By Paul and Cindy Benfanti
The Story: Cindy says...Paul and I met in late summer, 1986. We were freshmen at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. We fell in love quickly and supported one another through the trials and tribulations of medical school. Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of joy in those years as well. One week after our graduation at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, we were married just outside of Buffalo, NY, surrounded by our loved ones. It was a beautiful day! One that our family still talks about today. And then…it was just us. We were newly commissioned Captains in the Medical Corps, facing our future together. A few short weeks later, we headed out to Augusta, Georgia, to start our internships at D.D. Eisenhower Medical Center at Fort Gordon. We made it through medical school; the rest should be a piece of cake. Right? Wrong. I had no idea what life could throw at you. I’m a little wiser now.
Paul says... We had a wonderful wedding, surrounded by our extended family and friends. Our priest, Father Fred, was a lifelong friend of my father and had baptized all of us when we were babies. We were honored to have him perform the ceremony. He said something during the ceremony that struck both of us that day. He said, “the love you have for each other today is not enough to carry you through a lifetime of marriage together.” I thought that it was a strange thing to say to soon-to-be newlyweds. I had assumed, incorrectly, that the love we had right then was as good as it was going to get. How could there be any more love than this? Boy, did I have a lot to learn.
Cindy and Paul... After 28 years of marriage, and through our experiences with Worldwide Marriage Encounter, we now understand that couples grow and change, both individually and as a couple. Throughout any marriage, it takes work to keep the relationship strong and loving. But, underlying the “work,” it is necessary to make the decision to love the other, through all of the hardships. And by “love,” we don’t mean that tingly warm infatuation that carried you through the beginnings of your relationship. We mean to make the decision to love the other, in your head, despite how your emotions may be rocking your heart. Did we understand that in the beginning? No. But, if we had, we are sure that the sailing would have been much smoother.
The Strategies: Once you’ve made the decision to love, the next step is figuring out how to make that love reach, and be felt by, your spouse. There are many ways to do this. The trick is finding the ones that work for the two of you. As we are sitting here, writing to you, we are both wanting to go on and on about our favorite ways. But, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We will be exploring these many ways in future blogs. For now, we would like to start with two basic strategies.
1. Seek empathy first: Try to understand how your spouse feels in any given situation, before you try to find the solution to the situation. That will give you perspective and compassion. And, it will help you to love your spouse through any difficult decisions. This concept is at the heart of the Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekends. When you attend a weekend, you will be taught how to find that empathic connection with your spouse. It changes marriages for the better.
2.Table Talk: Every couple faces problems. And that’s the way to look at it. The couple is facing a problem. You two are journeying through life together, and you come across something on your path. It disturbs your peace, your equilibrium. It is the interloper. We learned something at a Marriage Encounter Enrichment that taught us to look at ourselves seated at the kitchen table. We are seated on one side of the table and the problem is seated on the other side. And we face the problem together. Our spouse is not the problem. Often, our spouse is the only one there at the end of the day, so our emotions get directed towards our spouse. But, when we see that the problem is facing the both of us together, we can then face the problem together and seek a solution in unison. Us against the problem.
The Scripture: Romans 12:2 (NABRE)Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.
Dear Lord, please bless our marriages and help us continue to grow in faith and in love, with You, and with each other.
By Dave and Lucy Snyder
The Story: It was a windy but sunny day in January 1967 at Ft. Lee, Virginia. The Post Catholic Chapel was still decorated from the Christmas holidays, and members of our wedding party wore red velvet and dress blue. As we said our vows and became a Sacrament that beautiful day, we were both aware of the beginning of our new life as a married couple—what we didn’t realize was that we were also beginning a lifelong journey as a military married couple.
Through the years of traveling with the Army, separations and deployments, raising our family and now in retirement, our married journey has been an amazing adventure. Yes, we have had our ups and downs, good years and not-so-good years just like any ordinary couple, but we have been able to grow together right from the beginning because we had the wisdom and advice of our parents and “military” family.
We also had the great fortune to attend a Worldwide Marriage Encounter (WWME) Weekend when we were married ten years. In addition to the personal and spiritual conversion we experienced, that weekend helped us to realize that we are not alone in our relationship, but are connected to all other Catholic married couples. Through our Weekend, we learned to rely on God more intentionally in our relationship, and He has been guiding and protecting us through every stage and all the years of our marriage.
We have been privileged to work with hundreds of couples and priests over the past forty years in marriage ministry, especially military couples and chaplains throughout the U.S. and overseas. The deep friendships we created in the early years of our military marriage, and then our ministry in WWME, have been the source of great encouragement and hope for us.
