He and I did things very quickly. We had our first date a few days after meeting, became engaged on a frosty Christmas morning a few months later and married while pregnant the following year.
In the first eighteen months of marriage, we relocated with the military three times. It had been a whirlwind of wedding, morning sickness, work trips, packing, un-packing, hellos and goodbyes, births, becoming parents and yet more packing and unpacking.
In the first couple of months, I threw myself into being the best darn housewife you could shake a tin of furniture polish at. The house gleamed and smelt of shake ’n vac, the dog was walked, cakes were baked, meals were prepared and Baby was happy and content, sleeping through the nights allowing He and I to eat dinner together most nights with a glass of wine. I smiled a lot. Because why wouldn’t I? It was all rather pretty on the outside.
"In the first couple of months I threw myself into being the best darn housewife you could shake a tin of furniture polish at."
What I wasn’t prepared to contend with was the resentment bubbling and fizzing inside me from my chest to the darkest depths of my soul. The finality of leaving MY job, MY city, MY friends, MY lifestyle. Where was MY medal?! Where was MY parade?! The fear of never, ever being able to identify with myself as a financially independent, ambitious, awesome, sexy woman again took my inner breath away.
One sweltering late summer’s day, this all came convulsing out, spewing like hot lava from within - frothing with anger and hurt and bitterness and resentment. The fury was unleashed. The injustice I had been feeling let itself known with an almighty roar. I missed having my own money, I missed my friends, I missed my spontaneity, I missed feeling important, I missed my soul feeling full of life, buzzing with excited energy and endless possibilities. The storm thundered through the balmy afternoon until the cool early evening, ending in a pile of heaving shoulders and panting, gasping sobs. We spent the night apart.
The following day was one of mourning, for the both of us. It felt like the end. We had been, in one moment, best friends, giggling, sharing, dreaming – now, we were strangers who followed a daily routine, digging themselves deeper into the dark, musty rut.
Divorce was thrown back and forth, becoming the trump card of threats, until one day He and I took a leap of faith in each other, bound by the love for Baby, and found our saving grace: Relate Counselling.
The hour we spent with our Relate counsellor was the safest I had felt in a long time. My shoulders dropped and my face lost its pinched look. She mediated our conversations so that the end result was 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.
"The hour we spent with our Relate counsellor was the safest I had felt in a long time."
She prompted with questions and acknowledged when each of us made valid points or contributions. It felt wonderful to have someone acknowledge that we were going through a rough patch and validated our thoughts and that it was so, utterly, completely normal.
Our arguments were normal and the topics of 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 wife does essentially mean losing a bit of yourself, because your life centres around your husband, his work and his priorities. NORMAL. She reminded us that it was Thursday, not Doomsday!
What wasn’t normal was the lack of communication. Talk, people!
Neither of us knew what the other felt, which is strange when you trust that person enough to take their name and create a new life with them, but out of fear of upsetting the boat you cannot have a chat about how you feel ”¦ or don’t feel?!
"Not only did I feel as if I could see my best friend again, but we also realised that we had to stop blaming each other for the current state of our relationship."
That damp Thursday evening walking away from the therapist’s office, we turned a corner, quite literally, into the closest pub for a nerve settling vino blanco. But figuratively too - not only did I feel as if I could see my best friend again, but we also realised that we had to stop blaming each other for the current 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 and security to become whomever I want. Life is a long, luscious, exciting journey and you don’t have to fulfil all of your dreams immediately. It is a relief when you finally realise that. The anxiety in your soul dissipates.
For now, I’m working on being content with the fact that for the next few years I want to immerse myself in our Baby’s exploration of this wonderful world and fill our existence with adventures and stories and bubbles in the bath and nourishing our minds and bodies with good news and good food. And most importantly, so much laughter.
After four weekly one-hour sessions, I had managed to limit my angry sobbing to only half of every appointment
Sue seemed pleased with our progress. Before leaving her office one evening she suggested that we come up with a safe word. One that we could use should we spiral into our old explosive, argumentative ways. A word that one of us could say to let the other person know we were taking things too far and to remind us of these constructive sessions that we had braved and powered through ”¦ as a couple, together.
Two weeks later and we were sat like naughty children in front of Sue. So, don’t make your safe word ‘armadillo’.
"So, don’t make your safe word ‘armadillo’."
Do you know what was great about Sue? She validated each of our thoughts, our wounds and our fears in such a way that it made us individually feel triumphant, that neither of us was wrong or fighting a losing battle. I felt smug. And all she did was repeat back to us what we were saying. Clever Sue.
Marrying into the military, I had naively imagined my days would be spent leisurely entertaining myself before welcoming Him home from the station in time for one of our many social events. I would probably become a dab hand at canapÃƒ©s. The reality is that I spend a lot of time alone as He’s away on business, entertaining a small child at a frantic pace while maintaining a household and a stiff upper lip.
When He married me, he naively thought I would spend my days entertaining myself at leisure before welcoming him home in time for one of our many social events. I would become a dab hand at shaking a martini. Back in the real world, He spent a lot of time alone, looking on as I poured all of my time and energy into our child.
Sue shook her head and chuckled. “Expectations,”Â she said. What expectations did we have for ourselves, from each other? Before we made all of these huge life changing decisions? Before getting married, having a child, moving across the country and quitting jobs? At what point did we sit down, as adults, and talk about what each of us was feeling at any given time?
"When He married me, he naively thought I would spend my days entertaining myself at leisure before welcoming him home in time for one of our many social events."
We sat and stared blankly at her and then, embarrassed, glanced at each other. Errr ”¦ we hadn’t thought to do that. Even though it sounds blindingly obvious. We had silently figured (hoped) that it would all fall into place with a Whitney Houston soundtrack in the back ground.
Sue gave us homework that evening.
It was to sit together over the next few days and talk. Without background noise, without getting defensive, without the crying and without the storming off. It took a few goes, but no one has had to say ‘Armadillo’”¦ yet.
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. Housework, dinner and dog walks mainly, before slowly building up to things that hurt.
For me, a big one was that I had given up my job in order to travel with Him and raise our family, but never once had we discussed what I would do for money. Going from being incredibly financially independent to having to ask my new husband for some pocket money to buy some knickers or a can of coke”¦ the shame ate away at my dignity for nights on end. However, having spoken about it one evening with Sue as our go-between, it became apparent He had assumed I would just take the money whenever and however I needed it. Right! Joint bank account”¦ tick. It couldn't have been more simple. It took one ten minute conversation.
We still argue, there are still moments of bitterness and anger, there are still things that we have not spoken about, but it’s getting better and we’re acknowledging these things for what they are. That’s progress in itself.
In the back of our minds Sue is always there, quietly guiding and reminding us of our sessions together where we were confident, proud, honest and enthusiastic. Where we learnt that communication is key. And that brings us back together every time.