Strengthening Your Military Marriage
“Mommy hammered the scorpion!”
My five-year-old triumphantly made the announcement as my husband came in the door after a long duty day. With raised eyebrows, my husband looked to me to explain this strange statement.
It hadn’t been a pretty scene. That morning, my young children and I had made our way outdoors so they could play before the hot Texas sun kicked in too strongly. As the toddler dragged his plastic trike across the garage floor, I saw it: the ugly, black, GIANT, slimy (ok, slimy might be a stretch) scorpion—my nemesis since moving into this house. I’d grabbed the nearest item to kill it—yes, a hammer—and violently ended the creature’s existence. And with no remorse, I’ll tell you.
But let me backtrack a second. When we were first stationed in South Texas, we’d lived in a tiny rental while waiting for on-base military housing. Though the heat overrides most of my memories of that time, I still recall fondly our second child taking his first steps across the linoleum, our preschooler standing at the screen door to jabber at me while I hung out wash (to save money on electricity), and nightly bike rides in the cool of the evening.
Finally, we made it to the top of the military housing waiting list after a year and had our first peek inside the house we were offered on base. It was the first and only time I refused to live on base. Ancient peeling countertops, a dark kitchen with no windows, a bizarre and impractical floor plan for a young family (this seems to happen when old military housing is ‘renovated’), and the kicker…a tiny postage stamp of cement out back posing as a yard, and the front door only three steps away from a busy street.
I blurted, “I can’t do this!” As a stay-at-home mom, I didn’t feel up to containing our two busy little boys in that place. We'd recently learned that we were expecting again and our family would be expanding…and even busier.
My husband took one look at my face and knew I meant it, even though I instantly stammered out that I’d try to make it work. So here we were, brand-new homeowners of a small house on the edge of town with plenty of space for our little ones to run and play.
Something we hadn’t realized, however, was that scorpions live in the ground in Texas (a fun fact I wish someone had mentioned!), and the construction of houses nearby was stirring them out of their own homes and into ours. So a day rarely passed that I didn’t find at least one scorpion—lingering by the front door, crawling up a wall, latched onto the outside of the house.
I hated them. I had nightmares about them. I smashed them viciously if I was home alone, or shrieked for my husband's help if he was around. I vividly remember one particular day. As my 18-month-old toddled towards her play table, I noticed a sinister shape moving inside one of the plastic sliding drawers. I snatched her chubby hand away just before she thrust it into the drawer and within the reach of—you guessed it—one of the biggest scorpions I’d ever seen. I cried in relief and frustration that day. It didn’t seem like we could get away from them anywhere. Even my own living room wasn’t safe.
I worried that a scorpion would find its way into one of the children’s beds. I checked on them frequently after I’d tucked them in. We had the house sprayed, but continued to find the awful things (battling nature in the middle of a desert is often a lost cause!). The level of vigilance may seem a bit silly now, but at the time, it was a constant concern.
The day I “hammered the scorpion” brought me a realization. The scorpions had become a symbol. They seemed to stand for everything that I couldn’t control. They needed to be conquered.
At this point, my husband and I had only been married for about seven years. We were living in our sixth house and third state due to military assignments. We’d left behind beloved friends on this latest cross-country move, and I was still struggling to forge new friendships. My husband was finishing his degree, which meant he worked all day, then went to school each evening for several hours and studied on weekends. We were both exhausted. I was alone with young children much of the time—I was more than grateful to be a stay-at-home mom, don’t get me wrong. But the silence when everyone slept threatened to be my undoing.
I was not in control of anything.
I like being in control.
In the words of Jeff Manion, I found myself in “The Land Between,” that “space where we feel lost or lonely or deeply hurt.” Yet, I hadn’t realized that it is also “fertile ground for our spiritual transformation and for God’s grace to be revealed in magnificent ways.”
In the midst of this time, we suffered a miscarriage. Between the loneliness, the loss, and one too many misunderstandings, one evening found us in the middle of a recurring conflict, you know, those old tired arguments you revisit and pick at, not with the hopes of making anything better, but just the intent to revisit and "win"?
