“Pray for our troops.”
It’s a request that’s made often, especially on Memorial Day when service members are honored and remembered for their sacrifice.
But there’s a frequently overlooked detail when it comes to prayers on behalf of those in the military, according to best-selling author and counselor Dr. Gary Chapman.
“I know you’re praying for them. You’re praying for their safety, but pray for their marriages,” he urged. “Pray that God will help them learn how to have a healthy marriage while they are together and keep them emotionally connected.”
Marriage can already be challenging at times, but add to that the stress of deployment, frequent moves and other demands—a military marriage can fall apart quickly if the couple isn’t careful.
“Marriages either get better or they get worse. They never stand still,” Chapman said. “If you start drifting, you will always drift apart. You’ll never drift together. You have to put the oars in the water, and you have to row if you’re going to come together.”
Chapman, who’s best known for his book The 5 Love Languages and the different versions of it—including a military edition—will speak at a free seminar for military spouses at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove on June 27-29.
The Cove also offers military scholarships for service members to attend any seminar or personal spiritual retreat throughout the year.
Next month’s event is meant to help military spouses grow closer to one another and to God.
“The relationship with God is a model for the marriage relationship,” Chapman explained. “As we grow individually in Christ-likeness, then we are better lovers and more likely to treat the other person with great dignity and respect.”
For years, Chapman has centered much of his marriage counseling around five distinct love languages:
- Words of affirmation
- Acts of service
- Receiving gifts
- Quality time
- Physical touch
But with military couples, some of these may seem impossible to express. With care and creativity, though, it can be done. Chapman spoke with one wife who learned to speak her husband’s love language of physical touch while he was deployed.
“She said, ‘I put my hand on a sheet of paper, and I traced my hand and I mailed it to him with a note that said, Put your hand on my hand. I want to hold your hand,” Chapman recalled. “He told me later, ‘When I put my hand on that sheet of paper, I felt her.’ ”
“So it’s not [always] literal touch, but it’s emotional touch,” Chapman explained. “If you can stay emotionally connected while you’re deployed, it makes the re-entry much easier when you come back.”
Chapman added that it’s important military spouses do as much as they can to help the other before a deployment. This includes smaller details like making arrangements for gifts to be delivered on special dates, compiling a list of important numbers if something goes wrong, or even setting up lawn service and other household duties in advance.
“Those kind of thoughtful things that are ahead of time pay great dividends emotionally in the life of the other person,” he said.
One advantage military couples have now that wasn’t available during times like World War II is more ways to communicate.
“My mother wrote my father a letter every day that he was deployed, and he sent her a letter every chance he could. That was the only lifeline they had,” Chapman said.
When possible, he recommends making full use of different technology to keep in contact. And no matter the method, start every conversation with “I love you.”
“In case the connection goes bad, you have at least left them with a positive message.”
It can also be helpful to set a time of day to pray for your spouse.
“If he knows that at this time every day she’s stopping and she’s praying for him, that can be extremely encouraging, or vice versa,” Chapman said.
Advice for Every Marriage
When it comes to bigger issues like post-traumatic stress disorder, uncontrolled anger, or ongoing verbal abuse, Chapman says it’s important to speak up quickly, but that “requesting, not demanding, is the best approach.”
“We cannot stay silent if we feel like our spouse needs help and more help than we can give them,” he said, adding that getting a chaplain involved in addition to a counselor can make interventions less uncomfortable.
One common bad habit Chapman sees in marriages that can become a bigger issue over time is “not knowing how to process the things that irritate you.”
“If you’re irritated by something and you don’t have any plan for handling that, typically what you do is tell the person and it becomes a conflict; a series of arguments and nothing gets solved,” he explained.
“Bring up issues in the way that’s going to bring about the least amount of defensiveness in the other person.”
This is one of the practical lessons Chapman will talk about next month. He feels events like the one at The Cove are key to a successful marriage.
“Going to a conference, or reading and sharing a book is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of maturity,” he said. “Mature people are always trying to grow.”
“It’s like the flowers in the summer. You have to water them if they’re going to keep blooming. For them to stay healthy, you’ve got to water the flowers,” Chapman continued. “Reading and discussing a book or going to a conference like this is a way of watering the flowers in your marriage.”
Dr. Chapman will lead the Military Marriage Seminar ‘A More Perfect Union: Deepening Your Relationship with God and Each Other’ at The Cove, June 27-29. The event is free for military personnel and spouses. To register, visit here. For other free opportunities for military service members, visit The Cove’s discount page.
July is Military Appreciation Month and the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C., is honoring our nation’s veterans and active service members from July 1-31: Find out more. The Library is also hosting a Military Appreciation Lunch on July 11.