Month Six: Make it Count
Objective: As a couple, successfully evaluate your growth since starting Mastering Your Marriage, including the role of healthy communication, peer support, and giving back to others.
“No story is worth telling without the twists and turns. Make them count instead.”
― Charlotte Eriksson
Welcome to the final month of Mastering Your Marriage! On behalf of the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation and the Baylor University School of Social Work, thank you for allowing us to be a part of strengthening your marriage. By now you have likely discovered that a couple never truly “masters” marriage, at least not in six months. You married another complex human being whose mind cannot be read and whose heart is beyond mastery. Hopefully you have learned something new about your spouse throughout the last five months and maybe even discovered something about yourself! MYM was not designed to have you master the mystery of marriage by the end of six months. Our hope was that it may rekindle your desire to try.
In month one, we talked about the importance of “showing up” for your marriage throughout the six months. We stressed being fully present and engaged for not only your spouse’s sake but also your own sake. As we finish out month six, dig deep and finish strong by staying present and commited all the way until the end- you won’t regret it! As a reminder, let’s come full circle by reminding ourselves of the commitment you expressed at the beginning of MYM.
I, do sincerely and truly declare and affirm,
that I will faithfully pursue your heart,
that I will protect and defend our marriage,
against all enemies both internal and external,
that I will bear true faith and allegiance to you,
with fairness, integrity, and diligence,
that I will faithfully commit to you, and surrender to the process,
that I take this oath freely,
without mental reservation or purpose of evasion,
so Help me, God.
Let’s take some time this month for a healthy check-up…
I will faithfully pursue your heart…
Like we said at the start, a lot of life can happen in six months- in your marriage, your career, and in your squad. At the very beginning of MYM, you created a growth plan with your spouse that included a list of goals that you hoped to accomplish. This month, we will give you time to review those goals as a couple, celebrate those you reached, and vision cast a new trajectory of growth from here. But for now, take a moment to reflect upon where you hoped to be by now. What changes did you want to see in your marriage? What changes did you agree on as a couple that you wanted to see? What has threatened to take your attention away from those goals?
Goals can change: It is important to note that goals can change. In fact, you may be rethinking one of your original goals. Perhaps you set goals that were not attainable or measurable. Perhaps something happened during the course of MYM that made you shift priorities. Goals can certainly be adjusted, but it is important to communicate those adjustments with your spouse so you change them together.
Goals can be sabotaged: In month one you tackled the possibility of sabotage. There are several things that can sabotage your initial vision- life, children, external family events, career changes, and selfishness.
It can be very easy to shift your focus from pursuing your spouse’s heart to pursuing your own. As thoughts begin to center around your own happiness and the faults of your spouse, the marriage becomes less fulfilling. In fact, you may appreciate and like 80% of what you see in your spouse everyday, but somehow find yourself focusing on the 20% instead.
If you started off MYM with the goal of pursuing your spouse’s heart, how are you doing on that? Now is the time to refocus and recalibrate by going back to the skills you were taught, such as sitting knee-to-knee, active listening, and planning date nights. Instead of focusing on the 20% that is frustrating, thank your spouse for the 80% they are doing right.
Goals can be achieved individually and together: One thing you don’t have control over is your spouse and their behavior. Your ability to reach the goals you decided on together is largely up to you. Regardless of what your spouse has or hasn’t done, consider doing your part to reach the goals that were (and are) important to you anyways. The commitment to pursuing your spouse’s heart is an active decision that is not meant to be conditional. Here are just a few examples of small steps that can still make a huge difference in your relationship, even here towards the end of MYM:
- Plan a date night, including the place, childcare, and conversation.
- Send your spouse a sweet note, flowers, or a thoughtful text message.
- Sit knee-to-knee when they tell you about their day.
- Share three positive qualities you are grateful for in your spouse.
- Be intentional about setting aside time to complete your Couple’s Questions this month.
