by Jocelyn Green | Photo by catchlight imaging
How to Decode Love in the Military Marriage
Marriage is hard enough for the everyday civilian. But add in the unique challenges of deployments, frequent moves, and high-pressure situations, and it’s no wonder military marriages are under stress. Our love story is no exception. Rob and I met at a church in northern Virginia while working in Washington, D.C.—he stationed at Coast Guard headquarters while I was an editor at a nonprofit on Capitol Hill. We hit it off, and entered a very intentional courtship. Ten months later we were married—and two days later driving to Rob’s next Coast Guard duty station in Homer, Alaska.
We were as committed to a Christ-centered marriage as any couple could be. Compatibility testing: check. Premarital mentoring: done. Stack of books on Christian marriage: read. Somehow, however, The 5 Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman was not on the list. We wish it had been. Though we never questioned each other’s faithfulness, between the separations and daily high-stress of Rob’s new position, we had a much harder time both showing and feeling love. The fact that I co-authored The 5 Love Languages Military Edition book with Dr. Chapman doesn’t mean I’ve always known how to express love effectively.
Here are two things Rob and I wish we’d known from day one of our relationship: First, the things that make you feel loved may not also help your spouse feel loved, and second, you can learn to love your spouse the way he or she can receive it. First Corinthians 13:4 tells us, “Love is patient, love is kind.” But what feels very kind to one person may not even be noticed by another.
Dr. Chapman, a pastor, author and marriage counselor, has identified five basic love languages with which we communicate love: Words of Affirmation, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, Quality Time, and Physical Touch. When one discovers which expression speaks the most clearly to both oneself and one’s spouse, it’s far easier to keep love alive in the marriage. Otherwise, misunderstandings and resentment can easily grow.
Now we know that Rob’s love language is Acts of Service, which means he feels most loved when I do things for him, whether that’s cooking, bringing him coffee, or keeping the house tidy. My love language is Quality Time, so spending time in activities or conversation with him is what makes me feel most loved.
But because we didn’t know this about each other when we first married, our efforts at expressing love often fell short. Here’s what happened:
Jocelyn: When Rob was out at sea, my love tank felt depleted. Every time he returned, I wanted to just soak up time with him—just us. So when he wanted to go hang out with friends right away after returning, I felt hurt and unloved.
Rob: We had been assigned to a little town in Alaska where I had already spent two years on a previous Coast Guard tour. I was looking forward to reconnecting with old friends, and was frustrated that Jocelyn seemed to want to monopolize my home time. If I had realized her Quality Time needs, I would have focused my attention on her first.
Jocelyn: And then I would have been much happier for him to spend time with friends. I confess, I didn’t recognize Rob’s love language of Acts of Service either. Before we met I was fairly independent already, living on my own in Washington, D.C. But once married, I made a list of things for Rob to fix or do upon his return. My thought was, “He’s the husband. He should do these things.”
Rob: But my thought when I got back home after a few weeks out at sea was, “Oh great, I’m just a handyman now.” And I’m not very handy! If she had taken care of those chores without me—even if that meant hiring a plumber or electrician—I would have felt much more loved. She just didn’t understand my love language.
Now that we understand our love languages, Rob makes a point to spend consistent quality time with me, and I am more than happy for him to have guy nights without me. In turn, I manage the household and cook for him as an act of service, even if I could be happy with a bowl of cereal. If we are experiencing tension, it’s usually because one or both of us has an empty love tank.
Humanly speaking, it’s difficult to show love to one’s spouse when one doesn’t feel loved personally. But 1 Corinthians 13:5,7 reminds us that love “is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs…. always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Jesus summed up a life lived out in love as this: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).
And even if for no other reason, we love our spouses because Jesus tells us to. Marriage is far richer when we know how to love each other effectively! And when one spouse makes it a priority, the vast majority of the time the other spouse will follow suit.
Jocelyn is an award-winning author of both fiction and nonfiction whose titles include Faith Deployed: Daily Encouragement for Military Wives, Stories of Faith and Courage from the Home Front, and The 5 Love Languages Military Edition.
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The 5 Love Languages Military Edition: The Secret to Love That Lasts
The 5 Love Languages profile will help you and your partner identify your love languages so you can put the principles to work for you immediately. Guided by input from dozens of military couples in all stages of their careers, authors Gary Chapman and former military wife Jocelyn Green offer you an unparalleled tool for your marriage with The 5 Love Languages Military Edition.
The 5 Love Languages