I was certain our marriage would not survive the repeated stresses of military life and the toll it was taking on us. But I will tell you the one thing I did that night, though I didn't feel like it, though I felt misunderstood, though I was tired and weary and in some ways, completely over it.
I would like to tell you that life miraculously and instantly got better, but that is not how life works. Things did get better...eventually. The conditions of our life didn’t change—in fact, if I’m being honest, they got worse for a time. We lost another baby. Our youngest child suffered repeated seizures over a period of time that required hospital visits and monitoring. Life happened.
But something did change over time—my attitude. How? For the sake of my husband who I really did—and do—love very much, our marriage, and our children, I knew something had to change, and the only thing I had control over was…me. I had to begin looking at life differently, because what I was doing was just not working. Someone wise once told me, What kind of marriage do you want in 30 years? What you do now will determine what it will be then.
If you find yourself in a similar place, I will share with you what I changed. Twenty-three years later, I guess you could say it worked.
I resolved to stop the negative cycle.
I missed my friends. I missed our old church, our old neighborhood. Everything was different. All true, but I committed myself to stop putting a negative spin on it and to monitor my words. Everything that was coming out of my mouth was a complaint about our current circumstances, and it had to stop.
Yes, church was different, but that didn’t make it bad. I missed my old friends, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t try to make new ones. And we slowly got used to the differences in South Texas from where we’d lived before (and who doesn’t love Tex-Mex food!). It eventually ended up being one of our favorite assignments and even where we decided to retire, years later.
I looked for moments throughout the day to spend time with God.
As a Christian, I know the importance of seeking God each day. Yet, if I didn’t find time for a devotion in the early mornings, it felt like it didn’t “count.” I learned to snatch moments when I could— pondering a fragment of Scripture as I nursed the baby, praying for others as I washed dishes, and playing and singing Scripture songs as a part of our day.
There is nothing magical about any of those actions. I believe it was more about my willingness to seek God when I could, and God accomplishing his work on the fertile ground of my heart. He promises that we will be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).
I stopped looking at every situation as a problem to be solved.
There are circumstances that just are. God needed to show (and still is showing) this control freak that she really doesn’t control much. I am independent and feisty by nature, and I needed to learn the lesson that I can’t control it all, no matter how much I fuss and nag. And really, it's exhausting to constantly be striving, plus it's not my job to make my husband or anyone else into the person I think they ought to be. (And really, the person who needs changing the most is usually me. Just saying.)
I learned to find joy in the small things.
With discontent and unhappiness threatening to choke out everything else in my life, I reminded myself of all that I had to be grateful for. When I “counted my blessings” each day—and I find this to still be true today—it left little room for griping and discontent.
Was it easy? No. What comes easy is focusing on the negative, what you want instead of what you have. But like exercising, eating better, or any other good habit, the more you practice gratefulness, the easier and more natural it becomes to turn your thoughts in that direction. Like forging a trail through the forest, the more you trod the same ground, the less effort it takes because the trail is smoother. Suddenly, you look back and realize what was once a giant obstacle now comes easily. What used to come easily was griping. Now, thoughts of thankfulness bubbled up.
One day, I realized that I hadn’t seen a scorpion in a while. As more and more houses went up, they were being driven out into the desert instead of towards our house.
And, as time went on, I felt less of the old discontent and unhappiness rearing its ugly head within my spirit as I consciously built my own “house” of joy, thankfulness, and resting in God’s will for my life. I’d hammered the scorpion.
Remind me that you see my life from beginning to end. Give me perspective for trying circumstances and help me find the good in every situation, even when it's hard to see. Remind me of your love for me and my spouse, and help us turn to You.
What's been your biggest challenge in military marriage? What steps can you take to relinquish control in the areas you need to?
Part of this post comes from my book, You Are Not Alone: Encouragment for the Heart of a Military Spouse.
Book referenced: The Land Between: Finding God in Difficult Transitions, Jeff Manion (Zondervan). Post contains affiliate links.