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When the Road Ahead is Dimly Lit


Technically this falls under the category of wedding undergraduate, because Leona is not married yet. But, that’s not really the right category. This is written by someone who’s been to hell and back, and even at the young age of 22 could teach most of us a thing or two about marriage. As you might remember from our wedding (cake), I’m the daughter of two military brats. Both my grandfathers were career officers, and veterans of multiple wars. Both my grandmothers were military wives. So this is for all of the military wives out there, those of you carrying a burden that the rest of us can’t even dream of. And  it’s for all of us battling with mental illness, big and small, in our marriages, and winning (whatever that looks like).

I’m a twenty-two year-old and I’m getting married next month. As someone who is pretty young, when I announce this fact, however casually, about eight out of ten times I get two questions: “Why?” and “How do you know it’s right?” As every couple’s story is unique, the answer for these questions simply has to vary…but, whatever it’s worth, this is mine.

My fiancé and I took a leap and got engaged when I was 19 and he was 22. In retrospect, at that point, we really couldn’t have known that it was “meant to be.” We were in love, but we would later find the depth of our commitment in a difficult way. In the middle of my junior year as an undergrad, we got the news that my fiancé was going to deploy to Iraq for seven months. As the daughter of a man who deployed twice during Desert Storm, I wasn’t worried because my experience never gave me reason to suspect anything bad would happen.

Those seven months turned out to be the most miserable months of my life. The changes I saw (well, heard, more appropriately) in my partner ripped me apart. Without making any statements about the war and the nature of what my fiancé had to do, it was very apparent to me that he was manic depressive and completely helpless in his situation. I watched in total agony as he changed from the happy, optimistic, refuge of my life that I knew and loved, to a person I feared would hurt himself or others. When I tried to get him to talk about it, the only response I could get was, “you just wouldn’t understand,” and I hated him for it. I felt like he subjected me to his feelings instead of letting me share in them. At my worst, I ignored his calls, wished that he would be wounded and sent home, or even worse, I wished a couple of times that he would die (not because I meant it, but I desperately wanted to be happy again). He pushed me away and instead of being the sensitive, wise version of myself, I pushed right back.

I could keep telling you about how dark those days were for us, but instead, I’ll just say that despite all of that, we came through. Amazingly, somehow I always knew we would—somehow I had the constant conviction that it would pass and that after this, we would know, just know, that we could rely on each other. We would know that one of us was bound to break and that when it happened, things wouldn’t stop. We would go on, spiraling forever toward some uncertain future like a marvelous double helix with two sides always turning and the two compensating for each other. I believe very much that if you stay in a relationship long enough, you will have ample opportunities to pay each other back.

If/when you find yourself in a situation like mine, I truly hope these things will help you:

Trust yourself first: Remember that you are the greatest authority on your relationship. Sometimes people will not be supportive when you need them to be—in fact, sometimes they will turn into the worst possible versions of themselves. My fiancé and I thought very seriously about eloping before he deployed but when we talked to my parents about it, they squashed it with the force of a shoe against a cockroach. After that, my mom especially could not be counted on for any kind of encouragement in my relationship. In fact, once when I was at the very end of my rope, she said, “You know you don’t have to stay with him just because he’s the only person you’ve ever slept with.” I cried and cried and didn’t talk to her for at least a couple weeks. It’s hard when you’re hurting to feel like you don’t have support and it’s even worse to be criticized by your family, but remember: everyone is human and no one likes to see a friend or family member hurt. Sometimes it’s just as hard for the people around you to watch you go through something as it is for you to go through it yourself. I bet you know when something has value to you, though, I bet you know when someone doesn’t mean what they’re saying. So try to be gracious and discerning when taking advice. Think wisely and trust yourself to know when something is important and needs to be heard.

Do not lose your own importance: Whenever you feel like you’re drowning in your partner’s problems, tell yourself this simple phrase: “You are NOT responsible for his/her happiness.” This was the hardest lesson that I’ve had to learn. You always want to feel like you make your partner happy but every now and then, I think every couple encounters a time when one person is so miserable that the other could be absolutely perfect and it wouldn’t help anything. Life happens. No matter how much we try to counter it with romance, the truth is, a relationship alone cannot make a person whole and sometimes those other things will drag a relationship down. Don’t be like I was—don’t blame yourself for the other things, even if your partner blames you. It will only intensify your pain if you take responsibility. Try to separate the things that you can do to help from the things that are beyond your ability and do NOT feel guilty because you are equally important.

