Who Are You?

Helping Military Couple Reconnect after Deployment

People change—it’s just a fact of life. You are not the same person at 51 as you are at 21. Everyone grows and changes over time.  Not only do we change physically with less hair, more weight, less strength and energy and more age spots and wrinkles, we change in our personalities, motivations, and priorities. Even as a couple you aren’t the same today as when you started out in those early years of dating and marriage. People say, “But can’t it be like it was in the beginning?” The answer is no, it can’t be. We grow, mature and change over time…it’s called life. We evolve physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually and that can be a real challenge to a marriage if you don’t pay attention to your spouse.  Husbands and wives who get caught up in their own worlds and fail to make the necessary adjustments tend to drift apart. I’m sure you have heard of couples who have been married 25 or 30 years and end up staring across the breakfast table at the other person having absolutely no idea who that is! Generally that’s the exception, not the norm since most couples manage to navigate the path of the changes in life. Slowly over the years they learn, grow and make the adjustments together.

Now, sudden change can be a lot more difficult to handle.  Things like a cancer diagnosis, other illness such as a stroke or catastrophic injuries from an accident that leave a person paralyzed, the death of a parent—or God forbid, a child can all apply extreme pressure to a marriage. Both people may change dramatically due to the stress and circumstances of the situation.  Yet the couple is together during the time learning to cope with the ordeal, and the ensuing bumps and hurdles they have to clear. These types of situations often times bring a husband and wife closer to one another. Trials and tribulations can be very bonding when you are going through it with your mate.

Military families, however, face the worst case scenario when it comes to change: It happens under great stress, very quickly and they are not together to make the adjustments.  Men and women part as Wife A and Husband A, but after 12 to 18 months of separation, intense pressure and change, they can come back together as Wife B and Husband B.  Their priorities and motivations may have changed dramatically. It is often very challenging and extremely frustrating for both since soldiers and their spouses may now process life in a completely new and different way. Their ideas of what is and isn’t important can also change during the time when one is dealing with the pressures of war, while the other is alone fending for themselves and their family at home. It’s bound to transform them. When they first get back together, they are just so excited to see one another that the shift in who they are may not be evident. But then after a couple of weeks they look at each other and wonder: Who on earth are you? What happened to you during this time? You aren’t the same person I knew before!

They weren’t together to witness the change, the other person seems so different and it’s a total surprise. As humans it’s natural to feel threatened, frightened and angry when you don’t understand something and don’t know what’s going on. But when you know the “rest of the story”, as Paul Harvey used to say, then it makes sense. In my book Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage I include a story told by Stephen Covey that captures the power that understanding has on our emotions:

I remember a mini-paradigm shift I experienced one Sunday morning on a subway in New York.  People were sitting quietly—some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed.  It was a calm, peaceful scene.

Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car.  The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.

The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation.  The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers.  It was very disturbing.  And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.

It was difficult not to feel irritated.  I could not believe that he could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all.  It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too.  So finally, with what I felt was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people.  I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more.”

The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, “Oh, you’re right.  I guess I should do something about it.  We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago.  I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”

Can you imagine what I felt at that moment?  My paradigm shifted.  Suddenly, I saw differently, I thought differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently.  My irritation vanished.  I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the man’s pain.  Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely.” Your wife just died?  Oh, I’m so sorry!  Can you tell me about it?  What can I do to help?”  Everything changed in an instant.

When you understand it changes everything for you—even if nothing changes on the outside.  If there is one thing both spouses need after a deployment, it’s understanding. I recommend our simple online assessment tool called The Flag Page (www.flagpagetest.com) for military couples facing this kind of situation.  The military is our number one customer of The Flag Page because it very quickly helps couples reconnect and understand who their spouse is right now.  You may not like it, but at least you understand it. I often tell couples that what your spouse does may very well irritate you until the day you die—the good thing is you die!  Understanding is the key.

One of the things the Flag Page does is show what your five most important motivations are in life. Here is an example: Perhaps the husband was a Great Sense of Humor, Easy Going kind of guy prior to deployment, yet after the stresses of military life and combat, he comes back and now is more of a Serious, Faithful type man. He learned that war was serious business and that his very life depended on the guy next to him being trustworthy, dependable and doing exactly what he was supposed to do.  It worked well when serving in the unit, but can be a very two-edged sword. Back at home he now has a heightened sense of “faithful” and can view all kinds of things as being “unfaithful”. Something as simple as his wife saying she’s going to Kmart but going to Wal-Mart instead could upset him because she didn’t do exactly what she said. He has a new filter that he is processing through.