I will protect and defend our marriage…
The words, “protect and defend” are not new to you. In fact, it may even be part of your identity. We have no doubt that if there were a threat to your spouse or family, you would instantly respond in protection and defense. Yet, there are little things that go under the radar all the time that threaten closeness with your spouse. Resentment and irritability are a couple examples that, if left unresolved, can wreak havoc in your relationship. Last month’s topic of forgiveness and grace should have given you a head start on addressing some of those hurts. However, rather than having to react to hurt after its been caused, protect your marriage by proactively preventing them. Here are a few subtle variables that often fly under the radar but can threaten a service marriage:
Rather than having to react to hurt after its been caused, protect your marriage by proactively preventing them.
- Exhaustion: In your service lifestyle, exhaustion from the lack of consistency and adrenaline spikes can often cause irritability and discontent. Add to that the kids’ schedules, external family dynamics, and baggage you may be carrying from the past, and you have a recipe for a time bomb in the home. Simply admitting to your spouse that you need rest can go a long way in disarming the tension. Protecting your marriage from exhaustion may mean taking turns giving each other the time you need to fully recover so you can be your best for each other. Protecting yourself from exhaustion might also be saying “no” to something that has been robbing you of time for rest or energy you could be pouring into your family.
- Quality time: Has it been a while since you’ve been on a date together? Have extra shifts or responsibilities at work taken priority lately more than either of you would like? Sometimes, disconnection has more to do with the fact that you have been passing like ships in the night. If it has been a while since you have been intimate with each other, this can also cause unnecessary paranoia in the relationship when all that’s needed is some intentional time together.
- Community: The Military and First Responder lifestyle can be filled with amazing camaraderie but can simultaneously leave you feeling very disconnected and alone. We will talk more about how your squad has impacted your sense of community, but for now, evaluate whether you or your spouse has had any time with meaningful friendships lately. Especially prevalent for supporting spouses, loneliness can occur when they feel they don’t have a strong local support system. Social media is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to feeling seen and fulfilling the human need for connection. Of course, camaraderie at work does not always fulfill this longing either. Without this need filled, we will often look to our spouse to fill the void that they aren’t built to fill. Serving your spouse by giving them time out with friends could go a long way in protecting your marriage.
- Celebration: How often do you celebrate and point out your growth as a couple? You may have noticed that over the last five months, MYM has asked you to become increasingly more emotionally vulnerable with your spouse. Starting with developing the basics of communication, you have tackled tough topics, like how the service lifestyle impacts your marriage, how your spouse can be a safe harbor for you, the impact of trauma on your soul, and reconciling hurt through forgiveness and grace. Take a moment to pause and think about that. Even if you have not reached the original goals you set out to achieve, addressing these topics with your spouse is still worthy of a celebration. In a lifestyle where the word “vulnerability” is a tactical disadvantage or weakness, your willingness to see value in opening up to your spouse will always be a strength.
Even if you have not reached the original goals you set out to achieve, addressing these topics with your spouse is still worthy of a celebration.
Celebration is a great way to protect your marriage. We celebrate your completion of MYM through the upcoming “Capstone” event. Whether you are able to come to the celebration that CKFF and Baylor host, or plan one with your squad, celebrating six months of being intentional is a great way to mark milestones along the way. These markers will give you shared moments to reflect on when things get tough.
I will bear true faith and allegiance to you…
Faith isn’t just a spiritual word. Faith is about believing in something that has proven its reliability. You can have faith that your next paycheck will be delivered, faith that your chair will hold you the next time you sit in it. Citizens have faith that you will be there to protect and defend them when and if the time comes. “Bearing true faith” in your spouse is about believing in and devoting yourself to your spouse because you trust them. You would not have started or commited to the MYM process if you weren’t devoted to your marriage. Regardless of the state or maturity of your marriage when you started, your willingness to try has been evident. As you move forward, the real question is, “If your spouse has not shown themselves to be untrustworthy, do you have faith in their intentions?” Do you believe that they are also trying to show up for you as well? When arguments happen [and they will], can you devote yourself to believing that your spouse is trying their best as well? When you have no words, remember the phrase “I’m for us, not against us.”
