Saturday, May 9, 2009

Marriage Under Fire

Some families becomes stronger under stress, others fall apart. What is the difference?

When expectations are met in a marriage, the odds are in favor of stability. When expectations are not met, the teeter totter of marriage becomes unstable. When I was an eighteen year old sergeant in the army, a 42-year-old corporal told me that his marriage was in trouble and that he needed help. In the army, stripes can make you a marriage counselor.

I didn't think about saying, "Well, go see the chaplain!"

Eighteen-year-old sergeants know about everything they need to know. I simply asked, "What is going on?"

After he told me his situation, I said, "You have alienated your wife. You have to give her more help around the house. You have to do dishes, vacuum the floor, help her with whatever she is doing. You have to do a lot more than she does."

Now that was a tall order for a Latin macho man. Doing a woman's work was not much of a macho builder. I told him that he would not only have to do more to help her but that he would have to court her again. That was in his self image. It was something he would love to do, tried to do. I told him that he would have to help her first or she would not welcome any loving gestures. About two weeks later he came up to me and said, "Sergeant, we are happier than we have ever been in our lives. Thank you!"

Now this man had just returned from Korea. If fact, he was in the same infantry division that I was in the next year. He was near the Yalu when the Chinese invaded Korea. He got lost from his unit, joined up with a Turkish Unit attached to one of our regiments, and barely got out of Korea alive. He said that that the last he saw of the Turks was them fixing bayonets and charging down the mountain with the startled Chinese turning and running in front of them.

Separation is hard on a marriage. People change during separations. When a couple rejoins they may not be Mary and Bill but James and Henrietta. Now days, families may have both parents in the military. It is not always Johnny come marching home, its Margie comes marching home. The one away is under one kind of stress and the one at home is under other stresses. There could be an underlying current that says, "Why did you leave me alone with these kids to take care of? How could you endanger yourself when you have family responsibilities?"

Financial problems are not new to military couples. They are always wanting to make some extra money to survive. Now, with this deep recession, many families are under financial stress. Many have lost their homes and others are under the threat of losing their home.

I was raised during the Great Depression. My parents were under the threat of losing their home when President Roosevelt took over the mortgage and saved our home. Dad paid the mortgage off later and President Roosevelt got his money back and then some, a very successful endeavor on both parts. My dad was an ex-farmer and an accountant. He was out of work for two years until President Roosevelt gave him a job on the WPA as a bank examiner. He soon was offered a "real" job and went on with his life.

I asked my mother when I was a boy why there were so many cuts in the kitchen door. She said that for the two years that Dad could not get work he threw his jackknife into the door. Yet, despite the stress of the Great Depression, Dad never took his stress out on his family. He always acted like all was well.

After all, there was actually never a time in my Dad's life that he was not living in a financial depression. His family moved from ranch to ranch always going broke in the process. He and his father almost starved to death on Ten Mile Pass east of here while proving a homestead claim where grandfather helped my father make skis that allowed him to hunt which saved their lives. So, recession was the normal state for my parents. Mother had been taking care of her widowed mother and her sisters since she was fourteen years old.

We had seven kids in our family. Dad's love for our mother never failed. He was always hugging her especially if she was cooking something good. It was not only President Roosevelt that kept our family functioning. Our church had no welfare plan to helps us as they do now days. It was our neighbors who helped us. Without our neighbors, there would have been no Christmas for us.

When I was attending the University of Utah after our first son was born, we were in trouble. My wife could not work. Then one day my folks came over carrying boxes of groceries. I don't know how they knew we were in need, they just knew. We need to keep an eye on each other too. People need help and we are the ones who should be doing the helping.

When a marriage is hit by stress and when expectations are not met, we need to stop thinking of ourselves but instead think about each other. By helping each other we help ourselves too. We need to support each other.

Fly Old Glory!

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