We all have hope for a marriage that lasts and is fulfilling. What we often don't expect is how hard it will be when we disagree with our spouse on important values, military marriage problems or finding ourselves moving at a different pace.
I haven't met anyone who married thinking, "Gee, I don't plan on making this last."
Setbacks can happen when we are least expecting it. An injury while training for a physical goal or a career put on hold for a relocation can be incredibly disappointing and discouraging. You may even be tempted to quit.
Most couples have at least one area of their relationship that they are hoping to improve or fix. Parenting, finances and even sex can lead to heated disagreements and (hopefully) deciding together on ways to get on the same page and work together.
Life's interruptions or an impulsive decision by one of you can make it feel as if you will never reach that goal. In that moment or setback, quitting feels like a very real option.
Sometimes, there are very minor consequences to military marriage problems or a setback that only require a deep breath, a good night's sleep, and starting again tomorrow.
But destructive choices such as too much video gaming or pornography use by one spouse can cause even bigger consequences, including feeling like this is a major rift in your ability to be a couple.
For some, the marriage is already on thin ice if you are working through serious issues such as overcoming infidelity or addiction. Destructive scenarios like these involve a more detailed process of change and support to gain traction. You may feel like the setbacks will never stop, and you will never be able to move forward.
No matter what you are dealing with as a couple, whether it's small or large, setbacks are more likely than not to happen as you work toward a new pattern of behavior for both of you.
But that doesn't mean all hope is lost. With a few tools in your pocket, you can move through them. Instead of giving up, try these three steps.
1. Hit a pause button.
Learning to develop self-control and hit a pause button when things get complicated is a great practice in general. Self-control gives you the opportunity to think through what is happening, feel any feelings that are naturally there and gain perspective.
Relocations and deployments are a natural interruption in the military lifestyle when everything feels out of order. Basic needs such as food, shelter and safety all take priority, and you might feel distracted from the intense focus you had as a couple.
For example, if you were dependent before your move on a counselor or group for support, it will take some time to find that again.
Try not to rush yourself or your spouse through what you were working through when these bumps come along. Instead, agree on a healthy timeframe to reconnect with support or resume the plan when you are both ready.
Having grace for each other and getting on the same page are more important than aggressively working on the goal. If you find your spouse is not as motivated as you are, invest your energy toward your part by reading an extra book on the subject or taking a deeper look through journaling.
The important thing here is that you process how you are feeling about what happened and avoid doing your spouse's work.
2. Check your progress.
The actual definition of a "setback" involves a "check in progress." Most of us see it as a failure, but it is actually an opportunity to think through the progress you are making -- or not making. In addiction recovery, we teach that relapse is not necessary for recovery but can be "part of the process" if it happens.
Setbacks can provide an opportunity to take a look at the deeper issues that caused it so you can avoid similar mistakes in the future. If you move too quickly, you will miss huge revelations of yourself, your spouse and your relationship. If you are dealing with a bigger issue such as rebuilding trust, a professional counselor can help you find these answers and build greater empathy for each other.
Keep in mind that stressful times such as deployment, reintegration, relocations or trauma can trigger setbacks or relapses, making them more likely to occur. If this is an intense time for your family, be graceful if the setback happened by learning more about each other and doing a good check on whether the path you were on is working. If you know you are going into an intense season, discuss ways to be proactive to prevent one.
3. Move forward.
If your spouse caused your setback, it can be incredibly discouraging to think about moving forward. How many setbacks are too many before you should give up? If you are struggling with this question, finding a counselor to talk to will help you determine what is right for your family.
If you caused a setback, the shame is equally debilitating. Even when you don't feel like it, take the next healthy step forward.
In recovery, there is a phrase -- "fake it till you make it." It doesn't mean you should be inauthentic. It means you decide to take the next step even when you don't feel like it. Eventually, your motivation will come back. Shame (in you or your spouse) spirals into an unproductive place and is not the same thing as processing the present disappointment.
Sometimes, the next step is a willingness to physically reach out and hold your spouse's hand again. Embrace that mistakes in our own lives and our spouses are part of being human. One of my favorite phrases is "start simply, but simply start" and is likely to get you going again.
Every couple has military marriage problems and issues to work through, which means setbacks are going to happen. Who will you be when it happens to you?