Know when you need to talk: Unfortunately for me, I was in an incredibly lonely situation around the time that all of this was going on. I had just transferred to a new university and only had a few friends, all of whom were either single or very casual in their relationships.  I didn’t want to talk to my parents because I felt like it would give them more reason to judge us. To make things worse, if I had confessed my concerns to a military counselor or anyone affiliated with the military, my fiancé would have been given a dishonorable discharge on the grounds that people with depressive tendencies are not supposed to enlist. I just didn’t have many options. If you are young and in a similar situation, please find someone, no matter how far you have to go. People become very vulnerable when they feel alone and you will crumble to temptation if you are not careful. I never felt like I would cheat but when my fiancé turned jealous and suspicious for no reason at all, it made me want to cheat. I never did or even came close, but I still can’t quite forgive myself for being vindictive enough to want to. Having a friend or a counselor, helps tremendously with those feelings.

Be honest. Know when it’s time to leave: My partner and I struggled so f*cking hard during this time and there were a ton of moments when I didn’t feel like we would make it. There were even more times when I didn’t care if we made it, but I NEVER wanted to leave him. I was tired and emotionally void by the time he came back, but I loved him. It was a long, hard road to see our relationship come back from the grave. We fought, I kicked him out, he went to counseling, and we spent a lot of time crying and holding on to each other. We were not more virtuous than other couples. We were not smarter than other couples. We just got so, so lucky that while we were in the dirt, we found gold beneath us. Part of me believes that getting through these situations is almost always a matter of luck. Of course I knew my fiancé was a faithful and devoted partner, but I didn’t know that this level was even possible. All of this advice comes with a warning, though. Not everyone comes back. Not everyone can return to the way things were. I can’t tell you how to know when this is the case but I feel like if you truly doubt that it will happen—if you have serious feelings or a strong belief that your partner will never be the person you love again—do everything you can without destroying yourself and then give yourself permission to leave. Give yourself permission to be better off on your own. Only you can know what your limits are and how far you are willing to go, but remember that it is never impossible to get out.

Today my fiancé and I are better than ever. We’ve learned to communicate and trust each other to understand. We know exactly how much we can rely on each other and I feel like I know the meaning of that poem someone posted:

Sometimes our life reminds me
of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing
and in that opening a house,
an orchard and a garden,
comfortable shades, and flowers
red and yellow in the sun, a pattern
made in the light for the light to return to.
The forest is mostly dark, its way
to be made anew day after day, the dark
richer than the light and more blessed
provided we stay brave
enough to keep going in.

And bravery is not something I believe either of us are in danger of running out of.

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  • Kate

    I need to finish reading this post later because I’m about to head out, but I just wanted to thank you for this post and say my heart goes out to Leona, particularly as another 22-year-old, military wife. My husband and I haven’t gone through a deployment yet, but it’s coming in the not too distant future, and the inspiration of other military wives is my main source of calm whenever my mind wanders toward what’s in the future for us and particularly for my husband. I’m glad that Leona and her fiance are doing so well now!

  • http://www.empapers.com Eleanor

    Wow. You’re 22? You are wise beyond your years. Seems to me you have been through much more with your fiancé than most people, and you’ve got an incredibly solid foundation to build a marriage on. Kudos to you for your strength, self-reflection and honesty, after going through something a lot of us can only imagine.

    I don’t have quite a similar situation, but when my husband and I started dating we actually had a really rough first half-year. After a month of dating, I had to go back to the states for 3 months on a business trip. While there I ended up needing emergency heart surgery. He flew over, and I was freaked out on all kinds of levels. He was thrown into flying me back to California, meeting my parents long before he normally would and we were both thrown into the deep end. We handle illness in different ways – there was lots ‘persuer’ ‘distancer’ behavior on steroids. Lots of fighting, freaking out and crying. Not exactly a romantic, honeymoon courtship. Ironically, this ‘trial by fire’ right out of the gate, gave me the confidence and trust to keep going in the relationship and to eventually know that I could spend my life with this person.

  • Nicole

    This is an astonishingly beautiful post. I’ve had no parallel situation in my life, and still I cried. I read and reread the poem at the end. You are a lovely writer, Leona.

  • Annie

    “Sometimes people will not be supportive when you need them to be—in fact, sometimes they will turn into the worst possible versions of themselves.” – I really agree with this!
    Last year my fiance went through a major rough patch. My family, who were once so supportive, seemed to ‘turn against’ him and were voicing concerns which didn’t seem to exist before. There was very little support for us and our relationship at a time when we needed it most. But I stayed by him, and I loved him everyday, because I knew that he could get past it. Going through that hard time together made our relationship stronger and made us stronger as individual people.

