What Medal of Honor recipients can teach us
Looking for the courage to tackle your relationship problems? Interested in a surefire way to nurture and preserve your relationship? I would highly recommend that you check out one of the most unlikely places: A White House Medal of Honor Ceremony. In this event the presiding President—in front of family, friends, military personnel, statesmen, and the media–presents our nation’s highest military honor…for actions “above and beyond the call of duty,” to a worthy recipient. And believe me, these guys are worthy. The stories of heroism are amazing—the kind that mesmerizes at a campfire. They may also make you feel somewhat embarrassed for complaining about anything short of a life or death situation. Not to trivialize your problems, but Google these ceremonies and then see if you still feel like whining about your wife dropping a few too many bucks on that red dress, or because your husband wants to play golf rather than attend your second cousin’s third wedding.
A word of warning, Medal of Honor Ceremonies are not for the faint of heart. Watching parents accept the honor on behalf of a fallen son can bring even the most heart-hardened to tears. I found the events so moving that I viewed as many as I could. Perhaps because they were the most recent honorees, I was especially intrigued by the men rewarded for acts of bravery in Afghanistan. President Obama gracefully and professionally officiated all of these ceremonies.
Medal of Honor winners have a singular event etched in their minds forever. And so it is that their names will forever remain with me: Army Staff Sergeants Ty Carter, Salvatore Giunta, and Clinton Romesha, Army Sergeant First Class Leroy Petry, and Marine Sergeant Dakota Meyer who’s now famous for requesting that President Obama have a beer with him sometime before the ceremony. All of these men fought fiercely and saved lives at that own peril. If you listen to their stories—paying particular attention to their belief systems—relationship lessons will abound.
All of the recipients refused to see themselves as heroes. They believed they were simply doing their jobs to the best of their ability—an objective that they were committed to no matter how many enemy bullets, rockets, and grenades were threatening their personal space. Time and again the words: “Get the job done” were echoed at their ceremonies. Failing to take responsibility for their actions was unthinkable to these men. One medal recipient likened shirking responsibility in battle, to being immoral.
Rather than blaming one another for their relationship problems–as most couples do who enter my office—partners must each take individual responsibility for their contributions to them. They must then commit to do the work that will alleviate their problematic symptoms.
All medal honorees agreed that any one of their fellow soldiers would have behaved as bravely given the opportunity. This just might be the kind of humble overstatement Medal of Honor winners are famous for, but there’s probably some merit to it. Consider the popular military credo: “No one is to be left behind.”
If partners can develop this level of trust and respect for one another, the rewards will be that of safety and security. Intimate partners need to have one another’s backs, just as soldiers do in battle.
The medal winners also referred to their fighting comrades as “brothers” and “teammates.” I’ve been using the word teammate in my work with couples for many years. True teammates know that all team members are vital to a team’s success and therefore have to be protected. If you denigrate a teammate the whole team suffers.
It takes two to make a relationship work. Those who abuse their partners aren’t good teammates. Nor are those who lack the courage to attend couple’s treatment with a willing partner.
In an interview subsequent to receiving his medal Sergeant Meyer said: “Nothing is impossible.” While he might be wrong on this one, his optimistic attitude can be applied to benefit our relationships.
I’ve seen many pessimistic couples give up on themselves and their relationships far too easily. Changing a relationship for the better is tough work. It requires a good amount perseverance and tenacity. Sergeant Meyer didn’t believe in giving up—he defied orders and repeatedly entered a killing zone to rescue over thirty men.
Focus, courage, commitment, responsibility, trust, respect, hard work, and being a good teammate all seem to be the ingredients that go into the making of a hero. I doubt many would be offended if I added to the list “a little luck,” and for the religious, “with the grace of God.” These same ingredients are the makings of a long-term, healthy relationship. My objective was to support this notion. I too, hope I got the job done.
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