Here is another scenario: Let’s say the husband is the one who deployed and prior to that he managed all the bills and finances. During his time away the wife has become much more Self-Sufficient, Independent as she learned to do this and actually grew to love it and doesn’t want to give the role back to him. It’s imperative for these two to discuss the change and what is now important to them and why.  They must have these conversations, let go of who the person was, and stop insisting that they go back to the way they were before. They need to understand that both have changed—no one stays the same. It is just more difficult because this was an accelerated version that happened while they were apart. They have to make the adjustments if they are going to succeed in their marriage.

The Flag Page is a direct line to reconnecting and is great for anyone in who needs to explain who they are or when you want to understand what “the rest of the story” is or why a person is acting the way they are. Chaplains and military personnel all over the world are trained and using the Flag Page because they have seen how effective it can be. So for all of you military couples out there: Thank you and God bless you for your service and sacrifice! Don’t let your marriage become a casualty of war. Do what it takes to gain the understanding and re-establish your marriage after deployments.

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21 Responses to “Who Are You?”

  1. joan brown says:

    Thank you for reaching to the military! Our lives will gradually become more and more involved with returning veterans and how will we be able to support them, offer them help? I appreciate what you are doing. As a mother of a returned service member, I just want to say that your tools are presented in a creative way and bring laughter back into our lives. I appreciate it!

  2. Sherilin says:

    What a wonderful article! I am a military spouse and worked with many military families. I wish I would have known about the flagpage when I was in this capacity… what a wonderful tool that I will now share with others.

    Life after deployment can be very difficult. My husband has deployed twice and we have been very blessed that we were able to communicate several times a week. Thank you for sharing your message with the military through the Chaplain’s program “Strong Bonds”. You are making a difference!

  3. Anna Marie Warren says:

    My husband,myself and our friend (retired pastor) sat in the front row today at the IronWorks Center (Columbus, Georgia) and listened to you in person! That was so AWESOME for us. We have been to two Marriage Retreats provided via Ft. Benning’s Chaplaincy Program and viewed your DVDs during both retreats. My husband SFC James C. Warren (ret.) wore his “Nothing Box” t-shirt and I wore the “Reset Button” t-shirt. Since day one we have loved your seminar materials. Now, with the “Flag Page Solution” exercise/test we will be able to really understand one another even better.
    Thank you for allowing us to take photos with you and for signing our books and DVDs. I plan to give my daughter two of the DVD sets and one to my cousin in marriage crisis. Trust me though, we will NOT let go of our own DVDs, books and even a t-shirt that we bought for ourselves today.
    Thank you so much!
    Anna Marie Warren

  4. Samantha says:

    Mark is one hundred percent correct about what he has to say about change and military life. As a army spouse of 10 years I’ve learned how to deal with a lot of change. We’ve dealt with 3 deployments, many long trainings, 8 different moves and various changes, not to mention a life changing event when my husband almost died due to an infection he contracted during a deployment. We’ve dealt with the simplest of tasks to dealing with how to restart again when your whole life is upside down. About 6 months after my husbands 3 surgery we stumbled upon one of Marks clips on U-tube.(Tale of two brains) We were instantly hooked. I immediately bought the whole series and as a couple we watched and discussed what Mark had to say. We even completed the FLAG page and were quite surprised at the outcome. It told us a lot about what we already knew of ourselves but more importantly, helped us understand how it made us work together. Marks series is one I fully support and recommend to anyone. It’s easy to follow, fun to watch and very easy to put into action. It Makes Sense. The hardest part of military life is learning to deal with all the changes. Understanding how you and your spouse react and handle things makes it all that much easier to work things out. Thanks Mark for the wonderful and life changing Series. And Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support of the Military and our families.

    In Christ’s Love
    Samantha
    Army Wife.

  5. carol says:

    Greetings,

    I’m teaching HS students about relationships and need teaching materials & DVDs for those adolescents who want to date, are dating and who want to learn about boundaries and healthy relationships.

    Any DVDs on adolescents in prevention & edu. re: alcohol & drugs?

    Thanks in advance for your time and consideration.

    Carol

  6. Evelyn says:

    I am a military wife who recently attended Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage and I am truly grateful for the ministry that you have been blessed with. I do recognize all the changes that have occurred in our marriage with two deployments behind us.

    I had to get to know my husband all over again and vice versa. My husband also had the added stress of getting to know our children all over again. It was not easy, but God blessed us tremendously by giving us your LYW DVD. I am so glad that you have come out with the Flag page for kids. With four kids it will be interesting to see if we have been nurturing them or hindering them.

    I do wish that the sex talk you give would be a little more extensive! Yes, I do believe that for spouses the concept of foreplay and time is fleeting. They get it for a little while then they go back to the same old thing…

    Thanks for all you do! And blessings to your very lovely wife!