  • Rachel

    As the wife of an Iraq War Veteran I can really see where Leona is coming from. This is such a powerful story about love and the hardships a couple can endure. One of her points that I find so incredibly helpful is to try to not base my worth on his happiness; that even though I feel for him and wish so much that he could be happier and feel better I am not a failure if he is having a bad day/week/whatever!
    Thank you Leona for such a powerful message. Like you I too believe in the strength of our bond and I believe with all my heart that we will endure. Thank you for the wisdom and best of luck to you and your fiancé.

  • Ann

    Leona,

    Thank you so much for this. I really needed to hear exactly this from someone exactly this morning.

    My fiance has horrible problems with anxious depression, and somehow early in our relationship I managed to stay by him during all the nights he had panic attacks and tried to hurt himself. He is doing so much better now. He claims this is largely due to me, and while I’m so happy he is doing better, I find myself now completely emotionally exhausted. I break down in tears anytime he so much as looks upset because I just don’t want to feel that bad again.

    I’m young, too (21). My family, too, is extremely skeptical of our relationship and it’s been really rough to learn what it really means for my fiance to be my family now without their help.

    Thanks for reminding me to trust myself, and for showing me another young woman who could and did handle a similar situation. I guess I’m not completely nuts after all.

  • Erin

    Oh Leona, my heart goes out to you and your fiance, and everyone who’s been through that hell and back. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  • ddayporter

    “while we were in the dirt, we found gold beneath us.” beautiful.

    thank you for sharing this, Leona. it’s already been said but you have a way with words, you do. and this advice definitely applies to many more people than military families, the second point especially – learning how to not take your partner’s unhappiness/angst/depression/stress/whatever personally was a huge thing for me. It still is, honestly. You want to be enough for the other person, so that no matter what is going on in the world, they’re happy because you’re there. It’s not a sustainable idea, but I still find myself taking things personally every once in a while – at least by now I’ve learned to Recognize I’m doing it and make myself stop and take a step back.

    that poem is beautiful!

    • meg

      She’s a writer. Of course. :)

      • KA

        Of course! :) I found, “We would go on, spiraling forever toward some uncertain future like a marvelous double helix with two sides always turning and the two compensating for each other.” particularly beautiful and compelling.

        Thank you for sharing your hard-earned wisdom, Leona. There is so much truth and clarity here, I know it will be something that I return to and share.

  • JAG

    You are very brave. I have one suggestion for your fiance (and feel free to ignore) it is possible he has PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) from the war and if that is the case, I strongly suggest a good therapist with a strong background in PTSD particulary with war veterans. I have PTSD (from other reasons) and my therapists’ focus is on that. He does loads more good than a regular therapist would because there are just certain needs for PTSD that some “regular” therapists can’t meet. If he is out of of the military he can talk to one of those therapists I would assume because they would understand what the horror of war can do. It is tough to work through, but it can be done so stay strong. Also many PTSD therapists will have group sessions with war veterans that I can think can not only help them, it will give you a support system of their significant others who know what you are going through. You are very brave and very strong, it takes a lot to make it through. You can do it though (as you are proving) and will become an amazing person and I think have a great relationship working through this. Good luck!

    • Sarah

      Jag … me, too. Is there a way we can talk off the boards? sarah(dot)e(dot)ewing gmail.

      ::hugs::

    • Leona

      Oh, yes. I had to push and push and push until things got so bad that I told him he couldn’t see me until he got into counseling. He started talking to a Chaplain he knew pretty well and that seemed to help tremendously.
      One thing I really regret from that time, too, is not being able to go to couple’s therapy with him. I wanted to…okay, no, I didn’t. I hate therapy, but I knew it would help so I was willing to go. We’ve just always lived two hours apart so it would have taken almost a whole day’s commitment. I just didn’t have that time with school and work and two dogs. If it’s possible for you, I would definitely recommend couple’s counseling. I just felt like I was always the bad guy for bringing things up or pointing out our issues and saying we had to resolve them. Maybe if I’d had someone else there to mediate and ask the questions, I wouldn’t have felt like I forced him to do things.

      • Anon.

        I have struggled with PTSD for more than a decade, but didn’t confront it until my now fiance gave me the courage and motivation to do so, which also meant he came along for the ride. Part of my counselling has also involved some couple’s therapy and I can’t recommend it strongly enough to anyone who is going through a particularly hard time (regardless of whether mental health is the issue or not). I know it helped me enormously to have my fiance understand that what I was going through was “normal” given my experiences and it helped him to know that while he could support me he couldn’t protect me from what I was going through. Our relationship is so much stronger today both because of what we went through and the help that we received along the way.

  • http://redheadreports.blogspot.com Ali

    Leona, it sounds like you’ve been through some really rough times, but your relationship has a strong foundation now because of it. If you got through this struggle, it will help you get through the next one!

    Best wishes in your marriage!