This can be incredibly difficult when the stress of your lifestyle or, if you are retired, the consequences of the career on your life today, come between the two of you. Use this week’s Couple Questions as an opportunity to affirm how your spouse has been and will be a safe harbor for you. This month can be a wonderful time to tell your spouse what their loyalty, hard work, and dedication has meant to you.
I will surrender to the process…
“Surrendering,” like vulnerability, is a scary word. “Surrendering to the process” can be even more scary if you aren’t comfortable with what the process is. While MYM gave you a structured process for a specific amount of time, marriage is a process that is a whole lot less structured. Perhaps surrendering to the process of your marriage is about trusting that you, your spouse, and your marriage will never be perfect. All of it is a work in progress. Sometimes reminding yourself of that is exactly what is needed to get through the present circumstances.
A service member sat on a plane headed for another deployment, staring out the window. He thought about the time he was about to spend away from his wife and kids, and the moments he would miss. He thought about whether the mission he had to accomplish was going to be worth the pain they were all about to experience. Before take-off, he quickly sent the following text to his wife: Make it Count.
“Make it count.”
This motto, similar to the mottos you came up with in month two, cast vision for a season of difficulty. Together, this couple commited to make each day, no matter how difficult it would be, count by allowing it to grow character that they wouldn’t regret at the end of the deployment.
The blessing and curse of marriage is that it changes you. It can mold you over time into the best version of you, rather than the worst, if you surrender to the process of growing.
So help me…
Regardless of your faith preference, no one can do life alone. Your oath ended with “So help me, God.” Your oath as a First Responder or Military Member likely ended in a similar way. The point of this phrase is not to force someone into a relationship with a higher power, it is to acknowledge that believing in something bigger than yourself can foster individual success as well as your success as a couple. As a flawed human being, you will get it wrong. Perhaps you have been discouraged, or even felt shame, over the last few months of how easily you “got it wrong.” Or maybe you have been focusing on that 20% of where your spouse kept getting it wrong. (Hint: if you just estimated a different number, you know you’re doing it). Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) says that your life becomes unmanageable when you try to do it alone. Many people find great relief by realizing that you don’t have to. You need your spouse in order to finish well. You need the accountability of others, too.
Community has been a huge component of MYM. We believe that your growth as an individual and in your marriage would not have been the same without your squad. It is up to you to decide the extent to which you utilize those relationships. If you have been waiting for the right moment, the right topic, or enough courage to be vulnerable and “try it out”, you still have time. Relationships will never be perfect, including your squad. Yet, that is what makes it safe enough to bring your own imperfections there.
This month’s squad questions will walk you through the opportunity to express your growth as a group, but also communicate what other perspectives and accountability did for your own growth.
Experts and poets have long attempted to capture and define love’s mystery and passion. Our hope is that MYM has rekindled that mystery in your marriage in light of the sacrifices you make everyday. Whether you are on the front lines, out in the community responding to calls, training up, or assimilating back into the civilian world, the success of your marriage and family is most important to us. You are seen.
We see how hard you work to keep your family thriving.
We see how much strength it takes to manage your home and children in the chaos.
We see the risks you are willing to take by serving others.
We see the burdens you carry that you may not share.
We see what this career has cost you… and we want to say thank you.
Thank you for showing up.
Thank you for putting your marriage first.
Thank you for allowing us the honor to serve you.
Our encouragement as you go into your Couple Questions is to make it count. Be intentional in having this last MYM conversation together. Vision cast what the next six months, or even the next year could look like. Like one of our previous couples mentioned, sitting knee-to-knee was the first time they even thought to talk about what their future as a retired couple could look like! You could even plan to answer these questions during a date night together!