I was interviewing Dr. Gary Chapman as a professional writer. I was supposed to maintain a certain degree of distance. But frankly, the internationally known pastor and marriage counselor could have been discussing my life as he talked about the difficulties of military marriages.
First, he addressed the pitfalls of military life that can make marriage difficult.
- Deployments and training can mean couples legally married for ten years only spent half that amount of time actually living together. Check. Over a seven year span, my husband was deployed for a total of nearly five years.
- Holidays are celebrated weeks or months before or after the actual event. Check. Almost every birthday in our house is celebrated long before their turn on the calendar to make sure daddy can attend.
- Family celebrations are held via webcam and long-distance phone calls. Check. My husband has listened to class plays via cell phone.
Military marriages are, in a word, different. And it’s difficult to find a non-military counselor who truly understands how to navigate the issues that arise. Chapman seems to get it. He regularly hosts marriage seminars specifically for military couples at bases around the world. When troops return home from Iraq and Afghanistan, one of their stops is often a group session with Chapman.
Marriage is hard. War makes can make it seem almost impossible. Chapman said military couples need a strong foundation to weather these difficulties. That foundation can be almost non-existent for young couples when the wedding, honeymoon and deployment happen in rapid succession.
Without a foundation, and a plan for when that foundation may rattle, military marriages may falter. “That’s the juncture at which many military couples run into conflict,” Chapman said. “If they don’t have a plan for handling conflict, they argue and it ends up with harsh words and someone walking out and slamming the door.”
Suddenly, Chapman said, a minor incident can lead couples to believe they are incompatible.
Extra stressors, such as deployment, can make difficult communication much more explosive, especially for a young couple that has not had time to adjust to marriage, he said.
Check and check. My husband and I have had that conflict, repeatedly. The door has slammed. Divorce has been discussed. My friends’ and their husbands have had these fights. Their friends have had these fights.
Chapman’s new book, “Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married,” outlines lessons for couples, as well as single people looking toward married life, to strengthen their foundation. “The reality is that every couple has conflict,” Chapman said. “The key is to learn how to solve those conflicts.”
Chapman focuses on teaching couples to listen empathetically and see the situation from their spouse’s perspective. Once couples learn to understand and empathize with each other, they can spend more time solving the problem rather than arguing over it. “Then they can spend their energy looking for a solution rather than spend their energy trying to convince the other person, ‘you’re wrong I’m right’,” he said. “It’s a huge lesson military couples need to learn, and if they learn it, it will make re-entry from deployment easier.”
After ten years of marriage, my husband and I are still learning those lessons. We’ve turned to Chapman’s books for guidance and passed them along to friends as well. The book also has highlights ways to solve differences without arguing, forgiveness and spirituality.
“I think at least a good half of the book married couples would find very helpful,” Chapman said. “They can start where they are and take positive steps to grow in those areas.”
His earlier work, “The Five Love Languages,” is also popular among military couples as they learn to not only maintain their relationship but help it thrive across long distances.
Military marriages are hard. Chapman gets it. And with his help, many of us are beginning to get it too – and build marriages that are stronger and more enjoyable than ever. To find out more about Chapman and his upcoming sessions, visit www.fivelovelanguages.com