  • Noelle

    Thank you so much for your story, Leona – to echo all the others, it was so beautifully written!. Shortly after we were married, my husband had a number of severe anxiety attacks and we battled through a period where he was unable to even leave our apartment. It turned out to be a bigger test of my patience than I ever expected, but we came out with an even stronger relationship than before.

  • http://asfarasitgoes.blogspot.com Carly

    Leona,

    Thank you for writing about this. My fiance and I have been dating for 5 years – 3 of which he has been in the Marine Corps. Life in the military is tough. It’s tough on the serviceman (/woman) and arguably just as hard for the family. It can certainly be difficult to find support, too. Many “normal” people don’t always realize exactly how much sacrifice this kind of life demands (though I am sure some do). When you live on base or something like that, you get to meet a lot of the other wives/families – they become your support system. If you don’t live on base, though… then what?

    I am happy that you both have found peace in your relationship now. You’re right that you will be stronger because of it. There are dark days in the future for all of us, but you two have the comfort and confidence of knowing that you are capable of withstanding any number of trials.

    xo

  • http://hyperboleandacupoftea.blogspot.com/ Sarah Beth

    *Hugs*

    Now I’m a sniffly, snotty mess. While our story is not quite like yours, I’ve been dealing with less-than-supportive parents our entire relationship. Now, we are going through an emotional roller coaster ride (we are still together, but no longer engaged) and it’s hard to have people close to you say that you should end a relationship, especially when you’re trying so hard to mend it.

    But, you are so right. Only you can fully know what’s in your heart, and what’s the right thing to do. It isn’t always easy for our friends and family because they only see things from the outside; they only see us hurting. But if we are truly honest with ourselves, we know what’s worth fighting for.

    • Leona

      Oh, Sarah. I’m sorry. There was a time when I called off our engagement until he could get better. It takes so much courage to take a critical look at your relationship and say that something is wrong. The easier (and probably more common) response to serious problems is to avoid or pacify them and it’s kinda odd to think that our hearts would lead us to decisions that would just circle around our pain. I hope you two can find some path to healing. :)

  • Alyssa

    Leona, this is a beautiful and so true post. Important because it can apply to so many different types of people. Growing up a military brat, I’ve seen both sides and know enough to know that when you’re in the military your entire family is in the military with you.

    I’m very happy that you guys have come out on the other side of this, and are continuing to grow. I cannot wait to read your Wedding Graduate post. (Don’t even think about not writing one. We will come after you…)

  • http://beautifulorpractical.blogspot.com/ Louba

    What a beautiful post. So glad things are working out despite everything you’ve had to deal with. Sounds like you have something really special.

  • LeahIsMyName

    Beautifully written and deeply profound. I have no military background, nor does my fiance, but I found meaning and aid in your post anyway. Thank you for sharing such a painful, but ultimately hopeful, story with us.

    While things are going well for my fiance and me right now, I know that it won’t always be that way…life’s just not like that. We have to keep our eyes on what we KNOW is true.

  • Alison

    Leona, thank you for your raw, brave honesty. From personal experience I can say that because I have experienced increadible lows ( ‘lows’ what an inadequate word) my capacity for joy and happiness is now greater. I am now able to really recognize and treasure the moments when I am thoroughly and simply happy. I wish this for you and all of our APW sisters who struggle.

  • Katelyn

    As someone who has been on the mentally ill side of the equation, and pulled through it with relationship (mostly) intact, this post today is really special to me.

    Having a person like Leona to know when to (try to) be supportive and when to kick your *ss makes all the difference in the world between continuing a decade-long cycle of major depression and finally having the courage to seek help, learn how to handle the illness, and overall how to be a better partner.

    Thank you, Leona, for being so brave in the face of something that can be ugly and painful.

    • flic

      Leona and Katelyn – well said. While everyone’s experience is obviously different, I think it is essential for partners to really be aware of the fact that sometimes nothing/nobody short of professional help can make you feel better if you are suffering from a mental illness. There is a lot of guilt and shame surrounding both sides of the coin, but I know as someone who has suffered from major depression that you can end up feeling guilty for making your partner feel inadquate. It’s hard to say and to hear, “I’m sad and no matter what you do, you aren’t the one that can fix it”, especially because when we love someone, we naturally want to be the answer to their problems.

  • Leona

    Honestly, I’m feeling a little nervous now about what I’ve said about taking advice/criticism and knowing how far you will go. Let me qualify just a little.
    I knew I wanted to stay in my relationship because I was confident that my fiance was not acting like himself. He was always a cheerful, sometimes annoyingly silly person and I relied on him so much for comfort before his deployment. When he became someone completely different, I had to confront the way he was acting by lovingly saying, “Look, this is the person that I know you to be: example, example, example. But this is the person you’ve been lately: example, example, example. Did you realize how much you’ve changed and do you feel like this is the person you really are? If it is, I don’t think I can be with you.” And as soon as I did that, he knew he had to get help.

