Could it be Both?
That’s the leadership phrase that can save a military marriage.
My husband and I have been married for almost 17 years. During that time we’ve navigated 5 deployments, 8 PCS’s, childbirth, isolation, and unexpected friendship. You know, the usual for the average military spouse.
We are currently living in Rome, Italy (yes, the heart of COVID-19) where we serve as diplomats and I run a business as a leadership trainer. After spending time developing – and learning from – the best leaders worldwide, a dawning awareness has crept over my brain: Military spouses are some of the world’s best leadership trainers in disguise.
You see, my husband and I have had at least 3-4 marriages during those 17 years together. We’ve fallen apart, pulled ourselves back together again, and found new ways to be resilient. Pretty sure we’re currently working on marriage number 5 as the kids and I navigate COVID-19 lockdown here in Rome and he serves on his fifth tour in Iraq (here’s to crossing fingers that the fifth time’s the charm). We’ve been through ALL of the wild situations, and just had to roll with the punches. Well, in leadership that’s called “Agile Management,” and is one of the hottest commodities currently out there.
Who knew we could garner careers just from living our everyday milspo life?
So, while my husband and I have all of the tools up our sleeves on how to struggle through and make it work out in the end, it was truly my professional training as a leadership developer that taught me how to do so with style – and fun. And one of the best of those many tools that it gave me was this:
It taught me that there’s never just one side to any story. And – most importantly – it gave me the tools to help my strong-personality-type husband to see that truth.
Y’all, the military members that I know tend to be STRONG personalities. I mean – they blow things up for a living, they go to Ranger School AND LIKE IT, and they seem to yell at each other and do flutter kicks for fun. Being a girl from Nebraska, raised by two Chemistry professors…this is weird. It’s a weird, crazy country that I entered out of love, and it took me years to find a way to speak their odd language. It was years fraught with confusion, disbelief, and…well, more confusion. So, in service to my fellow milspo sisters and brothers, let me cut some of that time down for you.
I give you the gift of “Could It Be Both?”
Because here’s another leadership truth – along with strong personalities come strong beliefs, my loves. And beliefs are simply the stories that we hold in our heads about any given situation (leadership truth!). Which means that occasionally, while perhaps valid, they are not helpful. And guess what?? There’s ALWAYS another angle to the story – the trick is simply to find it. However, tell that to a Bear (my husband’s Spirit Animal, no joke) with a Ranger Tab, and he’s going to throw everything he’s got at you. I know. I’ve tried.
So let me tell you a story to illustrate.
My husband and I usually share stories at the end of our days and bounce ideas off of each other. Relatively often his stories include something about a frustrating event that happened to him during the day, and how he couldn’t believe that this type of thing would happen in [insert any military unit here]. For years – YEARS – I sat as the supportive and slightly helpless-feeling spouse, giving him golden advice (seriously), trying to help him to see it from different perspectives, and wrangling to get him to a more helpful story about the situation.
That man would tell me that I just didn’t understand, that what I was saying wasn’t helpful (because his way of doing it was working so well…), that he just wanted to pour it out and have me listen. And, my loves, he didn’t do it spitefully. Nope. He’s just a man of strong beliefs, and in order to pry him out of those beliefs, a serious crowbar was needed.
Enter the Crowbar.
So I went through leadership development and coaching training to assist the growth of my own business. And while it’s helped dramatically there, probably the largest shift has come from the change in our marriage.
Through leadership training I learned that everything that I’d already been doing as a milspo naturally was the best way to grow new leaders – and all I needed were some tools to help bring it to the conscious level. Some of the tools I got were how to help people move from one perspective to another, how to rewrite the stories in our heads, how to process through emotions to create more energy for ourselves, how to use those emotions to propel us forward.
And, more than anything, I learned that there is never, never, never just one side to a story.
Do you know how insanely HELPFUL that one truth is?? Why? Because for those stubborn, silly-ass strong wonderful military members, we can open the door just a crack. And, fabulously, a crack is all we need. Let me give you the practical steps that worked for us to get there:
Step 1: Military member comes home, offloads wild day stories.
Step 2: Milspo offers different perspective.
Step 3: Military member says that’s dumb, we don’t understand, yadda yadda yadda.
Step 4: Milspo says “Now, I know it’s probably not all true. I can see that. You’re right. I wonder…I just wonder…is it possible that it could be 10% true?
Step 5: Military member most likely says no.
Step 6: Milspo says “Hmmm…well could your perspective be 91% true, and mine possibly be 9% true?
Step 7: Repeat steps 5 and 6 as many times as necessary until you feel that they’re about to cave.
Step 8: Look very thoughtful…pensive…curious and wondering. Perhaps cock your head in one direction, like you’re thinking REALLY hard about it (bonus points if you actually are)..and then pull out the big guns. Ask in a curious voice “I wonder…hmmm…I wonder… Could it be both?
Step 9: ENTER THE MAGIC
Here are the long-term ramifications of this one simple tool. Now, when my husband comes to me with a story about his day, we actually GET somewhere. He’ll tell me his side, I’ll offer a different perspective, IF he starts arguing I look at him and say “Could it be both?” and magically, magically, we’re on the same page, finding creative ways to figure it out together.
Magic, I tell you fellow milspos. Magic.
Recently, in our Becoming Superwoman Facebook Group, we created a group challenge to ask someone in your life what they admire about you (this is a hard exercise for servant leaders to do, which is why we made it into a challenge). We make the leaders do the exercises too, so after some hard thought I finally decided to ask my husband for his feedback. Here is that WhatsApp stream:
Me: Good morning! I have homework to do for my fb group…what is something you admire about me?
Him: Your ability to apply perspective to any situation. And so many other things.
Angels be praised and glory hallelujah. I offer you the miracle of “Could it be Both?” Anything for a fellow milspo, my loves – prayers that it reaches you before marriage #5!
This is a guest post by Carmen Westbrook, Army spouse of 17 years, mother of 4 children, and also the CEO and Founder of Aina Giving. The organization is a unique leadership community built on the principles of servant leadership, empowerment, and equality. Her first book, Becoming Superwoman, helps military spouses understand and appreciate their contributions to their military family and community, even if they aren’t defined by a paycheck, and eventually gives them an opportunity to be paid for it.