EJ and Greg currently live in Texas. Greg is a Marine and EJ is a Nationally Certified Counselor, motivational speaker, writer and advocate for survivors of sexual abuse. EJ uses introspection and pragmatism to help couples create loving, fulfilling relationships from the inside out. You can connect with EJ on Twitter and Facebook.
How did you first meet?
EJ: I was friends with a Marine (Mike) who was deployed with Greg’s team. I used to send Mike care packages— and of course always included some treats for the rest of the guys as well. When Mike & Greg got home I met up with them (and a group of friends) at a local IHOP. Oddly enough, we didn’t hit it off at all. The nicest thing I can say is that I thought he was one of the most arrogant people I’d met.
Greg: Yeah, that sounds about right. Except on my end— I thought she was one of those “bleeding heart counselors” that felt sorry for us.
What was your first date?
Our first date wasn’t actually supposed to happen. I was going out with a group of friends— those same Marines who’d just come home, and some others. As I arrived at the rallying point for the evening, I saw Greg boxing in the garage. I remember thinking he was extremely…well… hot! Can I say hot? Yes. Hot. And a jerk. A hot jerk. (I’m sure most of the ladies know at least one person that fits that description).
When he came in, he looked at me and asked rather disdainfully, “What are you doing here.” To which I replied— with equal sass and yet trying my best to be casual— “I’m spending some time with my friends. What are you doing here?”
He paused, and dryly replied, “I live here.”
Oops. I think I said something like, “Well then it’s a good thing that you’re here.” or something just absolutely awkward. There haven’t been many times when I’ve found myself without retort— that was definitely one of them!
As luck would have it, Greg was coming out with us that evening (after a shower, of course). This bantering between us continued the rest of the evening. If I’m being honest, our repartee was the most fun I’d had with someone in a long time.
Why did you keep dating?
Greg: Believe it or not, I actively enjoyed EJ’s company. She was smart and sassy. She was someone I could joke around with— dishing it out and taking it. That’s actually pretty rare. She also didn’t try to change me. That’s unbelievably rare in my experience.
EJ: Greg had a personality that was strong enough to match my own. He was also incredibly well read, and liked to discuss ideas and concepts. In the past, I’d been told that I “think too much”. Greg has never said that to me. Rather, he challenges me to see the world from new perspectives and helps me grow as a person. He’s also incredibly receptive to new ideas. Conversations over our kitchen table are anything but boring! I think I could talk to him forever and never get sick of it.
What was your most meaningful date ever and what made it so outstanding?
EJ: We ran a half marathon together in Virginia Beach, VA about two months after we starting dating. It was something I’d always wanted to do, and having a partner who supported me in that pursuit enough to actually do it (and with minimal training on his part), was just beyond anything I’d ever imagined. That evening, we walked the boardwalk and listened to bands playing right on the beach. It was a great day.
Greg: When I told my Dad I was running a half marathon with this girl I’d been dating he told me, “Son, if you’re willing to run 13 miles for a woman… she must be something special.” (For the record, I hate running. I do it frequently because the Marine Corps loves running, but I do not.)
How do other people describe you as a couple?
We get a lot of mixed descriptions… People who don’t know us well constantly ask, “How exactly are you two married?” because on the surface, we seem pretty opposite. I mean, a counselor and a Marine are pretty opposite.
Our close friends & family, however, seem to think we’re a near perfect balance for each other. I’d like to think that’s accurate. As I mentioned, we’re both avid readers and seekers of knew information. We are both driven for excellence in our career fields and support/celebrate each other in those areas. In the past, I think we’ve both been misunderstood by our social circles. And most importantly, we are clear in our priorities. The “health” of our family and our marriage— in body, mind, heart and spirit— comes first.
Do you have any helpful tips for other military couples?
We agree that a huge part of our success as a military couple has to do with the fact that we were both independently established when we decided to get married. Greg was well into his career in the Marines. I had completed graduate school and had worked/lived independently as well. We came in as equals actively choosing the other out of want, and not need.
Something that I have repeated frequently with respect to being a successful Marine Spouse is that I need to have a job & work. The military dictates where we live and for how long we’re going to live there— but in the day to day— I need something to do that fulfills, energizes and nourishes me as a whole person. And Greg understands and supports that. Yes, working means that I miss certain military events — as a counselor in a crisis center I have missed more than most— I think. But Greg takes pride in my accomplishments and understands/supports my desire to carve out a professional life. Other considerations include getting involved in local organizations, or churches. Our current duty station (College Station, TX) has some of the best churches when it comes to making newcomers feel welcome and cultivating a sense of community.
