Archive for March, 2018

“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 relationship, 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, 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 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 the being with you, you have to talk with her and confide in her and let her see you.

Armor off.

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 natural 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 judgement. 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.







Guest post by Joe DeCree, Maj. (Ret.) US Army

Do you recall the Nicole Kidman thriller The Others? In it she lives in a haunted house which she does not know to be haunted.  Eventually the ma & pa caretakers, also ghosts unbeknownst to Kidman, tell her about the “others” who are the other ghosts in the house threatening her children.  

And some of us too are guilty of not seeing “the others” all around us.  I knew I had PTSD issues long before I was diagnosed.  Part of my war cry was the familiar “my friends and I bled for an ungrateful nation.” You know it. You have said it too.  You also may still believe it.  There are lots of anecdotal stories that justify our angst.  I have been called baby killer, I have had to listen to stories of “military incompetence” by academics who never served anything but know how everyone else should.  When I taught ROTC on college campuses I got told how the country was just wrong and the military is unnecessary.  I have listened to well-meaning but naïve Americans who are interested in what is going on with the wars but just can’t get their heads around it for a variety of reasons.  I have listened to “Thanks for your service” as a socially cool thing to say.  My favorite is listening to men tell me why they did not or could not serve.  Telling me this makes my day better how? Oh right, it does not.  It is them using me to feel better about their own conscience pangs.  I don’t need that.  In fact, I don’t care a whit about their conscience pangs.  Please feel free to have them and leave me out of it.  

Nobody likes us it seems.  As if that were not enough the VA does not seem to care either.  Going there often feels like you are messing up their pristine system because you have a problem.  We see the news stories and hear the glee in the news anchors’ voices every time they can arrange the story as a failure for the US. This usually means some more of our buddies have died.  The liberals seem to want us dead so that they can point to the futility of the war.  The conservatives want us dead so they can show everyone how patriotic they are.  Please, God, isn’t there anyone who wants me to live? I just want to go to a concert and not freak out about what a horrible tactical situation I am in.   I want to be able to wind my window all the way down when I am driving.  Remember that?  But you just smile and nod and say thank you and go to Applebee’s every November 11th and get your discounted lunch (I do appreciate that by the way) but what you really want to know is that someone out in there in John Q. Public cares about what you tried to do for them.  The country is so ungrateful.  

PTSD makes you very cynical.  So can the military. I won’t go into the chicken-or-egg argument on that right now. In your cynicism you have everyone figured out.  For now, your cynical hopeless side discounts everyone who did not suit up.  They’re just poges.  Am I right?

Then you meet the others.  You did not know they existed.  They are not vocal.  They do not get on CNN or Fox (I do not like either).  They stand respectfully when the anthem gets sung at a high school sports game. They open the door for you and your prosthetic leg.  They watch your dog while you are out.  They don’t say much, that is until you start a conversation.  You admit you could use some help with something and one of the others takes five minutes to listen.  They don’t know what to say and you don’t either.  They are probably afraid of being disrespectful.  They may be afraid of you exploding on them.  We are a thorny and awkward bunch after all, aren’t we? I mean, even we think we are crotchety, imagine what that looks like to someone knows nothing except what they have seen on the news.  One listens for five minutes and invites you to something and then you meet another and another.  For the price of five minutes you soon have a network of people who think you are not a bad guy and you have some cool stories.  After a few weeks you might even have a real friend.  The others are out there.  They are the great mass that is America.  They are all around but you have to let them know it’s ok to approach.  We give off warning vibes then we complain that they don’t care.  It’s a little lopsided.

I learned this recently.  I went on a veterans’ ski weekend put on by an organization called Dream Adaptive.  I skied for free. They bought me lunch and they provided expert ski instructors who were familiar with all the ways physically challenged folks can ski.  They are not schooled in crusty old war horses who think no one cares about them.  They volunteer to this and they pass up a weekend with their friends to teach some old broke guys -more proof that no one cares…  I was skiing in a group of three and our instructors were young ladies. One was in her late 20s and the other in her early 30s.  They had no prior exposure to the military.  One even admitted that she went to South America with the peace corps.  Oh, and if you are keeping score the ungratefuls footed the bill on this weekend through their charitable donations and grants. Oooh the nerve!

My little group was all grunts. These poor youngsters did not know what they were walking into.  We started getting acquainted and finally they fessed up-they were the “others”.  They appreciated us and that we made their way of life possible (they actually said that).  These girls were a little hesitant though, because we were on a chair lift 200 feet up with three ex-shooters who all had anger and memory issues and they were the adult supervision.  We talked politely at first.  As the conversations got more raucous during the day they started looking lost so we agreed to explain the jokes.  Then we explained some acronyms.  Finally, came the million-dollar question.  One of the ladies wanted to know if she could ask about PTSD and what it did to us and how we managed it.  I was floored.  Imagine that, somebody you aren’t related to caring about how you were doing. Who knew?  We told her yes, she could ask her questions.  She asked some serious questions about nightmares, anger, triggers, if the VA was as bad as the news says, and other unpleasantness.  They were both very concerned that our little ski outing was a break from all of that.  

By the end of the day we were all skiing much better but something else happened; we were all laughing.  We made jokes about our memory issues , anger issues, & physical issues.  We made jokes about AfghanIraqiPakistuzbekistan.  We laughed about the stupid things the Army and USMC did on deployments.  We made a lot of Air Force jokes. We laughed. We laughed. We laughed.  We even told them that we could go to great lengths to defend their honor and not remember what we did with the perpetrators (no, not apologizing).  By the end of the day I knew they were catching on when I asked a skiing question and got, “that’s classified way above your level.” The other said “No Sh#!@ there I was…”  It was hilarious!  Imagine, three old grunts and two young ladies (one of them from the dreaded peace corps) just hanging out like we were some old uncles they had not seen in years.  America at its finest.  

The others are out there.  The nation is not as ungrateful as our false nobility wants it to be.  Trying to see it that way may just be an excuse to hang onto irrational anger (remember- that is a thing we do).  Self-isolation for the sake of believing a false reality will not get us back to whole.  If we isolate because “no one cares” then we are isolating because we want to be isolated, nothing more.  It is not disloyal to our dead brothers and sisters to engage the others and have a laugh with them. It does not mean we are not warriors anymore.  It does not make us one of “them” and not “one of us”.  It is ok to have a cup of coffee with the others.  The others want to say thanks.  They don’t know how. Shame on us if we just don’t know how to receive that.  After all, it is what we all want.

Can they understand what it is to shoulder a 100 lb. ruck sack and go 25 miles in 5 hours? Not anymore than I know what it is to pack train a llama in the peace corps in Peru.  Do they understand what it is to watch incoming and have to sift through the BDA? No and we went so that they never would have to- remember that.  None of that however, means that they are democrat or republican or CNN or Fox.  They are just the others (just like we are “those guys”) and if we tell them they can come up to us maybe they will and maybe that will be a good day.  At least the skiing will be good.  Go get ‘em tiger.


Joe DeCree is a Maj. (Ret.) US Army, Green Beret, 19th SFG (A). He works with returning veterans and lives with his family in Montana. You can contact Joe directly at or 406-871-0638 MT.