It's good to have a reminder of what I already know. Lessons learned in previous seasons can fade; as time goes on and life gets busy, I forget to dwell on that which once impacted me deeply. So I was thrilled when The 5 Love Languages, Military Edition arrived in the mail. I am always excited when I get to be a part of inspirational author (and friend) Jocelyn Green's work- and although I did contribute a short anecdote to this particular project (in the Combat Redeployment section) reading this book was most exciting because it jogged my memory about lessons learned years back, before multiple deployments and diagnoses; before PTSD and trauma and the stress of living with the complications of war come home.
I first read The 5 Love Languages when my husband Roger, then an army chaplain, decided to lead his soldiers through this book. I remember how much the original version helped strengthen our marriage. We learned that, like many couples, we show love in very different ways. There were times when Roger was attempting to show love to me, but I was not understanding his intentions- and vice versa. In seasons when a marriage feels strained or cold, it can be because we are missing each other's attempts to show love, or as Gary Chapman puts it, we are "speaking different Love Languages". In times like these, conscious attempts to show love in the way your spouse understands love best can go a long way.
The latest book in the Love Languages series provided me with a much needed refresher course in the five ways of showing and understanding love which Chapman identifies, reminding me of times when I made an effort to be sure I was speaking the love language Roger understands rather than relying on my own.
The military edition of The 5 Love Languages addresses life challenges for military families that can cause communication break downs, and while my family's "Combat Redeployment" (the adjustment period that follows when a spouse comes home from war) has long since passed,we still battle against the habits made in the seasons when Roger was a world away.
For the greater part of five years (half of our younger son's life) Roger was either deployed, or recovering from being in a war zone. Even when he was home, I felt separated from him. He was trying to protect me and the boys from the horrors he'd witnessed, and so he withdrew into himself. Though God has done a work of restoration in our marriage that I never thought possible, there are still times when I feel isolated- most especially on anniversaries of traumatic events.
The emotional withdrawal I wrote about regarding that season still has to be addressed today. Simply put, I got into the habit of being independent when he was deployed, and sometimes I fall back into those old habits of functioning as a single unit, rather than part of a committed relationship. It's easier to do my own thing, but it is so much more rewarding to invest in creating and maintaining a love relationship that frankly, I was designed to need.
Sometimes I am afraid to open up, or I make excuses like "old habits die hard" because I don't want to do the work. My husband is no longer volatile and unpredictable, so I do not have to hide my emotions behind walls of protection. Sometimes he feels angry, but than again, so do I... usually because anger is a mask for hurt feelings, and most of the time feelings get hurt because one of us is not understanding what the other is communicating.
As I read through the challenges to keeping love strong, I understood that though I do not always feel loved, Roger has been expressing love through 'words of affirmation'- telling me how pretty I look, telling me how delicious the meals are, telling me he loves me. He's speaking his love language- and now that he is further into recovery, he speaks this affirmation often. I, on the other hand, understand love differently. I bring him little things I know he likes. I make his favorite foods. I work hard to take care of the house and kids so he can focus on recovery. Yet he does not always understand the languages I am speaking. Simply put, we sometimes miss each other's efforts.The one saving grace is that we both show love through affection or "physical touch". Still, busyness or opposite schedules can interfere with that expression of love as well. I've learned before that it takes work to make time for each other, in every season.
So I am ready to make a new commitment. First, to remember his "love language", which helps me to understand what he is communicating- to see the efforts he is making,even he's not "speaking my native love language" (the one I understand best).
Second, I commit to make a point to show him love in the ways he understands, and especially, to make time to connect.
Finally, I commit to "safe sharing". A counselor who works with families recovering from PTSD taught me 'positive communication strategies' to convey what I need. If I choose carefully the timing, tone of voice, and word selection, I can communicate my needs in a loving and non-threatening way (which is imperative when dealing with PTSD). When I communicate safely, I find that Roger really does love me and he wants to meet my needs. Sometimes it is hard, and sometimes he needs LOVING reminders, but as he heals, he is better able to show love.
PTSD may bring challenges to having a healthy marriage- but PTSD, when treated with care and understanding, does NOT render a marriage helpless. Creating new habits takes work, and willingness to make changes, even if they are not easy- but I reap many benefits from the work done.
Whether in marriage or in the inner recesses of my own life, healing is always worth the work.
I know that you specialize in creating something from nothing. You move mountains, you make rivers on dry land, you never fail to give beauty for ashes. I realize it's time to surrender my marriage into your healing hands. I lay each hurt, each challenge before you now: ______________________________________________________________
I ask you to direct the healing process. Show me where I need counsel from someone trained to help me work through areas of woundedness. Guide me to the right individuals to aid me in my own unique journey.
I confess the truth that you can and will bring healing into every area I choose to surrender. I accept that it will take willingness and work on my part. I claim the truth that Healing IS worth the work. Please direct my steps, bringing order from chaos, reminding me to lay down each struggle in the moment of stress.
Thank you that I can pour out all my hurt, fear, and anger into Your hands for You are Big Enough to take it. Remind me to continually release my emotions to you rather than dumping my emotional stress on my loved ones. Guard my tongue, that I would not use words as weapons, but rather speak love and life, even as I share my own needs. Grant wisdom as to timing, and emotional climate, and safety. Bring healing to my spirit, soul and body, as I submit to the mending process.
**Post Note: I have found healing from Secondary PTSD (which affects most caregivers of individuals with PTSD) through a therapy technique called EFT- Emotional Freedom Technique.
Also Roger and I both went through extensive counseling for several years, and we still have "check ins" with a therapist to check on how we are both doing. Healing is for the wounded, and their family members, too.