After years of living in base housing — where utilities were mostly covered by BAH — we recently moved into a home with a wood-burning furnace. There’s natural gas heat too, but it’s much more affordable to chop the trees that are already on our property and use them to heat our home. So, during these cold winter months, I’m learning a lot about preparing firewood and the proper way to build a fire! Each time I patiently rebuild our fire to care for my family, I discover more comparisons between the hard work of a military relationship and the labor involved in heating a home with wood fires.
Things that are true about military relationships and wood fires:
- Building it takes work. Building a good fire takes effort, especially if you are chopping and splitting your own logs. You have to prepare your logs months in advance, let them dry, and gather loads of kindling to store for the winter months. A cured wood pile is not something you can just order on Amazon — not if you need enough wood to last all winter! Strong relationships require effort, too. At our wedding, the presider told my husband and I: “If your marriage isn’t work, then it probably isn’t working.” After two decades with my service member, I now realize it’s true. We each make sacrifices for the other. We each dedicate time, energy and effort to our relationship, even when it would be easier not to. Like a good wood pile, a relationship is built over time, cured through all types of weather, and takes constant effort to refill and build up.
- You can’t just “fix it and forget it.” Anyone who has built a campfire or a fire in a wood-burning stove knows it requires constant attention. If you walk away and get distracted, that fire will go out. You have to check on it at least once an hour to move logs, add more wood, poke embers together, etc. A military marriage is similar. Even though it’s unrealistic to check in on your spouse every hour of the day, you do need to constantly communicate, support each other, and do things that help you feel connected. This is especially true when you are separated over long distances. A marriage doesn’t take a break just because the service member deploys or goes to training for several months. It still needs attention and fuel, or that flame of love will diminish.
- You need big logs and kindling too. I have a beautiful woodpile of logs my husband and I have cut and split ourselves. Those big logs are great fuel. But you can’t start a fire with them. You have to use paper, small twigs and fire starter. Once your fire is lit, you nurture it with more twigs and some medium-sized sticks. It takes a while before you can throw a big log on the fire. And even then, that big log won’t last forever. Marriages are like this, too. Big events like date nights, military balls or a fun vacation are all great ways to build memories together. But a relationship must be more than big, flashy moments. In between each of those are numerous small, mundane events: making each other laugh, preparing dinner together, writing sweet texts or emails. To build a lasting relationship, don’t just focus on the “big logs.” Instead, nurture your relationship with those small daily moments.
- Sometimes, the fire goes out. As a busy mom, I’m not great at tending wood fires in the furnace. I get distracted. I leave home to run errands. I focus on my potty-training toddler instead of on the woodpile. Sometimes, even when I’m checking on the fire regularly, the wood doesn’t burn as expected, and I return to a pile of mostly dark embers. There’s a disappointed, sinking feeling when I realize I must start over and build it up again. Some relationships experience that disappointing feeling, too. There may be moments or seasons where the “flame” of your love feels like it has dwindled down to embers that are barely warm anymore. You don’t have to give up and walk away. Relationships going through a cold season can be rekindled into a warm and fulfilling fire again. But it takes time. It takes patience. And it’s going to take a lot of work, from both of you. You must focus on those few remaining embers, and nurture them until they start to glow again. Find the nuggets of goodness and joy in your relationship, then pour your energy into those moments until you begin to warm up and feel more connected. Military OneSource can help with relationship resources designed to make your marriage stronger.
A strong military relationship can feel as warm and comforting as a blazing fire on a cold night. When kindling your own flame, remember that it takes patience, effort and constant attention to build something that will keep you both glowing warmly for years to come.