We Lived Separate Lives

He was a Navy reservist who was away for months on end. That made their reunions more rocky than romantic.
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Man in Hawaiian Shirt and Wife

Making a marriage work is never easy, but it's tougher still when you've been married seven years and your spouse is a Navy reservist who is called for active duty overseas every few months. But that's the kind of roller-coaster relationship Joanie and Richy Kleiner had. During the past three years, Richy was gone more than he was home, and his most recent tour, in the Persian Gulf, was 11 months long. With each deployment, the couple, who live in Florissant, Colorado, found it harder and harder to say goodbye, harder to be apart, and harder to reconnect.

"I missed him terribly but managed to do what had to be done on my own," says Joanie, 54, a homemaker. "So I didn't appreciate his coming back and second-guessing my every decision."

A social worker by profession, Richy, 56, counseled fellow sailors but was perplexed at his own inability to get along with his wife. "As soon as I got home, we'd immediately step on each other verbally until we were so furious we stopped talking altogether." During his second tumultuous leave, the couple sought the help of Katherine Koselka Robredo, a therapist at the Front Range Institute, in Colorado Springs. The couple have now incorporated the lessons of counseling into their marriage.

Richy: Counseling opened our eyes to the fact that we were both scared -- being on a ship in wartime is pretty grim -- but didn't acknowledge it. Also, I didn't realize I was expecting my wife to follow orders in the way I was used to in the Navy.

Joanie: And I didn't realize how high-strung I had become. I'd been coping so well with practical stuff that when Richy was home, I'd fall apart.

Richy: The stress level for reservists is unbelievable. I put on a suit of emotional armor, but I should have discussed my feelings.

Joanie: Simply recognizing that was huge. Our therapist's husband had also been in the Navy, so she had a lot of additional insight.

Richy: She pointed out that we needed a chunk of time alone when I got home. So the last time, we went directly to a small bed-and-breakfast for three days. That really helped!

Joanie: She also gave us a piece of linoleum tile with a magnet on the back. Whenever I felt Richy wasn't listening, I'd grab the tile and say, "I have the floor." This allowed me to slow down and be less accusatory. Then he'd paraphrase what I said.

Richy: That structure helped me pay attention.

Joanie: Here's a perfect example: I love contra dancing, a form of folk dance similar to square dancing. In the past, I'd say I wanted to go and Richy would cut in and say "forget it." The other night, I took the tile and finished my thoughts.

Richy: She pointed out that I also enjoyed contra dancing and that my objection -- that I wanted to dance with her, not other people -- didn't hold water because couples can dance only with each other if they like. So we went...

Joanie: ...and we both had a fabulous time!

 

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