Maybe it's just easier to understand the hardships and beauty of military marriage after it's over, when you're all out of chances to make it better or love harder. Or maybe that perspective is even more valuable than one coming from someone who is doing this military love thing in the now, because it's weighted with loss and "what--ifs" -- because it aches with possibility and missing moments. That’s what I learned in our Taya Kyle interview.
Taya Kyle's husband Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL and the military's top sniper, was murdered in early 2013 after he left active duty. Chris Kyle's best--selling autobiography, "American Sniper," had been made into a hit movie about their lives. After his death Taya Kyle published her own autobiography, "American Wife."
Now with her husband's murder years behind her, Taya has been working with the organization started under her late husband's name, The Chris Kyle Frog Foundation, to support military and first responder marriages -- and using her experience and regrets as fuel for the fire.
Taya Kyle Interview: “It’s OK for it to be hard.”
"I think that's the human experience -- the human struggle is what matters today," she said. "So, yeah, once somebody dies it's so much easier to look back and say 'coulda-woulda-shoulda.' You're always going to look back and say 'what could I have done better?' That's love."
Among the main themes Taya speaks on to military and first-responder spouses she works with through the foundation's retreats are her regrets over respect in her marriage. But she doesn't mean it in a cowering--before--a--man way that makes so many women bristle at the word. She means it in a way that denotes mutual admiration and trust.
"I wish that I had known how important respect was and to the level men need it. I thought I was giving him so much respect, I thought I did respect him." she told me in a recent interview. "I think I misunderstood where the real power comes from. I think I thought our respect was through dialogue and through shared decision making, but I think the real power was in trusting him. It's such a hard thing to wrap your head around."
If she had been able to better communicate that respect, she told me, she could've better showed Chris how much she loved him.
"I do feel that he would've felt loved the way I actually loved him more often," she told me. "I don't think he ever doubted that I love him. But I remember in the beginning I'd say 'I don't know to communicate to you the way I love you.' If I had known that respect sooner -- but it was just one thing I didn't know."
Taya said another regret is that she didn’t spend more time with Chris doing things he loved. Since his death, for example, she has taken up hunting, a sport he enjoyed that she never did with him. And as a result her Empowered Spouses retreat program includes a time for spouses to get out and try their hands at archery and shotgunning.
One of the things Taya seeks to do with her retreat program is address head--on some things in marriage life that are only ever discussed in hushed tones, like sex and the acknowledgement that military marriage is hard -- and that's OK.
"It's OK for it to be hard -- it doesn't mean it can't be amazing," she said. "And sometimes we're so busy surviving it and getting through, we're forgetting to make time for each other to just be together."
The Chris Kyle Frog Foundation accepts applications for its couples Revitalization Retreats on a rolling basis, officials there said, and will soon accept applications for a spouse-specific Empowered Spouses retreat.