“A lot of people tend to go to counseling once things get really, really bad. It’s so important to get the help your family needs before those hard conversations come up.” —Noel Stumbo, Marine spouse
Maj. Scott Stumbo and his wife, Noel, are much like any other couple, but they’ve found a secret to surviving the inevitable turbulence of military marriage. For the Stumbos, therapy saved their relationship, and they’re encouraging others to seek help sooner rather than later.
Scott and Noel met online nearly a decade ago, long before dating apps came on the scene.
“Before Bumble and Tinder and all of that, I was getting out of the military and was sent back home to Corpus Christi, Texas,” Noel said.
That’s where a friend made her a profile on Match.com, mainly as a friendly joke. As fate would have it, Scott had a profile of his own, and the rest is history.
“He was the only one I talked to and dated; that was it,” Noel said.
After several years of dating, the couple got engaged, enduring long-distance spurts along the way. They got married and settled in at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, but Scott was perpetually on the move.
“I spent two, six-month deployments in the Middle East, as well as various eight-week detachments to Twentynine Palms over three years,” Scott said.
Unfortunately, the frequent separations started to take a toll. According to Scott, the operational tempo is always a challenge, even with access to Skype or FaceTime.
“It’s great as long as there’s not an expectation that you’re going to be on it two hours a day. There’s just no time for that,” he said.
From there, the couple moved to Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay, but for Noel, the separations weren’t the hardest part. Rather, Scott’s homecomings were particularly challenging.
“I had been running the house a certain way,” she said. “When they come back from a deployment, the spouses left behind have started a new normal.”
For some families, reintegration goes smoothly, but for others, it’s a long and arduous process. Scott and Noel noticed that these periods were filled with petty arguments and power struggles that were not normal for them.
“Finally, we were like, ‘This is not us,’” Noel added. “We’re never at each other’s throats like this.”
Therapy as a relationship tool
It wasn’t long before the Stumbos set up a meeting with the chaplain on base, which was Scott’s idea. Noel calls Scott a “numbers guy” because one of his primary motivations was the opportunity to better his marriage for free. Scott admits that he probably wouldn’t have been as proactive about seeking help if he had to find a counselor in town.
“Pretty much everywhere I’ve been, you have access to a chaplain,” he said. “Take advantage of it.”
While their first few sessions seemed productive, the chaplain on base just wasn’t the right fit, prompting the couple to seek counseling at church. The issue of finding a good fit for therapy is a common one that can instantly turn people off, the couple said, but Scott and Noel both urge people to continue digging.
“Different people have different styles in therapy, for better or for worse, and sometimes neither,” Scott said. “Just because the first one didn’t work out doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try again.”
Today, Scott and Noel feel confident in the resources and tools they’ve acquired through months of therapy.
In fact, they’re not in counseling anymore. They currently live in Patuxent River, Maryland, where Scott is in Test Pilot School. But they both credit their strong and communicative marriage to the time they spent in therapy.
“A lot of people tend to go to counseling once things get really, really bad,” Noel said. “It’s so important to get the help your family needs before those hard conversations come up.”
For Scott, therapy was a way to gain a better understanding of how to discuss issues and feelings.
“What is intended to be communicated is never exactly what is communicated, or it’s not how it comes out,” he said. “That’s true for all relationships.”
Scott posed a question for everyone to consider about feeling embarrassed or ashamed to seek therapy.
“Would you rather be thought of as the guy who went to therapy with his wife or the guy who wound up divorced?” he asked.
He added that the health of your family should always be the top priority, not what other people might think or assume.
At the end of the day, the Stumbos say therapy is a tool in their arsenal, rather than a means to an end.
“It’s like going into the doctor for a checkup,” Noel said. “If you have the tools to take care of issues beforehand, you can save yourself a lot of time and heartache in the long run.”
Would you like to find a military-focused therapist in your area? Here are resources to get the help you need:
Military OneSource is available 24/7 to connect you with expert, confidential counseling, as well as personalized coaching. Call 800-342-9647 or visit www.militaryonesource.mil to schedule an online consultation.
Give an Hour can connect you with no-cost, barrier-free mental health care. Visit GiveAnHour.org to search for a provider in your area.
The Military Crisis Line is a free, confidential resource for all service members, including members of the National Guard and reserve and veterans (even if they’re not enrolled in VA benefits or health care). Dial 988, then Press 1 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net/get-help-now/military-crisis-line/ to chat online.