    I cannot comment on relationships that have to endure long-term depression or illness of any kind but please don’t think that I’m telling you to ignore your friends and family completely. I don’t think we would be together if my family hadn’t at least irritated me into looking critically at what we had. I just know that I’ve been the person who saw a relationship that was (and still is) poisonous to both partners. I’ve never told them directly that they should consider getting out but I’ve tried to bring up questions about what they really want from a relationship and they just don’t match. I feel like it’s probably good to think honestly about something someone is saying before you toss it out. And in deciding how far you will go, I think you will have to ask yourself this: If he never changes, can I deal with this?

    All that just in case someone is thinking of pushing advice aside entirely. Sorry for the aside. Please proceed. :D

    • rosie

      i’m glad you added this note. one of the most important things about reading APW for me has been all the support and strength from brave women who fight for their relationships, even in the face of undue criticism. but! sometimes i worry that such an important sentiment can turn into a closed-off-ness to others’ opinions, which can be valid and loving even if critical. it’s true that we know ourselves and our relationships better than anyone else can – but sometimes our friends and family can bring our attention to issues we couldn’t or wouldn’t see, and other times they can point out strength and beauty that we take for granted.

    • meg

      More wise words. I get email pretty routinely where people say, “Every single person in my life says I should not marry this guy, but you’re pro-marriage! what should I do?” And I always think, “I think you already know the answer to that, or you wouldn’t be asking me.” So I think this is beautiful clarification and nuance on a really tough issue.

      • http://www.stofnsara.com saartjie

        As a lawyer who witnesses a LOT of people getting divorced, I am routinely struck by a deep sense that no-body gets married just for a joke. Everyone wants it to last forever, but not every marriage will last forever. I just think that being confident in the decision and having the support of your *community* before entering into the marriage is a pretty important starting block.

        My comment was a little off-topic… BUT: As someone who lives in a country where armed combat (and the sending off of young young people to fight and kill and be killed) is quite a foreign idea, I found the issues you’re having to deal with fascinating and touching. Good luck with your marriage, Leona, I wish you a long path together.

        • Leona

          I totally agree and I don’t think many couples see it that way. I feel like there’s a very large tendency, at least in this country, to get married and become somewhat isolated. I view marriage as something that should be nurtured by a community, though. I once read a book about a couple who rented a huge house and opened it up to other couples and single people as well and all I could think was, “NIFTY!” I’d love, love, love to have that as an option, especially as a military wife because there will be broad periods of time when I’m alone. I think living on base would be something like that but my fiance refuses to allow that as ours is the serial killer capital of the state.

          Anyway, I don’t think anyone sends their loved ones to fight. It’s more of an unfortunate side effect of a lifestyle that is otherwise very beneficial. Most people, I feel, enlist because the economy or lack of resources leaves them without many career or education options. My dad enlisted back in the 80’s because the economy in his town bottomed out and he lost his job. At the time, it was the only thing he could do to keep our family off welfare. Enlistees are promised free education, world travel, free housing and health care, advancement opportunities and a fairly competitive starting salary. I think people enlisting think of deployments as something they have to endure to have those kinds of benefits and I know many purposefully volunteer themselves when they need to make some extra money. It’s a complex thing but the military lifestyle is definitely not all bad.

  • Caitlin

    “No matter how much we try to counter it with romance, the truth is, a relationship alone cannot make a person whole”

    That line right there is such a huge message. I’ll be mulling over the ins and outs of that for a while…

    beautiful, beautiful post.

  • http://www.mysanfranciscobudgetwedding.wordpress.com Sarah

    This was beautifully written, and although my ex did not serve in the war, many of the things that you wrote resonated with me. Depression and mental illness — whether situational, temporary, or worse — are excruciating and difficult to deal with.

    I found the most comfort in this: “Not everyone comes back. Not everyone can return to the way things were. I can’t tell you how to know when this is the case but I feel like if you truly doubt that it will happen—if you have serious feelings or a strong belief that your partner will never be the person you love again—do everything you can without destroying yourself and then give yourself permission to leave.”

    Having been in the “not everyone comes back” situation with someone who suffers from mental illness and a deep depression and anger, I can say that it is very difficult to let go — even when you know that the best thing you can do for yourself, for him, and for your family is to leave.

    Thank you for writing this.

