May 26, 2011 at 3:08 pm , by Jennifer Castoro
We all love the barbecues, parades and patriotism of Memorial Day – not to mention the day off – but in the spirit of the true purpose of the holiday, this week’s marriage drama highlights the realities of life as a solider. Greg, a father of two and member of the Army’s Special Forces, has been deployed to Afghanistan twice during the 12 years he’s been married to Maggie and is returning again in a few months.
Maggie’s turn It’s as if Greg never really came home. He’s totally withdrawn, spends all his time alone, won’t do any of the activities or take any of the trips Maggie planned for his return and refuses to go to church with his family. She can’t imagine how hard it was for him overseas, but that’s part of the problem – he won’t discuss it. He gives her grief about their two kids being spoiled, even though they’re doing well in school and behaving, and he treats them like mini-recruits. She comes from a military family so she’s used to long absences and, though she hated them at first, it’s gotten easier each time her husband has left. She’s developed systems to run the family while he’s away, so she’s resentful when he’s critical of them. She’s afraid if they stay so disconnected, they won’t be married when he comes home the next time.
Greg’s turn He missed his family terribly when he was overseas, but he feels totally confused about his role now that he’s home. It’s like there’s no place for him in Maggie’s well-ordered system. Because the kids are so strictly scheduled with activities, Greg can’t ease back into family life, and he doesn’t want to take the trips and do the activities his wife planned because he’s completely exhausted from the mental and physical stress of war and just wants to relax. His children have no idea how good they have it and how kids in other parts of the world live, and a little discipline and order won’t hurt them. He really does want to talk to Maggie about how hard the war was on him, but things are so tense that he can’t open up.
The counselor’s turn The couple’s reaction to the stress of military life was completely normal. Beyond the long separation, one spouse has lived in constant danger for months while the other has functioned as a single parent. In separate sessions, Greg discussed his time in Afghanistan and came to realize how traumatic it really was for him, and Maggie said she was angry her husband didn’t understand that holding things together at home was hard work, too. They were stuck: The more Maggie demanded, the more Greg retreated, which in turn made her even angrier. Maggie admitted that she indulged the kids out of guilt and kept them tightly scheduled so they didn’t have time to worry about their dad, which Greg found touching, and she came to understand that he needed to instill discipline in them because it was so ingrained in him. They devised a system for the kids to help lighten Maggie’s load while Greg is away and instituted weekly family meetings that they’ll continue online once he’s overseas so that he still feels involved in decisions and daily life. They know communication is what will keep them together.
Is your spouse in the military? Do you know any couples dealing with this? What’s your advice to Greg and Maggie?
Photo courtesy of brittanylynae.