Who's Plan Was This?
"Open and honest communication is the lifeblood of healthy relationships"
Having spent 28 years in uniform I began to accept that my tenure as a soldier was close to ending, so, in 1996 I began to listen to offers that were coming my way. One afternoon at the Joint Readiness Training Center my cell phone rang.
"You don't know me", said the voice at the other end. "I got your name from a friend of mine in the Pentagon and would like to discuss a job with you. I know that you are not thinking about retirement but we are interested in what you might bring to our organization".
"I am open to hearing what you have to say", I responded. One thing led to another and before you knew it I had a written offer that seemed pretty fair and would allow me to leave the Army on my terms. I struggled with the decision for almost two weeks. I did not tell anyone of what I was considering. Karen, my wife of then, 25 years, knew that I had interviewed and that I had found the company interesting. She had no idea of how serious I was in taking the offer, that was, until 2:30 in the morning when I woke her and told her to go find a house on the other side of 285. "You're serious" she said.
"Yes, I am. I am going in and put in my paperwork this morning."
I did what I said I would do and the series of events that occur when one makes a life decision began unfolding. The house was bought. The retirement date was set. A ceremony was planned. It seemed as if 28 years had happened within a 24 hour period. All so fast, but all so exciting.
I retired on a Friday at 10 o'clock in the morning. The ceremony was memorable and many family members and friends made their way to Ft McPherson, Georgia to be part of a major milestone in my life. I retired in grand style and was sent off to start a new chapter in my life grinning from ear to ear. The household had been relocated to the new residence and following the retirement festivities I closed the passenger door for Karen and drove north to 3904 Berwick Farm Drive, Duluth, Georgia. That weekend was consumed with setting up the new home, but my mind was on the new job and the excitement of my second career. The following Monday morning I was out of bed at 4:00 as usual. I ran my 3 miles, showered and put on my suit and tie and drove off to my new job.
A couple of weeks elapsed. One evening I came home to find Karen in a somewhat distraught mood. The house was rather messy. No dinner was planned, much less ready.
"Is there something wrong with you?" I asked.
"Do you really want to know?" asked Karen
"Of course I do!"
"Bob, for 25 years we were a team. Very few decisions were made that we had not discussed. We planned all of our moves together. We may not have agreed on everything but we always found a way to work things out for the best. Then, in making the biggest decision in our lives you totally excluded me. We never discussed retirement. You woke me up and told me to go find a house. You had a ceremony, dropped me off here and went on your merry way. All you did was change uniform and an office. You left me behind at Ft McPherson. You dropped me here where I have no commonality with anyone. I feel like I was deserted and that you never considered anyone but yourself in this significant change of lifestyle."
I was taken aback and immediately realized that Karen was totally correct. I had lived in a "Season of Self" without regard to my partner, my friend, my wife and confidant. I had taken the "we", "us" and "our" out of our equation that had served us well over the course of our Army career. I had disregarded the personal sacrifices Karen had made to be an exceptional military spouse. I had taken her for granted that she would easily conform to what I saw as just another permanent change of station. What a selfish and thoughtless person I had been. I apologized profusely, begged forgiveness and spent hours discussing how to move forward.
This July marks 43 years for our marriage and partnership. It should go without saying that from that crater I created in 1996 to this date, communication between Karen and I have been very healthy. Decisions are arrived at mutually and our relationship is sound. Oh yea…and, I have not slipped back to a "Season of Self".
True Growth Takeaway: "WE" decisions are the key to healthy relationships.
Journaling Reflection: What one behavior do you need to change to be more of a "WE" listener?
About the author: Bob Dare served 28 years in the United States Army. He held every noncommissioned officer leadership position culminating with his last three assignments as Command Sergeant Major for the 25th Infantry Division, United States Army Pacific Command and United States Army Forces Command. Bob is also an executive coach and facilitator for LWM III Consulting.