  • Jess

    Thank you Leona, for your honest and eloquent affirmations. Although my fiance and I are from a different background, I do believe that we all have our own battles to fight (physical or mental). Fortunately, there are intelligent compassionate women like you (and the rest of you smart, open-hearted ladies) to remind us that we can find the strength to live in love, even when it is almost too painful to bear. I, like many commenters, really related to your point about not being responsible for each-other’s happiness. Both my parter and I are introspective, sometimes depressive individuals, and when we get into negative loops, the hardest but most useful thing for me to do is work on my own state of mind first. When I am in a good place, it is much easier for me to let him slowly return to equilibrium (instead of trying to shake the sadness out of him… not really a solid plan).

    Thank you.

    Also, anyone know who wrote the poem?… it’s beautiful.

    • Leona

      Sorry, I copied it over to a list of possible reading material and forgot the author but it came from an earlier post for readings. I just dredged it up. It’s Wendell Berry’s “In the Country of Marriage.”

  • Rachel

    I want to reach out and hug you, Leona. I know other ladies have said it, bur you’re truly wise beyond your years.

    There’s a verse I love that you can take biblically or otherwise, but here goes: “We rejoice in our sufferings for we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope.” Don’t know the number off the top of my head, but I think you’ve qualified that verse really beautifully.

    • Sarah

      Romans 5:4

      • Sarah

        Excuse me … Romans 5: 3-4.

        =)

        • Leona

          I love that one. I’m always telling my mom and grandma that long-suffering is a womanly virtue. ;)

  • http://koruwedding.blogspot.com Koru Kate

    I felt like I was reading a post from someone celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary & looking back. This post is beautiful & brave. Military or not, everyone can find lessons in here. Thank you for sharing Leona & best wishes to both of you~

  • Claire

    Thank you for sharing your experience with us. It is extraordinarily powerful and will serve as a reminder to me that when things are tough you have to use your strength to face them head on.

  • http://www.chilingwang.com Chi

    Wow. Thank you for your thoughts. They are applicable to so much of life. Congratulations and best wishes.

  • Elyse

    I have been reading APW for nearly 6 months now and this is the first time I have been brave enough to comment.
    Although we (my fiance and I) have no involvement in our military and have no threat of deployment, I feel as though we have been through some war zones too. Some of our personal and family issues have turned into “battles” of their own, creating the stress and depression as described in Leona’s story. This has revealed the darker versions of both of us. It is comforting to know that there can be gold beneath the dirt… but only as long as you are willing to dig for it. I am inspired to hear of the balance of standing beside and supporting the one you love without sacrificing yourself or blaming yourself for their own trials. Through this process, I am trying to learn that although what’s mine is his and his is mine and that we are fighting this battle together, I can not hold myself responsible for him “coming back”. This, I suppose, is where faith, trust, and hard work comes in.
    Thank you, Leona, for sharing the vulnerable and raw story of your own. I will keep you in my heart.

  • Christy A.

    Wow, talk about powerfully written. Thank you for sharing your story with us. I’m sure others who share your experience will take great comfort in know that they are not alone, and there is hope of coming through on the other side.

  • http://www.fiveseven.vox.com Heather

    You are an amazing and strong person. Your words are very eloquently written. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, experiences and advice. I wish you and your fiancé all the best in your lives together.

  • http://bride-sans-tulle.blogspot.com Sharon

    Leona, you write beautifully and bravely. Congratulations to you and your fiance on your upcoming wedding – I know you two will continue to inspire people with your marriage for years to come.

  • wendy

    thank you so much for this post! I’m about 10 months away from marrying a career military officer. The “his happiness is not a reflection on you” thing was (is) something that’s so hard to learn and to deal with gracefully. Yes, he comes home after weeks away really tense, really upset, and he will unwind himself, but those first days back can be pretty hard. Even worse, for me, was struggling with why I wrapping so much of my own self worth up with his happiness. Being a feminist and walking that tightrope of why-am-I-wrapping-my-self-image-up-in-a-guy is complicated enough. And, well, culture clash. I’m a software engineer who’s only worked at dotcoms & he enlisted when he was 18, then went to a service academy and got his commission. It makes things interesting. ;)

    • Amy

      Oh my goodness, feminism plus military culture/mentality plus dealing with the “his happiness is not a reflection on you” make for some very interesting discussions with myself. It would be very interesting to hear what others think about these issues.

  • http://www.puppiesnpancakes.blogspot.com Kristi

    THIS is a an amazing post. Real and beautiful and helpful. Thanks for sharing.

  • Sarah

    I need to keep reminding myself that I’m not responsible for my wife’s happiness. I tend to push her too much when she’s feeling down because I feel like her unhappiness is somehow a reflection on my worth as a partner. Pushing her to be happy when she’s not only makes me feel bad and her feel worse. When she’s down… she’s down, I shouldn’t push her to feel up, I should let her know I’m there to support her and then focus on my own happiness — that is all I have control over anyway.

