I was catching up with a girlfriend recently, and she was telling me about how tough it’s been around the house with her husband’s job lately. He’s a lawyer, and he’s working on a big case, and she was telling me about the long hours he’s putting in and the time away from family and the added stress. After venting for a while, she asked me about my husband’s work life.
What came next was the conversation I’ve had many times with friends and family about what my husband does, a conversation that is short and sweet: It’s classified.
My husband is in the Navy, and there are very few things I know about what he does. He’s been in commands where I’ve had a much better understanding of his work, but in D.C. where everything happens in windowless buildings with acronyms, all I know is when he’ll be home for dinner.
This used to drive me crazy. There are still times when he comes home from a stressful day but can’t tell me why, and I feel annoyed at our whole military lifestyle.
It’s tough to feel connected to someone you love when what he does for most of his week is a topic that is off limits. I’ll confess, there have been times when I took it personally. I was convinced other spouses were sharing more with their mates, and I was just being left out. Nope. If you’ve ever entertained that thought as well, then kick it to the curb now. They operate on a need-to-know basis, and we just don’t need to know. It’s not personal.
After a few years of this, we’ve adopted some ways to connect even when his work disconnects us. Maybe you’re in the same boat- maybe your spouse heads off to work every day to an undisclosed location, or maybe he or she is deployed overseas and you can’t know where. Maybe you’re not even military, but your spouse’s work is confidential because he or she is working on the newest iPhone; who knows! Either way, we married our spouses because we are generally interested in their lives, and it can be tough when that feels out of reach.
If you’ve been placed on a need-to-know basis, here’s some ways I’ve found to help my husband and I feel a little more connected and not so confidential.
Try and have a sense of humor about it. Sometimes while we’re watching the news, I tell him to cough twice if the latest report has anything to do with his work. Lots of times he reminds me he would tell me what he does, but then he’d have to kill me and that usually settles any further questioning. We get a kick out of people trying to guess what he does, and he hardly ever corrects their assumptions — so depending on who you ask, he’s got quite the resume. This feels true for lots of missions and assignments in the armed forces, but we try not to get weighed down by the solemnity of our spouses jobs. They do dangerous and risky work and that can be frightening for us back home. Sometimes the only way through that fear is humor.
Try to find out what you CAN know. Who do you work with? What’s your commute like? Do you like your boss? Who do you get along with and who do you avoid? I try to find out everything I can about his work life without getting into the details of his actual work. He knows what’s classified and what he can share, so I ask as much as I can and let him decide what’s off limits. Deeper inquiries can prove to be a good way to connect as well. Do you feel challenged? Do you feel like you’re getting a chance to flex your strengths? Open ended questions that can’t be answered with a yes or no are great pathways into your spouse’s work life and into a closer relationship despite the roadblocks.
Connect well somewhere else. When he’s not doing whatever it is he does for work, my husband is also a home brewer. Ask him about work, and you’ll get some pretty vague answers, but ask him about brewing beer, and he’ll talk your ear off. So I ask him a lot about brewing. Not because I particularly care about fermentation (sorry, honey!) but because I love hearing him talk and talk about something he loves. We hang out in the garage while he brews, and I let him explain the steps and troubleshoot out loud, and I genuinely listen because when I consider all the things he can’t share, I really want to soak up the things he CAN share with me.
Find some like-minded support. If your spouse’s command has a Family Readiness Group (FRG) or spouses club, especially if he or she works in a highly classified role or deploy to places unknown, I strongly encourage you to get involved. Most times, my ride-or-die besties from back home or my mom and sisters are all the support I need, but sometimes something so specific to our current situation will crop up and what I really need is someone who can commiserate and say, “I know exactly how you feel!” I can’t stress this enough. This is especially important if your spouse deploys. There is nothing like the company and unspoken comfort of friends who are on the roller coaster with you.
Look at the silver lining. Sometimes connection with my husband is an uphill climb. When that happens and the days are long and the answers are short and my eyes are in a perpetual roll, I have to look for the positives. My husband was chosen for his line of work because he is trustworthy, he is reliable, and he’s committed to the mission. I have to remember that the Navy and the mission and the deployments are temporary, but my marriage is permanent. Keeping in mind that what makes him good at his job is also the thing that makes him a good husband and father is sometimes the reminder I need to shake me out of a funk.
What about you? What ways have you found to connect to your spouse when work is hush hush? If you’re the one with the secret work, how do you make sure your spouse feels connected? I want to hear what helps your marriage and family stay connected!