My long legs lay stretched out across his as his face was buried deep into a game on his phone, his fingers clicking diligently on the screen. He was unaware that I was staring directly at him, watching his lips clench and twist mimicking the movement of the digital player he controlled.
His face was fuller and worn with the years of being out in the sun. His hair a lot shorter keeping in line with the Air Force standards of dress and appearance. He was no longer the sixteen-year-old boy that gave me the butterflies when he would strut by with his baggy black dickies and white t-shirts. At thirty-two, with a first deployment under his belt, he changed more than I imagined he ever would. But as that sank in a little further, I realized so did I.
We thought we had this marriage thing down pat. In fact, my confident personality felt that marriage was something I was an expert on. Friends would ask me how Jon and I managed all these years and could still be so in love. I was assured that marriage came to us naturally. That was until I discovered how easy living apart from each other came.
As a military family, the luxury of being a team at home comes few and far between. We had spent the past ten years of our marriage working together, sharing all aspects of our lives daily. In October of last year, he left for the first time leaving me to wonder how I could ever manage to live solo. Yet, after six months, I discovered that I could do it, and I could do it well. I didn’t need him as much as I thought I did. I really could carry on with life without him carrying me through it. It wasn’t because I wanted to, but because I had to. Choosing wasn’t an option. He was gone, and I had to own it. Life had to keep going for us back home, which, as expected, didn’t sit too well for him.
For him, life paused. He moved to a place that he knew was temporary. Six months he would have to manage to live in a dorm and the thought of home carried him through. In his mind, he would return home and life would pick up right where it left off, but what he wasn’t prepared for was that he’d return to a place that had figured out how to go on without him.
Things were rough in the first few weeks. It was like we had to learn new things about each other, which seemed foreign and even a bit unacceptable for a couple that had been together since sophomore year of high school. Deep down, each of us wondered if the spark that was once a roaring flame, would ever ignite a passion again.
It has been two months since he returned home and we still find ourselves entangled in the mess of navigating new waters in our marriage, but we have found that change can be good. With a few good melt downs and all out yelling matches, we’ve allowed each other to get to know the new sides to who we had become, and in all of it, we’re learning that marriage isn’t a trophy or badge we wear like we once thought, but rather a constant choice to walk in the mess of life with someone. Marriage isn’t a theme so easily nailed down in books or blogs, but rather an experience every day between two people going through life this side of Eternity. So if earth isn’t our final destination, then marriage doesn’t have to be as perfected as I once strived so hard to attain. It’s merely a tool God has given us as a way to survive on this journey.
In our world, deployments will become a norm, life will throw its curve balls and our hearts will break more than we probably care to admit, but it is incredibly freeing when you allow your partner to grow, experience and change with the seasons of life knowing that you will too. Full of really romantic moments, terribly painful experiences, and even some really good intimacy, marriage is messy but oh so good.
Jhen Stark is a wife and mom and currently lives in Colorado. You may recognize Jhen as one of Union28’s models! She’s a sweet friend of ours and we are thankful she has taken the time to open up and share very authentically about herself and her marriage.