All married couples face challenges and for those with one spouse (or both) in the military, those hurdles can seem insurmountable at times. Deborah Timson, Marriage Dynamics Institute’s executive director, understands this very well. Her husband is Bill Timson, who served for 9 1/2 years in the Marine Corps. Here’s their story:
The Early Years
Bill and Deborah met in high school, and as real-life love stories often do, theirs began as a friendship. Bill wanted to date in high school, but Deb wanted to stay just friends.
Then graduation arrived. Bill enlisted, and was assigned a tour of duty in Japan. Once he was gone, Deb realized she was starting to feel differently about him.
She wrote him a letter from college, and it must have been a good one, because that was all it took. Bill showed up a few months later with an engagement ring. The couple had a whirlwind wedding one Memorial Day weekend when Bill was on a 96-hour pass.
But after that, it was back to real life. There was a move, and then a baby. Deborah graduated college and got a job. Bill began deploying and deploying and deploying again.
Military life was tough on their relationship. Deborah held down the fort at home, but it wasn’t easy, especially since they lived far away from her family. And with Desert Storm constantly on the news, it was impossible not to worry. “You prayed you’d never get that knock on the door that would be followed by unimaginable news,” she remembers.
Every time Bill returned home after deployment, they were so happy to be reunited. But a couple weeks in, problems always started to surface. It wasn’t that they didn’t love each other. It was just that, after so much time spent apart, they didn’t know how to be together.
Deborah had learned to handle things at home, and it was hard for her to let someone else help … even if it was her husband.
“I am very much a take-charge person,” she admits. “It was difficult for Bill when he came back because he’d want to do things to help. I had to learn to let go a little.”
“She was used to doing everything,” Bill adds. “I was thinking, ‘What do you need me for?’”
Deborah knew they weren’t in a great place in their relationship, but she held out hope. “I kept thinking if we can just get to … here,” she says. Unfortunately, here always seemed to be just out of reach. “I had to stop doing that. There was always another hurdle.”
After the military, Bill went into law enforcement. Then a second baby came. And though it was great to have him home, the danger inherent in his work felt even more up close and personal.
“They walk out the door and you may not see them again—ever,” says Deborah. “You have no control. I kept thinking I wanted a normal life. I had to realize this was our normal.”
That “normal” included scary late-night phone calls—“I’ve been in a shooting, but I’m OK”—and nights when Bill got out of bed at 2:00 a.m. to go on a SWAT call.
About 20 years into their marriage, even though they lived in the same home, the couple found themselves further apart than ever. Bill had been working third shift for a while, which meant that he was gone from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. And since Deborah worked days, “we literally never saw each other,” he recalls.
Divorce was never mentioned, Deborah says, “but there was a complacency. It started wearing thin.”
Finally, things got to a point where they knew they needed to do something to salvage their strained relationship. “We got more involved at church and reached out to pastors for help,” Bill says. “We learned how to make time for each other.”
Now, Bill and Deborah have been married for 31 years. They have weathered many more challenges, including their son’s deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan and their daughter experiencing a traumatic head injury. But they have a much stronger bond than they did a decade ago.
So what was it that kept Bill and Deborah together? What kept them from giving up?
Deborah sums it up in five simple, but powerful words: “We were worth fighting for.”
Their experience is part of the reason she is so passionate about her work at Marriage Dynamics. “I know what kind of relationship Bill and I have. The joy we have. The friendship we have. I want people to have what we have.”
Here, the couple offers insight into 10 areas that helped their marriage—and can help yours too:
Deborah: “We took our marriage covenant very seriously.”
Deborah: “We were best friends.”
Bill: “We still are.”
Bill: “I attribute a lot of where we are now to communication. It’s the key to everything.”
Deborah: “Our pastor really mentored Bill. He didn’t have the example of a father at home, but he’s done phenomenally well over the years being a great dad. And there was a couple that mentored both of us and had a real influence.”
Bill: “Once we had somebody to get us back on the path, things got a lot better. We finally learned to pray together.”
LEGACY OF LOVE
Deborah: “We want to leave our kids a legacy.”
Bill: “We want them to see our marriage and say, ‘This is what we want.'”
MAKING TIME TO BE TOGETHER
Deborah: “We found different ways to spend time with each other. For instance, when he worked in a K-9 unit, I would go out and help him with the dog. And now, we love to hike, canoe, or just take long walks together. The point is just to be together.”
KEEPING THE “LOVE BANK” FULL
Bill: “I like to surprise Deborah with flowers for no special reason.”
Deborah: “I had to learn how to take care of me. I was always the encourager, but I had to learn how to ask for help when I needed it.”
SUPPORTING EACH OTHER’S CAREERS
Bill: “I’m extremely proud of her. I am her biggest cheerleader. I know she’s got this.”
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