The Georgia night was warm and sticky, the kind of southern September that does not get better with a bonfire. We, a group of women from different places and different backgrounds, let the bouncing shadows hide our faces as we shared our secrets. Then we slipped on identical blue paracord bracelets and told the group what we were committing to do, sealing the contract in front of witnesses we didn’t dare let down.
Two days earlier we had been strangers, invited to attend Empowered Spouses Retreat, a three-day event hosted by the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation that tends to wounds of the spouses of service members, veterans, and first responders.
Through those three days of boundary-pushing experiences, we had grown exponentially in individual confidence and in closeness to each other. And now here we were on the last night, pledging to stay transformed after we got back home.
I didn’t have to think very hard about what my challenge would be: Every day for one year I would text “I love you” to the man whose last name I’ve shared for the better part of two decades.
It’s not like I didn’t already tell him I loved him. I told him at the end of every phone call, as either of us was leaving the house, and before we turned off the lights and went to sleep. Texting those same words felt unnecessary and forced — but I knew he liked getting those texts. What would happen, I wondered, if I went outside my comfort zone and into his, every day for a year?
We had already weathered some huge challenges as a couple, and already overcoming a near-divorce. But he’s an active duty, senior enlisted soldier whose entire career has been spent in Army Special Forces. That means he’s been gone more than he’s been home. Among those deployments were some really bad, long ones to Afghanistan, including one that had ended only a few months earlier and another that was about to begin.
The idea for the challenge came from Corie Weathers, a counselor, author, podcast host, and wife of an Army chaplain. She leads the retreats.
“I like to wear jewelry that means something to me,” she told me. “I knew that if I could get military spouses — who are maybe already tired and weary, feeling resentful and thinking, ‘I shouldn’t have to do the work anymore,’ to commit to working on something every day — I knew that alone would change marriages.”
I didn’t need a bracelet to remind me to WhatsApp him when he was deployed. I could have written “I love you” a hundred times a day then. When news of casualties began arriving, sometimes multiple soldiers in a day, I found myself rubbing the bracelet between my thumb and forefinger nervously, like a magic lamp, as if a genie might appear to grant my wish for his safety.
But when he was home, there were days I forgot, even with the bracelet on my wrist. A few times I remembered only at bedtime, as I was brushing my teeth, and I jotted out a quick “I love you” just to check the box, even though he was 10 feet away, already in bed.
At one point, when we were deep in the tension and resentment of reintegration, I was so done with the challenge that I determined which day would be exactly a year and set an alarm on my phone so I wouldn’t forget to take off the stupid bracelet. It didn’t go with my outfits and after a year of non-stop wear — showering, swimming, working out, chores — it looked really ratty. I had even worn it to the ball!
But then a strange thing happened. The bracelet stopped being a reminder of a challenge and it came to symbolize our love — the good and bad times, maybe even especially the bad times, the ones we had already overcome. When that alarm went off, I was eager to not wear it, but I also couldn’t bring myself to take it off. Which, if I’m being honest, is also how I sometimes feel about marriage.
“Your blue bracelet really becomes a sacred space,” Weathers said. “You think about these major moments that you both have had separately, especially during deployments, and you decide to be a lot more graceful and respectful toward each other.”
And then Weathers announced that she and Charlie Madison, a military spouse-owned jewelry company, had designed a prettier replacement for the paracord bracelet. This one is made from blue semi-precious stones. I was one of the very first people to buy one — and I haven’t taken it off since it arrived.
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My wedding band reminds me of the commitment I made to my husband 17 years ago, a commitment that shows in the dings, dirt, and dents, just like our marriage. But the bracelet means something different. If the ring is the commitment, the bracelet is my daily choice. It reminds me of all the reasons why I fell for this man. His charming grin, generosity, quick mind, dedication, and willingness to endure. Surely, all of that is worth a text.
Visit Chris Kyle Frog Foundation to learn more about the Empowered Spouses Retreat.