When I won the grand prize trip to the Empowered Spouses Retreat (ESR) earlier this year thanks to the InDependent Wellness Summit and the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation, I was not excited. In truth, I’m pretty sure Evie, InDependent’s executive director, was more excited that she pulled my name than I was. I was in a place where the last thing I wanted to do was be around military and first responder spouses talking about how hard our lives are and how much we “get it” because we’re in the same boat.
Being a military spouse is part of who I am, but it is not all that I am. It took me almost my entire marriage to figure that out. Early on, I thrived on being the kind of military spouse that had—or could find—all the answers. I was the one who made friends easily, volunteered endlessly, and looked like she had it all together when her service member was gone.
Looking back, I did those things well, but I wasn’t happy with them. I was more than those things. Don’t get me wrong, I was incredibly happy being his wife and their mom, but I wasn’t completely fulfilled being only a wife and a mom. Then I found a passion in writing and telling the stories of amazing people, and I thought I had all the pieces. I didn’t.
The summer of 2019 will forever be etched in my brain as miserable. I wasn’t happy with work, I wasn’t happy having my kids home, I wasn’t happy with my husband’s work schedule—or the constant changing of it. It was hot and humid in Georgia and I had no time to myself and I was miserable.
ESR quickly became a goal post for me. It was scheduled for a week after the kids went back to school and I wouldn’t have cell phone service. No work allowed. If I got nothing else from this retreat, I would sleep well, eat food I didn’t have to cook, and have no idea what was going on in the world. I was suddenly very glad I won.
I arrived in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with exactly no expectations. I was hoping I’d meet some people, but I didn’t want to get too close because I was also aching for time to myself. I didn’t want to have to explain why I was thinking what I was thinking, or who I was, or what my marriage was like, or anything like that. I just wanted to relax.
And I did. And I met eighteen amazing women. And I did talk about who I was, who I wanted to be, how awesome my marriage was, and how much I struggled with all of the things I had to do. It was in those moments—some of them incredibly vulnerable— where I found the things I was missing.
These are the three missing things I discovered at the Empowered Spouses Retreat:
1. Communication really is key.
My husband and I have been saying this for years, usually in response to someone commenting on how hard a military marriage must be, or how hard parenting must be, or how they can’t believe we’re still married almost thirteen years in. We communicated all the time, but sometimes it wasn’t the most effective.
I’m an extrovert (yes, I know you know), and he’s an introvert. I work remotely and frequently go days without talking to another adult. He works in a cubicle surrounded by noise and people. I process out loud and he processes in his head. Where could this possibly go wrong?
Of course, I already knew this. But when it came up at ESR, the lightbulb finally went on. Now I choose my words very carefully, knowing that the first thing I say is what he’s going to latch on to. And I give him the time to process internally without picking at him until he explodes. So communication, effective communication, is key in a marriage.
2. Sometimes, I just have to ask.
There are moments when I get frustrated, even when no one is doing anything wrong. I used to get so mad at my husband for not doing something around the house. And then I realized I neither asked him to do it, nor told him how that particular task made me feel. What a game changer!
Now, I start out saying something like, “I am frustrated, can you help me with….” And he does. Every time. My children have seen this and have heard the way we communicate now. There’s less yelling and less frustration. The best gift we can give them are parents who love and respect each other.
3. Self-care is as important as caring for others.
As a wife and mother, I put my family first. And then I get frustrated with them for it. Nope, not okay. There are so many clichés that surround this topic, my favorite two being: self-care isn’t selfish, and you can’t pour from an empty cup. But sometimes, it really feels selfish, and you absolutely can take care of others when you have no time to take care of yourself.
I get a lot of joy taking care of my kids and my husband. Just this morning I made French toast for breakfast. Four different batches of French toast because they eat at four different times over the two-and-a-half hours from when the first gets up until the last one gets dropped off at day care. It wasn’t hard, it wasn’t taxing, it wasn’t a big deal to me, but it was huge to them. They loved it. It makes me smile hours later knowing that they started their day feeling special.
When I look at how they care for me, it looks similar. It’s the random hug and “I love you so much, Mom” from my toddler, the excitement when my older kids tell me about school, and the kiss goodbye before my husband leaves for PT. They think, “this will make her smile,” and that’s reason enough. It truly is the simple things.
My time at ESR reminded me of the way I love my husband and how much he loves me. It gave me a renewed sense of pride and accomplishment at having a healthy, loving marriage after all life and the military have thrown our way. It gave me the rest and relaxation I needed. And it gave me new friends. Friends who I can call on for anything. Always.
The biggest takeaways from the 2019 InDependent Wellness Summit in an attendee’s own words:
ABOUT THE CHRIS KYLE FROG FOUNDATION
The Chris Kyle Frog Foundation (CKFF) is a 501(c)(3) founded by Taya Kyle, a military spouse, to honor the life and legacy of her husband, “American Sniper” and Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. Chris and Taya knew first-hand the challenges military families encounter from their lives of service.
Prior to Chris’ untimely passing in February 2013, he was developing his vision for CKFF programs to support military and first responder marriages and families. The mission of the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation is to honor God, country, and families who serve. It is focused on changing the world for this generation and the next by recognizing and strengthening military and first responder marriages through unique programs and powerful partnerships. CKFF has four robust programs.
Their Empowered Spouses Retreat is designed to bolster confidence and build resilience by connecting spouses of service members together with a like-minded community of peers to challenge spouses and encourage new physical and mental skills. Learn more about the Empowered Spouses Retreat here.
Rebecca Alwine is an Army wife, mother of three, and lover of her adorable pirate dog. Over the past twelve years, she’s discovered she enjoys coffee, lifting weights, and most of the menial tasks of motherhood. Her days consist of CrossFit workouts, audiobooks, and pretending to cook while her Instant Pot does all the work. Her motto: work smarter, not harder.