What is a major challenge, disappointment or roadblock that you have successfully addressed together? How would you advise another couple facing a similar thing?
One major challenge that we continue to face is that of quality time together. When we were stationed in North Carolina, Greg’s schedule regularly included working weekends, overnight shifts, and 15 hr work days that sometimes just had him sleeping at the office. Now that we’re in Texas, the tables have turned. I work very long hours— that sometimes include calls at 3 am to go out to a local emergency room. Or I plan to leave the office at 5, but something happens at 4:30. Additionally, both our jobs have— at various times — required that we spend significant portions of time away from each other ranging from several days to months.
Something I think we both do really well is try to prioritize as sacred the time that we do get to spend together. If I’m talking to a friend on the phone when Greg gets home, I hang up as soon as possible unless it’s an emergency. We frequently leave our distracting technology behind on dates, and definitely keep it out of the bedroom (unless, of course I’m on call). And we’ve cultivated shared interests that we can do together a few times a week. For example, both of us like to workout and eat healthy. So we will frequently go to the gym or meet at the gym for workouts. And we always grocery shop together, plan our meals together and “assign” who is cooking on what day. (Greg is an incredible cook… I am a blessed woman!)
What has contributed most to your understanding of what a healthy marriage is?
So here’s something kind of interesting. Greg and I both grew up in homes that I would not say were good examples of healthy marriages. And then throw in the fact that this is a 2nd marriage for me. Statistically, it’s a nightmare scenario. And yet, I think we have an incredibly healthy marriage. (I’ve always hated statistics anyway!)
Now that I think about it, Greg and I spend a lot of time talking about what unhealthy marriage and relationships look like that come across our paths. And we use these observations to express gratitude to/for the other. After one particularly uncomfortable tailgate BBQ, I remember getting in the car and saying, “I’m so grateful you speak to me like your partner and not your subordinate.” Greg looked me and replied, “Of course. I love you and respect you.”
On the flipside, Greg and I don’t sugar coat our concerns, gripes or problems either. We believe that we can handle anything life throws at us, as long as we’re dealing with the truth.
Tell us about an “Aha!” moment that you have had in your marriage and how that has helped you become a better spouse.
One moment that immediately comes to mind happened when we were living in North Carolina. I don’t remember the exact context, but I do recall struggling with insecurity and feeling overwhelmed by the idea that Greg could cheat on me. At one point Greg said, “I think it comes down to this… you don’t trust me.” To which I replied, “You’re right. I don’t. I don’t trust anyone.”
And he said, “Well then that’s on you. That’s your problem. I can’t fix that.” He was 100% absolutely right. And his ability to deflect ownership of something that wasn’t his to own (as he truly had never done anything to give me cause for doubt) created a truly illuminating moment of clarity for me. I had to go inside and do some serious “internal homework” around that trust piece. And I have never doubted him since.
What would you do if you only had an hour free for a date?
We meet up for lunch mid-day or coffee in the evenings between commitments when we can. It’s so nice to just check-in for a few minutes with someone who is just effortless to be around. If we’re both home for an hour… well, let’s just say I’m very aware of being married to an extremely attractive man and spontaneous intimacy is (HOT!!) healthy for marriages!
Personally, I just think it’s a shame that we tell people to save sex for marriage, and then come to find out that being a married adult with responsibilities takes a lot of time, and sex often gets labelled a ‘luxury’ item and swept to the side. Maybe it comes from being a military spouse, with a husband who is sometimes gone for months at a time. A Chaplain’s wife once told me, “Get it in when you can!” She was so fabulously blunt and wonderful.
What is something you do on a regular basis that increases the strength and vitality of your relationship?
We check in regularly. Greg and I have a phrase for when one of us doesn’t feel quite right in the relationship: “I feel really far away from you.” I think it works because it’s non-confrontational, and it’s a statement of individual truth. It’s actually also an incredibly vulnerable statement, so the response of the other is important. It’s a statement that neither of us would dismiss or downplay.
What do you most look forward to doing with your spouse in the years to come?
Building a “Forever Home”. As a military couple, we move around quite a bit. So our homes are always rented or purchased with the understanding that each is temporary. So far, we’ve always managed to find great places, but the idea of building our dream home together— in a location of our choosing and to our tastes and interests is just awesome to think about.
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