by Britta Reque-Dragicevic
This first appeared in Britta’s blog, “Life After War” on March 2, 2018, and is republished with the author’s permission.
“But I love my wife. She’s everything to me. I don’t want to lose her.”
“He’s not the man I married. I can’t do this anymore.”
I hear these two expressions all the time from good people whose hearts are aching and weary. Brave people who are dealing with intense trauma and changes in each other, in their relationships, and in their families. They’ve often argued and silenced themselves into a corner. Both parties are scared, unsure, and sadder than they know how to say.
I listen compassionately to hear what’s going on beneath the surface and offer wisdom that does its best to give Love a chance. I take the side of Love, even when that side might mean that people who promised themselves to each other need to end the relationship.
I’m not a marriage counselor and I am a woman who chose to divorce because it was deeply right and necessary for my soul. I can’t tell someone how to fix their relationship. I can offer support and caring space to help them figure out what their own souls need.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
War changes people. Permanently. You cannot unbecome who you are, you can only start where you are now and move forward toward a new sense of wholeness and identity. Being whole means you embrace ALL the parts of yourself — including the darkness, the anger, the pain, and the nightmares. If you are hinging your strategy for saving your relationship on an ability to “get back to who you used to be” — that is not going to work. THIS is who you are today and everything you have been through has made you into who you are today.
This is true for the warrior and the loved one at home. You have BOTH changed. You have both lived and grown while apart from each other and while experiencing life without each other there to witness and share it. There are parts of you now that are not part of the couplehood. Not shared. Unknown to each other.
Accept who you are today. That’s the only place to start. Warriors, if you’re in denial about how war has changed you (you know deep down it has) and your loved one is trying hard to convince you that you have changed — believe him/her. Their perception of you is not who you are, but it is how they are experiencing you.
And how you experience someone defines relationship, doesn’t it?
There are things you can change and things you can only accept. You’re not going to erase memories, the loss of brothers, the things you’ve done, the impact of time away. You’re not going to be as carefree as you were before combat. You’re not going to “put it all behind you” or “just move on.” You’re not going to not be a combat veteran. You’re not going to get those shared couplehood or parenthood moments back. What was missed together is missed. Forever. It’s gone.
What can you change?
The heart is changeable. Relationship is changeable. IF both hearts have not fully closed to one another and if both hearts have enough love left to make themselves vulnerable and open up to each other as human beings and not the roles you play.
Warriors — this is on you. You love your wife and you want her to stay? What does she need from you? Women need to feel as if they deeply know the man they love — we define relationship by how well we know people. Intimacy — emotional, heart, soul, sexual — all comes down to feeling that a man trusts us enough to let us in and confide in us. Women have deep resources of healing to offer the men we love. But if you keep her distant, don’t let her see you tear up, only express anger and discontent, drink all the time, refuse to tell her about what you’ve been through (trust me, she’s more warrior than you when it comes to dealing with tough emotional shit)… then what’s the point of her trying to love you? Why should she stay?
If you’ve been with her for years, she’s put everything she has into supporting you — all the while doing her best to be brave for you, to be patient, to keep everything running, everything going, kids birthed, fed, parented — she’s fucking tired! And you come home and treat her like she’s a stranger that you may or may not feel like fucking and definitely don’t want to talk with… what do you expect? Why would she want to stay and keep giving herself to you? If you make her an outsider, she will become one. You won’t get her back.
You must open up to her. You must allow her to be different than any other person in your life. Not just a wife, but your spiritual partner. Your healing partner. The one person who knows you beneath the armor. You can keep your armor on for everyone else. Take it off when you’re alone with her.
You don’t have to have all the answers. You don’t have to even understand why you feel the way you do. But if you want her to keep her heart open to you, to stay invested in being with you, you have to talk with her and confide in her and let her see you.
Yes, it’s fucking scary. Yes, you fear she’ll judge you. Yes, you’re a “man” and don’t let anyone see you weak. Yes, she shouldn’t have to know what you’ve been through — you want to protect her. Yes, it’s risky. Yes, you might cry. Yes, you might (you will) feel weak. (You’ll feel a huge relief after — like you can breathe again.)
It takes courage. And you cannot be brave unless you are vulnerable. Not in combat, not in talking to your wife.
What happens if you take the risk?
Women are quite understanding about anyone who feels lost or who is in pain or who has been through something horrible because we are very good at empathy and caring and wanting to support those we love. Our sacred role on this earth is to lead men back to their souls, back to themselves. That comes naturally to us. Given the chance — given the trust — if our hearts are still open to the man we love, we will respond with acceptance and love. Not pity. Not judgment. Not shame. Not lack of respect.
And the energy of love is what you need most right now.
A woman who still loves a man — if her heart hasn’t fully closed and decided it’s done with the relationship — will melt and soften when a man trusts her to be able to accept him by telling her what is really going on inside him. This is the terrain where women build relationships. We live for it. We know how to navigate it.
And we don’t see men as weak for breaking down, for opening up, for sharing what they’ve been through. We don’t lose respect for men who confide in us, we gain it.
If your woman’s heart has not fully closed, confiding in her is your best option for trying to save your relationship. She will be your deepest source of healing if you allow her to be. If you respect her enough to let her help you navigate this dark terrain.
Women are emotional and spiritual warriors. We can handle it. We can handle the stories of combat. We can handle the blood and gore. We can handle the grief and pain. We don’t need you to protect us from what you’ve experienced, we need you to protect us from losing our connection to who you are inside.
Woman — this is scary shit for men. It goes against how they naturally feel and what society and the military has trained them to be. A man needs to feel he will not lose respect in your eyes if he shows what feels like weakness to him. You innately know how to love him, how to heal, how to be present and supportive. He doesn’t need you to fix him, but he does need to know you have a vast enough spirit and heart and soul to accept him as he is. The Divine Feminine breaks through so love can go where it hasn’t gone before. You embody Divine Feminine energy. Your softening toward him lets him soften. So you, too, need to take off the mask and let him see you vulnerable as well.
Men and women are not two sides of the same coin. Modern feminist theory has led us to believe that men and women are the same, but different. I believe we are two different spiritual beings and we have unique spiritual roles to play toward one another. Women have the capacity to lead men back to themselves and we have spiritual gifts that only we can give. Men have the ability to create a space for us that holds our power, where they can be strong for us and let us rest within their safety.
The trauma of war is deep, heavy shit. Too often, it’s easy to fail to realize the gravity of what you’re dealing with. Too easy to assume it should be easy. Too easy to assume that others are handling it better. Society doesn’t help in perpetuating this myth. Take a moment and step back and honor the fact that you are both dealing with issues that few have the courage to deal with. Few have the strength and yet you do. Honor your journey for what it has been and for what it is.
Confiding in each other is the first step to finding your way forward. Men — it may be your last chance before her heart closes permanently and can’t be reopened. Women, it may be your softening and sharing how war has impacted your heart that softens his.
Give Love a chance to hold you both, together.