This post is written in a frank and direct tone. But I want you to know that it is because of the love I have for you and your family. Most of all, your kids, whom I know you love deeply....I know you might be thinking “wait don’t you do marriage counseling? Wouldn’t it be my marriage you’d care the most about?”
You bet I’m thinking of your marriage too. But we’re constantly thinking about future marriages. While these tips will transform your marriage in many ways...if you take this advice...it will also release something in your children that will cause generations of transformed relationships. It transcends far beyond you or me or even things we can see. You change thousands of lives by your choice to make these little changes.
I am tired of seeing my dear friends missing these incredibly important and crucial details. So I am writing this for you, the internet, as well as my dearest and most beloved friends who have to travel for a living to support their families or who are serving our great country in the military.
I hope as you read this you hear my desperation for you. If you saw a burning building and you knew someone was inside suffering wouldn’t you run in to save them? Yes you would because that’s the type of person you are. I am that person too. This post is the water meant to quench the flames you can’t see, but you can feel. Every time you want to get close but you can’t. Enough with the small talk and butterfly kisses. Let’s get on with it.
Do these 3 things:
A joyful yet honest send off
If you’re leaving for deployment, or any job out of town, do nothing else but spend quality time with your family. DO NOT spend your precious time working on the car. There are professional mechanic shops for that. Now’s the time to spend a little change because it’s an investment in your (and your family’s) future because it will buy you priceless time with your spouse and kids. USAA has a great list of these guys at a discount I’m sure.
If you’ve only got 3 days to chill DO NOT spend time drinking, or hanging with your friends, or going out at all unless it’s with your family. DO NOT spend precious time painting the house or any other stupid house chore apart from your family. Hire a professional house cleaner if your house needs cleaning.
What if these are your last days or few hours on this planet? What if your being gone (again) is the last straw for your tired and overwhelmed spouse? Do you want your last moments to be mowing the lawn? NO.
You want your last moments to be playing Marco Polo in the pool with your kids. Listening to their giggles, and looking, really looking into their eyes and touching their face and hair. Making lasting memories that matter.
You want your last moments to be gazing into your spouses eyes as you dance close or as you discuss your plans after your assignment. Now is the time to engage soldier. No one needs you to fix anything. YOU are enough. YOU are all they want and need.
They just want you to show that you love them as much, or more, than you love your work. That you’re fighting for them too. Do everything in your power to stop the tendency to avoid, shut down, or pull away…or nit-pick, or criticize. If you struggle here then be sure to reach out to us. We can help you. You are more than a paycheck or a set of hands. You’re an irreplaceable part of their lives.
This goes for you too traveler. Show them they matter to you. The best way to do that is to fully connect. DO NOT slip out of the house to avoid a scene. That scene is sometimes the only way they know how to communicate…I’m looking at you toddlers and threenagers out there….I have one myself. It’s so hard but this is an incredibly important time to reassure them you’re coming back.
Side note…if you have young children Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood has several helpful songs including one called “Grown Ups Come Back”. Practice little hellos and goodbyes. Maybe you play peak a boo to show that mom or dad comes back. Or you could go on a date with your spouse and leave the kids with grandparents for a few hours. Talk with your child about what’s going on and that you will come back. When you do what you’ve promised it builds trust.
In the line of duty you’re required to shut everything off. Emotion gets in the way. But in the real world your vulnerability and emotion is what protects your family. It’s the line of defense that saves your marriage. It’s what keeps your kids from addiction and disowning their faith. You have to be able to let go of the defenses. It will likely be the hardest battle you’ll ever face. But if you win here you’ve won more than you may ever realize.
A joyful yet honest return
By now you may be asking “joyful yet honest? What does that mean?” There’s a mix of emotions people feel when parting, while being apart, and then reconnecting. There’s sadness of things you’ve missed out on sharing, fear of loosing something or someone, fear of things not going well, joy of reconnecting, even a myriad angry feelings for lots of reasons.
So even though there’s joy...we can’t always live there. We have to allow all of the other feelings to be expressed because without them we aren’t living with our whole self. In a sense we’re only offering a part of ourselves. What we really want is to know all of each other. We want the good with the bad. The pain and the pleasure.
Just look at child birth for instance. In the middle of it all the pushing and the laboring we feel like we’ll never experience comfort or happiness again. We feel we might die or the baby will never come out. But then we see our beautiful child and we forget it all.
It reminds me of the movie Inside Out. Through the whole movie Joy wants to suppress Sadness because it’s an uncomfortable emotion. But in the end she and the audience discovers that without the sadness we can’t fully experience the fullness of joy.
Why is that? Because the most joy is typically experienced in the company of others and life experiences. But life experiences aren’t always rainbows and sunshine. We gain the most endurance and strength of personality when we overcome adversity.
I said overcome...not avoid...the very act of overcoming means you face it. You walk through it. When we allow ourselves to express a vulnerable sadness it draws our loved ones closer to us. In that proximity we gain endurance and grow as a person. We can take on the world. Avoidance is us running from it. We miss out on the joy of becoming the person we long to be. We lose out on our fullest potential.
It’s like when we’re babies and we need comfort or a new diaper we cried. That sad sound typically caused a loving caregiver to respond with empathy and a soothing tone. To take care of our needs. The needs don’t disappear just because we age. It just matures a bit.
When your toddler needed a little extra encouragement to take the next step they looked behind, to find you, and make sure you were with them. As adults we look for the same encouragement and security. But many of us have been taught that self reliance is the real strength. But that only leads to depression and isolation. It doesn’t work long term.
An open and emotionally safe family culture
If your loved one communicates an emotion other than happiness it’s okay. It’s not a comment on you as a person. It’s not even a comment on your profession. We’re just complex humans with complex feelings and if we don’t have an outlet for our deep vulnerable emotions we begin to pick on the little things.
We’ll get upset over the seemingly small things because we aren’t skilled at going deeper. We get mad because our loved one came home a few minutes late or a few days late (even if they can’t help it). But it’s because we don’t have an outlet for the deeper emotions of “I missed you Dad, did you miss me?” Or “why didn’t you say goodbye? I just wanted to hug you and be reassured that you love me and to know I mattered to you...but instead you just left without saying anything more than see you later...so I felt that I didn’t matter at all.”
What you were probably thinking in reality is “I don’t want to make this any harder for them” and “I can’t bare the sad emotions…I don’t want our last moments to be sad moments”….when you practice building a family culture where emotions are expressed and you’re spending quality time together regularly…then the goodbyes won’t be so hard.
The solution is simply to practice. Practice sharing with each other the complex emotions you feel without exiting or shutting down. If you feel yourself shutting down or avoiding call it out. Literally say out loud...”I’m tempted to shut down. Please help me.” The spouse on the receiving end...it might be a moment to change course. Maybe stop talking and just hug them. Or find something to laugh about.
Then begin processing the feelings of running together. What could be causing those feelings? Avoiding is also a symptom of fear. It’s okay to feel that way. The more we call it out the easier it will be. So just let each other “be”. Just be. Don’t worry about right or wrong. How you feel is how it is. That’s okay. Just be. When the culture of your family is open emotionally then you’ll have a much easier time connecting.
Sometimes you need help finding the emotions you’ve stuffed for so long. So in that case, you’ll need some help to make sense of them before you can share anything. We can help you with that. That’s what we do for a living. Call us at 918-281-6060. We can help. Nothing weird. Just professional therapists who help couples heal and people connect.