At the end of November, we were able to attend a “military marriage retreat”. The fact that it was held at the beach certainly sweetened the deal, which was necessary because the last retreat we did about a year ago was so awful it left me in tears wondering what was even the point of being married at all.
So. Emotionally, I needed the beach. As bribery to attend.
Not ashamed to admit it. Not ashamed to admit it worked either.
(As an added bonus, we took a couple extra days to celebrate Bug’s birthday at the beach too! Here she is chasing some stingrays!)
They call them”Strong Bonds” in the Army It’s a couple days of sitting in a conference hall somewhere discussing marriage issues and usually led by a unit chaplain. This doesn’t make it religious, I want to be clear. It’s just chaplains are good at talking about the more emotional stuff, without sounding like they are also giving orders. I think. At least, that’s the impression I get.
This weekend the sessions revolved around a book called “The 5 love Languages” by Gary Chapman. I was sort of disappointed initially because, I mean, I’ve read the book.So what was left to learn? I even had a 5 Love Languages print out hanging on my fridge for years! Applying this concept of “you might be speaking love, but if your partner speaks a different language they can’t hear your message” was earth shattering when I came across it, but now felt kinda like old news. Sorry, Gary.
(FYI If you haven’t read the book give it to yourself for Christmas, totally worth it! Also, click here for the printout I saved on Pinterest!)
In spite of the initial disappointment, I really liked the chaplain. I like that his wife seemed borderline annoyed at him half the time. I liked that he had a thick southern accent that was unintelligible off and on. But most of all, I liked how real they were. Married for 26 years with four grown children, they put on exactly zero pretense of being perfectly happy, being squared away, or knowing it all. In fact, the first morning as the attendees walked through our breakfast buffet line, balancing multiple plates and juggling multiple requests, the chaplain hollered at all of us in line with littles a dire warning “The empty nest! It’s the hardest years! Trust me on this one!”
His wife rolled her eyes.
I loved it.
They day went on, we talked about identifying our love languages (Hi, I’m “quality time”and my husband is “acts of service.” This means while I’m wishing he would cuddle on the couch and give me his undivided attention, he’s too busy getting the oil changed in my car without being asked. It’s more of a problem than it sounds.) and sort of the ways we might be missing those bids for love and affection by misreading our partners attempts to show love in their language instead of ours. Not understanding how others give and receive love can even bring couples to the brink of divorce.
The Chaplain said:
“In this day and age y’all…. it’s tempting at times to just walk away, isn’t it? Just say it’s broken, everyone says it’s ok to do that now if you’re not happy right?
But here’s the thing… what do you do if your washing machine is running and it starts to bump? You know, sometimes it even gets really noisy and it’s all off balance and banging around the laundry room making a big ruckus.
Do you throw out the entire machine?!?
Or do you take all the clothes out and throw them away and buy new ones?!?!
No!! You rebalance the darn machine and start it up again!”
We have this washer/dryer set that was given to us as a hand-me-down from my mother when we moved to Ft. Benning……back in 2006. It was easily between 10-15 years old at that point in time. That same set has since then gone with us to Colorado, and survived through years of small children, reusable washable diapers with two babies, various puke-a-thons each fall as the stomach flu makes the rounds. It made the moves with us to New Jersey for Grad School and then New York to West Point.
Being what I think is a fairly decent mother, while living in New York circa 2014 my teenage boys were expected to do their own laundry. They had actually been doing so for a couple years at that point. My oldest had put in a load of his laundry when lo and behold about 20 minutes later the washroom had water all over the floor, a funky smell in the air, and the washer upon my assessment had finally given up the ghost. We grabbed some towels to clean up the mess, and I notified my husband “The washer that is like a million years old has finally quit on us!”
Not to be so easily convinced, he came to see for himself. Her surveyed the mess, then quietly walked back to his office.
A few minutes later he came out with an announcement: He was going to fix the washing machine.
It’s not worth it, I protested. It’s a waste of time! The darn thing is so old, it couldn’t last forever! Time to throw it out!
I did the responsible and helpful thing….and started shopping for new washers online.
My husband, as he’s been known to do, went quietly and unassumingly to work.
He tinkered and googled and thought and tinkered some more. He took the Entire. Darn. Thing. Apart. The mess got bigger, my confidence in the futility of this effort grew right along with it.
I selected a brand and fancy new color. I placed the new washer and dryer in my shopping cart. I selected a delivery day.
“Here’s the problem!” he exclaimed proudly.
I couldn’t even tell you what the problem was now. All I know is, he dug around, identified it, corrected it, and reassembled the freaking washing machine.
“Good as new. Who knows, It might last another 20 years.” he said, satisfied.
I was dumbfounded. And slightly disappointed, to be honest. I wanted a fancy new washer with bells and whistles and energy efficiency! I figured maybe he had bought us a few more months, but the next time that sucker broke down I swore I was gonna order up a new one darn it all!
The washer and dryer now live with us in Georgia. Not so much as hiccup in the intervening years. True story.
This is the man I married.
A man who shows love through Action. Not through flowery and fancy words, not through flashy gifts. Not through sitting next to me and holding my hand while staring in to my eyes for hours (although that’s still an option, if you’re reading this, babe!)
He’s a guy who sees a problem, and looks for the solution. He’s a man who isn’t afraid to dig around and investigate what’s wrong, perhaps even feel frustrated in trying to understand, maybe sometimes he doesn’t even know what he’s doing at first. But I don’t often see him take the easy route. And I never see him give up.
I’ve. Never. Seen. Him. Give. Up.
He hasn’t been perfect. I haven’t been perfect. Our list of mistakes is probably a mile long in 13 years. There has been mess and heartache and breakdown and situations with seemingly no solution.
But God knows…..I adore this man with my whole heart. And God knows I needed a man who just doesn’t quit.
I married a man willing to roll up his sleeves and get to work. Even if it might be easier not to at times. Even if it is the love language I can’t always hear. Even if there are many more years of hard work and challenges ahead.
Even if it might be easier, cleaner, simpler…to just buy a new washing machine.
There is still no one I would rather face the ups, downs, and challenges life brings than with this guy. I’d say I’m pretty darn lucky he feels the same way.