Surviving a combat zone means fighting for your life every second. Imagine what this does to a person’s nerves. Now add in being exposed to atrocities that no person should have to see, not least of which is confronting the human face of the enemy you’re there to defeat. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface. No wonder war wreaks havoc on soldiers’ psyches – and their relationships.
If you or your partner has been in active duty and your relationship is suffering, you’re not alone. Millions of modern couples have been affected by the current conflicts in the Middle East, not to mention wars in Desert Storm and even Vietnam. But while the story of war torn love is a familiar one, the end result doesn’t have to be a tragedy. It will require commitment and effort, but your love can survive conflict abroad, and over time, the battle scars can be healed.
1. Reach Out
First things first, don’t be afraid (or ashamed) to seek help. Unfortunately, when traumatized, human beings have a tendency to withdraw into isolation. That said, no soldier could go to war alone, and it would be extremely difficult for one to go it alone upon returning home. While most armed service members describe wartime conditions as horrendous, many also concede that relating to civilians afterward is almost as trying. It makes sense then, that intimacy (and intimate relationships) would be the most difficult to return to.
In recent years the military has gone through great lengths to accept therapy as a viable and necessary component of active duty service. There is no shame in seeking out an experienced counselor to help you both deal with your emotions. Go alone and go together. Just make sure you go.
2. Be Patient
Acclimating to life after war is more than an attitude adjustment, it is a complete shift in every area of life, most notably in love, since it’s war’s polar opposite. Whereas battle requires living on guard, ready for anything at any second, love requires letting your guard down and being vulnerable with your partner. It’s easy, then, to see where resentment can build up on both sides during the transition period. One of you wants their old partner back and the other one just isn’t the same. The only real answer is for both of you to be patient with yourselves and with each other, regardless of which side you’re on.
Things are going to be different now. Healing is a process that doesn’t happen overnight. But do it together, and it can make your bond stronger.
3. Relinquish Expectations
It would be easy if we could put a timeline on healing, but considering the physical, emotional and psychological effects of war and the natural differences between people, there is no simple guideline that applies across the board. Repairing a relationship that’s been torn apart by international conflict is a tricky mission. However, by letting go, engaging in activities that promote healing (like therapy and also yoga or meditation) and trusting that by giving your effort and attention to your partner and your mutual well-being you can overcome the damage, you’ll increase the odds that that comes true. Conversely, if you try to hold each other to unrealistic expectations, you’ll only drive the wedge deeper and make it harder to overcome. Understand that you can’t force it, you can only work at it, keeping in mind that both of you need to be whole before you can be effective and emotionally present halves of a pair.