  • tirzahrene

    Thanks for sharing this. My husband battles depression on a regular basis and his unemployment pushed it into bad territory. It wasn’t the only thing we had going against us by any means but it was one of the biggest bundles of straw on this camel’s back.

    We’re living separately right now, going to counseling, talking about what we want resolved before we move back in together. It took a lot before either of us were willing to look for help. I’m still reminding myself almost daily that I’m not responsible for his happiness, and it’s not my job to spare him the consequences of his choices.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you Leona. This really touched me. My husband finished his military service and deployment before we met, but we’re still dealing with the aftereffects (PTSD, anger, etc.). I can’t put my thoughts into words right now, but I want you to know you’re not alone and your post helped me gain some important insights.

  • Leona

    Thanks for all the compliments on my writing, the show of support for not only me, but everyone who is going/has gone through something as tough as this, and for all the open confessions of hurt and solidarity. I have a small theory that everyone has a piece or maybe even pieces to a puzzle that would make life for everyone more true and happy and fulfilling. I think communities like these are steps toward that.

    Of course, thank you Meg for giving us a forum and giving me the opportunity to do this. :)

  • Anon

    This is a beautifully written and sage post. I especially love this line: “I felt like he subjected me to his feelings instead of letting me share in them.”

    As someone who has bouts of anxiety and depression, I must remember those words. It is so destructive to rule by mood. Even though I am acting out of my own hurt, I am hurting him and our relationship when I do that.

  • http://hodoeporicon.blogspot.com Stacey

    Leona, thank you. Thank you so much for this. It was brave and honest and in case you have any doubts (after 49 comments) that it meant something, let me tell you what it meant to me.

    My husband is currently serving in the military, on a year-long deployment. They are training stateside at the moment, so I can still talk to him frequently, but they will be heading overseas soon. My sister’s husband is former military and both of my grandfathers served, so like you, I know something about deployments.

    And also like you, I have a partner who struggles with depression. He has since he was 6 years old. I am lucky enough to have my family’s support in helping me support him, but I can’t mention it to any of the military folks for the same reasons you stated. Your post really helped me think about how to support my husband from afar and to have faith that we can make it through this deployment.

    And your ending quote? Was the only non-scriptural reading we had at our wedding. :)

    • Leona

      *hug* May you and your husband be surrounded by love for each other and God’s love for you, shielded with constant assurance, encouragement, and prayer, blessed by outstretched arms and kind words, and somehow grateful for the chance to find out (maybe multiple times) how deeply rooted you are in each other. May God send His favorites to guard your husband and give you peace.

      • Mattingly

        So I was tearing up when I finished the post. But I was almost ok again until I read this! Your words have so much to offer not only to marriage relationships but to friendships as well… As someone with multiple friends with anxiety and depression issues it is so encouraging to hear of others standing by and being able to support them. Thank you for your courage, and for sharing your wisdom.
        May God grant you and your fiance many many many blessed years together!

  • JT

    I missed the discussion yesterday, but it was wonderful to wake up this morning and be able to read so many wise words about relationships- not just from Leona, but from all of the comments as well. Leona, your honesty and insight are moving, and my heart was aching when I read about the hard times you (and your fiance and your relationship) have endured. It’s heartening to see that you were able to find such strength and wisdom through your experiences and come out better than ever on the other side. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • http://jolynn.wordpress.com jolynn

    This post was exquisitely beautiful (as Meg said, “of course!”), and quite wise. I felt that your advice was widely applicable.

    Hugs to you, Leona!

  • http://www.palindromebride.blogspot.com Melinda

    This is such an important conversation to have. The military changes people. It changes relationships. It’s a culture unto itself. Deployments, long hours, etc. take their toll on families. As Leona writes so beautifully, it takes a lot of hard work to nurture and grow a relationship in spite of the pressures that a military life brings.

    We’ve moved on from our military life, but to the readers still living in theirs, you have my respect and my support.

  • Amy

    Thanks for sharing, Leona. You are very wise and strong, and it is so, so good to hear from someone else’s experience with deployment and the emotional effects on both partners. Thank you for being so open and sharing your insight, and hopefully other people going through a deployment (or who know people who are) will read your words and take strength. When my fiance deployed we weren’t yet engaged, and we were both in our mid-twenties, and had been together for a few years, and still, neither of us was prepared for dealing with what happened. I felt so alone and didn’t feel like I had anyone to talk to about missing him, about not hearing from him (at one point MONTHS passed without an e-mail because of the nature of his work) – and as “just a girlfriend,” not even a fiance or a wife or family member, I didn’t have any resources or a safety net. Three years later we are still dealing with the fallout of his experiences in Iraq (and my reaction to his emotional turmoil and withdrawal), and I’m not sure that I can adequately express with words just how much my heart broke when I saw the changes in him and just what that did to our relationship. My mom always says that a relationship takes a little bit of luck and a lot of work, and I frequently wonder(ed) when we were going to experience some luck and have a reprieve from all the work. We had our five year (dating) anniversary last month and realized that in the time we have dated, we have spent at least two thirds of that time apart from each other. We’re finally getting married this fall, after being engaged for over two years, and I’m so glad we made it through.