    Blessings,
    Evelyn Torres

  7. Hope says:

    Hi Mark,
    I have visited your Flagpage but have not signed up yet because of a delima I have: What if you don’t even know who you are anymore? I have been married to my highschool sweetheart for 25 years and love him more now than ever…but…isn’t there always a but in there. Well what has happened to me is that I have poured my heart and soul into pleasing everyone else including my two daughters that I truly don’t even know what my favorite color or food is. It is always about what everyone else wants or likes. I have done a lot of soul searching and still come up a blank. I have said that maybe once I get the kids raised I might get my life back…what life though? I know that you have been married for a long time to your high school sweetheart so I thought you might understand where I’m coming from. Any advise would be greatly appreciated. Sincerely, Hope

  8. Fortunate says:

    This is a great marriage tool for cuples and singles who want to have the oneness they dreamed of having in there realateionships.As a friend,a mentor ,or a complete stranger read these it’s gonna rock your world!!!

  9. Brenna says:

    My sister and her husband (both Army), lent my brand new husband and I (both Air Force) your “Laugh Your Way” DVD, because we have had a few very serious flaws so far in our communication and marriage. We are both, by nature, extremely strong-willed. After just one episode (featuring the nothing box), we understood each other so much better – and he even ASKED to continue the DVD! You know you have a good product when the men ask to watch a marriage video!

    He is deployed and I am going too, soon. We’ll be apart for 10 months, but we are armed with our Flag Page and your advice columns. We appreciate your different, no-game-playing approach to marriages and relationships.

    Thank you.

  10. Teresa says:

    I am a childless military spouse of over 20 years total, and now 10 years active duty. We’ve been through 3 deployments, but the worst one was when I BELIEVED everyone who said we should expect each other to have changed. It took us weeks to get me past all that pent up fear I’d gained. We stay connected through deployments daily and don’t usually go through the drama others do. So, spouses don’t sweat it! Just talk it out and stay connected!

    Mark we love your ministry and share your resources with as many as will listen. God bless you, dear brother!

    Oh, and for those of you who say “that’s easy for her to say she has no kids” You DO NOT want to trade crosses, OK? So please don’t think you know.

  11. Lothlorien says:

    Thank you for this article!!!! I can not express how grateful I am that I found this in my inbox tonight. My husband is a cilvilan contractor who deploys with the military. There are very few resources for us, because we are not military. Although he doesn’t deploy as long, the last time he came home it was hard on us cause he did change.
    He is due home next week and I have been worried if this time will be harder. This deployment has been very hard for all of us. I am sure that this email being in my inbox tonight is from the Lord. He knew my fears and sent me a resource to help deal with this.
    Thank you so much! I really appreciate all your insights, DVDs and just how much I have learned from you. You are inspired by the Lord!
    God bless you!

  12. Brenda Stuart says:

    The Flag Page is an incredible tool that is easy to use. I have been using it in team environments such as executive staffs, manufacturing companies, marketing companies and county government offices. I see the results of teams raising their level of trust because they understand each other. No one has to be someone they are not. The Flag Page shows you what’s good about you. I respect our military families soooooooooooooo much. I am glad that the Flag Page is another tool that can help these fragile marriages and families.

  13. Angie Bemus says:

    THANK YOU soOOooo much for this post! My husband has been a military contractor for 2 1/2 years and is returning home for good this September. I’m a little nervous about it, because I like the way home “feels” right now – peaceful, tidy, scheduled/balanced. There is help and support kinda’ built in for military families, but is next to no support for contractors when it comes to mental health/relational issues. So this post is a real answer to prayer for us. We’ll use it, and are looking to come to one of your events! We’ll need all the help we can get!;D

  14. Little Songbird says:

    THANK YOU soOOooo much for this post!
    My husband has been a military contractor for 2 1/2 years and is returning home for good this September. I’m a little nervous about it, because I like the way home “feels” right now – peaceful, tidy, scheduled/balanced. It’s been a very hard journey, but I’ve learned how to do life this way – now everything’s gonna’ get turned upside down.
    There is help and support kinda’ built in for military families, but is next to no support for contractors when it comes to mental health/relational issues. So this post is a real answer to prayer for us. We’ll use it, and are looking to come to one of your events!
    Keep helping us think in new ways, Mark. Strong Marriages made up of Healthy People = a better reflection of God’s wholeness and joy today.

  15. David W says:

    As part of my masters in counseling program, I developed a faith-based, group therapy model for military couples to aid in the post-deployment reintegration.

    This month’s Christian Counselor Magazine was full of great articles on how to help military families as well.

    As a veteran, Reservist, and pastoral counselor, this community needs more support that includes God. Military counselors and the VA currently embrace models that tend to exclude the faith/spiritual element.

    BTW>>> Love the Flag Page. I have the couples I work with use it as a tool as well. The simplicity is hard to beat.

  16. Ann Drake says:

    My son is not married yet but I am comforted to know that when he does get married, he and his wife will have resources like this. He is in the army and I am already praying for him and his future spouse as I see how hard it is for us as a family and how emotional it is. Thank you for providing this lifeline.

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