Victim Tale: What Spouse Story Are You Telling?


My daughter's boss gave her the best advice about travel. He told Kelsey to organize her trip based on what kind of story she wanted to tell when she came home.

Do you want to talk about how many things you saw? Then plan to do a lot in a day.

Is your trip a story of deepening a relationship? Then spend more on the hotel so you will want to linger there longer.

Is your story about international cuisine? Then don't see so many sights and organize yourself around restaurant reviews.

Kelsey and I loved this idea. Since we are movie buffs, we wanted to have our stories triggered every time we saw Rome in a movie or on TV.

That, at least, was the plan. And we did see the Colosseum and the Forum and the new pope and the bazillion buzzing scooters that turn up in every romantic comedy.

But by the third day, the story I was telling was not so cheery. Instead, my story was of canceled flights due to an April snowstorm. It was about the rude persistence of rose sellers. It was about how expensive everything was and the blister on my foot and the flatness of Roman pillows. Grumble. Grumble. Grumble.

My daughter was having none of that. "You aren't telling the story right," she said. "Our story is: Thwarted by snow! Surprised by a pope! Coined by a general!"

Kelsey's story was about overcoming obstacles and leaning in to the unexpected.

My story was one of hoarding the negatives like the art treasures of the Vatican. The more I had, the more I wanted.

It made me wonder how often I do that with my military life, too? I see other spouses do it all the time -- as if miseries are the only thing we can expect to collect along with our Tricare benefit.

That is not to say that I ought to be clutching a flag to my chest and tearing up over "serving our country." That is not to say I think a combat deployment is just an opportunity for funfunfunfunfun.

What I am saying is that one strategy to handle the stuff that happens to us in military life is to ask what kind of story we want to tell.

I know don't really want a story of victimhood. I don't want to be in my fifties telling about how I never had the house I wanted or the job I wanted because of the military. I don't want to tell a story of exactly how many days I spent alone. I ain't looking to go all Anne Rivers Siddons around here.

Instead, I guess I want to be like Kelsey. I want to tell my military life as a story about overcoming obstacles and leaning in to unexpected joys. I want to organize myself around being an Overcomer and the big-hearted heroine in a story of True Love and Adventure. I want to go all Carla Kelly on the whole thing.

Our military lives really are a lot like our travels. These are tales we are going to tell. These are stories we are writing as we live them.

And even though the unpredictable, uncontrollable, and unwanted do happen in military life, those things are not the end of the story. We have to start seeing that those things are what make a story worth telling.

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