We’ve learned so many insights about marriage in the military and feel excited to share some of them with you. We also ask that you share with us your stories and strategies that have helped you to have a happy, healthy military marriage. Notice we didn’t say perfect marriage, since there is no such thing!
The Strategies: These first three tips are from parents (Lucy: I was an Army daughter) and are based on our belief that WE ARE BETTER TOGETHER.
Tip #1: Both your marriage and your service in the military are 24/7, but you are NOT in a competition—with each other or the military. You are in this together, you’re on the same team.
Tip#2: Laugh together every day—it helps to ease loneliness and reduce stress.
Tip#3: Discover a hobby or activity that you can do together. We learned to golf the first year we were married, and still enjoy playing together after all our fifty-one years!
The Scripture: Colossians 2:1-2, “…That their hearts may be encouraged as they are brought together in love.”
Dear Lord, we thank you for giving us each other to love for a lifetime. Help us to let go of any competition in our relationship and give us the strength to be teammates in our marriage. Amen.
By Dave and Lucy Snyder
The Story: Have you ever had the “vacation discussion”? We grew up in such different families. Lucy: Being an Army daughter I experienced the annual visit to relatives and thought that’s what Dad’s leave was for. I was ready to do something fun that didn’t include visiting relatives. Dave: I came from a small town in PA and a family where my Dad was very work focused. I was ready to reconnect to my family and friends back in my home town. It wasn’t until we were well into our military life and marriage that we were able to communicate in a normal tone of voice about this issue.
We credit our WWME Weekend and the tools we learned about unmet expectations and active listening for our eventual ability to resolve the vacation issue. After much listening with our heart, we now make decisions about vacations based on what is best for US and our family, rather than on what we ”should” do. By the way, we STILL have to use our tools after retirement from the Army to plan vacations, although now WE are the family waiting for the visits! Imagine that!
The Strategies: We have listed three strategies for dealing with vacation decisions. We know that you may have found other ways—we would love to hear your ideas.
Dear Lord, Help us to reach out to one another each day with a listening heart.
By Dave and Lucy Snyder
The Story: Yes, it’s true, but the happy part of moving didn’t happen automatically for us. We had been married for one year when we got orders. This was going to be a short tour to Vietnam for me, (this is Dave), and Lucy was going to live near relatives in California. We navigated the treacherous waters of moving with a three-month old daughter and another baby on the way. To complicate things, one of us was a saver and the other was happy to dispose of everything but the essentials in order to start over decorating at our next location (you can guess who was whom!). This was a conflict of values, to say the least.
We argued about dumb stuff through the weeks before the move, but underneath all the disagreement was the much deeper issue of our first separation and wartime duty. We had fallen into “separation syndrome.” The good news of this situation came in the form of our dear friends and neighbors Terry and Janet. We met them when we joined the religious education program at the post chapel right after we married, and they became real life-savers as we struggled with our fear and worry about what might happen. Terry and Janet shared their experiences of moving and were gentle yet relentless in their questioning that forced us to examine our motivations. They also showed us by their example how to communicate our values and feelings honestly and lovingly.
Our Catholic Chaplain, Fr. Joe, was also a good friend and mentor as he introduced us to Couple Prayer. In those days, there were no cell phones and we communicated 98% through letters. We learned to pray the rosary and other prayers individually and then share our prayer in writing. It was so special to “connect” with each other through prayer even though we were separated—we really believe that the couple who prays together, stays together!
We moved many times during the next 24 years, and fortunately each of those moves was better than the last—and more fun! We found out that we both are naturally adventurous, with a deep curiosity about people and places. This made our moves much more interesting as we poured over maps and encyclopedias (the Google of yesterday). When our family grew, we included our children in the process. We researched schools, dreamed about where we would live, and what we would do for fun. Our first Sunday at a new post was important too, since this was our “homecoming” experience where we met other Catholic families who would become our new friends.
The Strategies: What are your moving strategies? Send us your stories and strategies about moving.
Dear Lord, we thank you for the gift of each other and good friends. Give us a spirit of hospitality for those you send to us and help us to hold each other close as we change and move on our military married journey. Amen.
Stories, Strategies and Scripture
…to create lifelong married love
This blog is written by military couples to share the wisdom, insights, experiences and faith that they have gained in their years of Catholic marriage. Comments welcome! Share your ideas and experiences with other military couples and help us support one another in the vocation of marriage!