal or via text, e-Bluey or email,” she explained. “It’s about listening as well as talking.”
Jenny Cowell, another Army spouse, agreed. “I keep in touch with my soldier who is away by writing letters and sending postcards,” she said. “It makes me feel better when I write as I feel I’m doing something productive. I love it when I come home from work to a reply on my doormat.”
Often offered by churches, marriage courses cover every aspect of a relationship from money, sex, family, communication, and resolving conflict and might be worth considering.
Ben suggested: “Whether you are interested in church or not, it won’t be an issue. It’s not counselling or group sharing, just an opportunity for couples to talk through the topics with each other.”
A&Y reader Sam Eaton told us: “My husband and I always make sure we talk to each other about how we’re feeling. When a posting comes up we talk it through together to make sure it’s the right decision for us as a family.
“We make a point of having regular date nights when he’s at home and, when he isn’t at home, I make sure no matter what is going on I remain strong for him so he can stay focused on the job.”
A&Y contributor Lisa Rogerson believes the secret lies in humour: “If you can laugh together when the going gets tough, you’ll make it!”
Military spouse Jade Munro shares her story of how Relate helped her marriage…
HE AND I did things quickly. We had our first date days after meeting, became engaged a few months later and married while pregnant the following year.
In the first 18 months, we relocated with the military three times. It had been a whirlwind of wedding, work trips, packing, unpacking, hellos, goodbyes, becoming parents and yet more packing and unpacking.
I threw myself into being the best housewife you could shake a tin of furniture polish at. The house gleamed, the dog was walked, cakes were baked and baby was content. I smiled a lot. It was all pretty on the outside.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the resentment bubbling inside me. The finality of leaving my job, city, friends and lifestyle. Where was my medal and parade? The fear of never being able to identify as a financially independent, ambitious woman again took my breath away.
One day this all came convulsing out, spewing like hot lava from within, frothing with anger and resentment. We spent the night apart.
The following day felt like the end. We had been, in one moment, best friends, giggling, sharing – now, we were strangers who followed a daily routine, digging themselves deeper into a rut.
Divorce was thrown back and forth, becoming the trump card of threats, until one day we took a leap of faith, bound by the love for our baby, and found our saving grace: Relate counselling.
The hour we spent with our Relate counsellor, Sue, was the safest I had felt in a long time. She mediated our conversations so that we could both confidently lay bare our souls without getting defensive and flouncing out as had previously happened when we had attempted drunken self-counsel.
She prompted with questions and acknowledged when each of us made valid contributions.
It felt wonderful to have someone acknowledge that we were going through a rough patch and that it was completely normal.
Our arguments were normal. My feelings of inadequateness and anxiety were normal. His feelings of regret and financial burdens were normal. Our fears and judgement were normal.
Becoming a military spouse does essentially mean losing a bit of yourself, because your life centres around your soldier’s work and priorities. Sue reminded us that it was Thursday, not Doomsday.
What wasn’t normal was the lack of communication.
Neither of us knew what the other felt. We had to stop blaming each other for the state of our relationship and, more importantly, I had to stop blaming him for my unhappiness.
As much as the adjustment to becoming a military wife has been – and will continue to be – epic, it has also dawned on me that I’ve been gifted the freedom to become whomever I want.
It is a relief when you finally realise that. After four one-hour sessions, Sue was pleased with our progress and suggested we come up with a safe word to use should we spiral into our old ways. A word that one of us could say to let the other person know we were taking things too far.
Two weeks later and we were sat like naughty children in front of Sue. So, don’t make your safe word “armadillo”.
In the weeks that followed, the tension in our home melted away and the egg shells we were walking on were swept up and not under the carpet.
We spoke, not to snap or accuse or demand, but to discuss, to question, to solve. Just small things at first, testing the waters.
For me, a big one was that I had given up my job, but never once had we discussed what I would do for money.
The shame of going from being financially independent to having to ask my new husband for money to buy some knickers or a can of coke ate away at my dignity. However, having spoken about it with Sue as our go-between, it became apparent he had assumed I would just take the money whenever I needed it. Right – joint bank account. It couldn’t have been more simple.
We still argue, there are still things that we have not spoken about, but it’s getting better.
In the back of our minds Sue is always there, quietly guiding and reminding us of our sessions. That brings us back together every time.