  • angela

    all i can say is thanks for sharing your experience with all of us.

    An also, thaks for your bravery!

    may your marriage be lovely and long and sucessful in all levels!

  • Ann

    It also occurs to be how brave this post is. Obviously, Leona, you and your fiance had to be very courageous to weather this storm together, but I mean specifically it takes a lot of bravery to be this honest about the failings of your relationship and your partner. It’s really hard to do that, because people get scared they’ll jinx the relationship, or hurt their partner, or have to look at it and settle on that it’s just not right.

    I think though that it’s awesome you’ve stared down the beast, and, like everyone else has said, that seems to me a solid foundation for marriage.

  • chelsea

    leona: this is so beautiful, brave, and raw…pulsing with hope and yet grounded in a practicality that allows your words to resonate with such true emotion. i wasn’t prepared to be so cornered by truthful words this evening, it took my breath away.

  • Corrine O’Neill

    It is a shame that there were no support systems for you and your fiance. If countries are going to send men and women out to kill and die for them, then don’t they have an obligation to help those people and their families?

    Without judging this particular war, I have to assume that nobody actually wants to kill another person and few people relish the idea of being killed themselves. Instead of recognizing this, countries ignore the consequences of sending people to war and pretend that the anger, fear and other issues they face upon return are somehow their fault; that these particular people are somehow damaged and unfit to be soldiers. When really it is the act of war that is damaging to everyone.

    Hopefully more military partners (and children) will have the courage and strength to admit that all is not well and that they need help and more importantly, I hope that the help is there for those families.

    • Leona

      You know, I wouldn’t judge the military that way. There’s actually a plethora of family readiness programs and support groups available to dependents. I just didn’t have easy access to them because I lived a couple hours away from his base. The military has really gone through a lot of trouble to become more family-friendly in the past few decades, but more than that, there are just amazing people who are military-associated and will do anything for you without asking. As a kid living on my base, when my dad was gone we had a neighbor who would come over a couple times a week and help my mom with chores around the house. My fiance’s squadron takes turns doing yard work for families of the deployed. I would dare say that military wives/dependents have more support than any other lifestyle.

  • http://www.budgetbridetobe.com Kristin Kowalski

    Wow, this is incredibly moving and honest. Thank you so much for sharing. Your insight and thoughtfulness really provides some great advice to couples who are struggling. I agree that when that person is who you’re meant to be with, even though you may not always consciously know it, it’s there inside you. Even when you’re so frustrated and hurt and angry with this person, leaving never becomes a reality because deep down you know you can make it through anything with him. You are an incredibly strong person for going through this and then for sharing so deeply everything you thought and felt. I wish you all the best in the future.

  • http://mousebee.blogspot.com Therese T.

    OMG. Thank you so much, Meg, for posting this, and Leona, for writing this. I am not in a military family directly, but my husband has family who are. He is not of that nature, but oftentimes, being just the two of us–most of my friends and family are abroad–is hard. I know we are supposed to be each other’s support, but sometimes, you’re right, it is hard. I especially get discouraged easily, but thank goodness, my husband always coaxes me back and holds me close. Before we got engaged, I was always reminded by my parents that I had the choice to come back and basically break all ties in the US–including with my then-boyfriend, now-husband. We just had our 1st wedding out of 3(!), but I feel my family’s slowly coming to terms with their baby girl being with someone else. So thank you for this: it’s not easy being alone. Thank you for reminding me to dig deep.

  • Alexandra

    Wow. Touching story. Many thanks for writing it!

  • Hannah

    I just wanted to thank you for this post. I am going through a very similar situation(albeit still very different) right now, my fiance is at tech school right now and got stuck in the worst condition school in his branch of the military. He’s miserable there and so we fight over things that used to never matter before. But like you I have this strong conviction that we will turn out ok. Also like you, my mom is completely against us getting engaged, and lets me know it every chance she can get. I have next to no support in my family, and it makes our situation harder- because I have no one to talk to about it. The advice you gave at the end of your column was spectacular and was really helpful in our situation. Thank you so much for showing me I’m not alone in all of this!