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5 Things Only Spouses of Wounded Warriors Truly Understand

While researching my book, Wounded Warrior, Wounded Wife, I spoke with dozens of partners to combat-injured veterans about their challenges, triumphs, and tragedies. As you might imagine, their stories were incredibly moving and eye-opening. I am forever grateful to these brave women for their candor, for sharing the hard truths of their lives with all who would listen. And from them I learned that there are a few things that only spouses of wounded warriors can truly comprehend.

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1. When your spouse comes home, some of him may be left on the battlefield.

Many of the wives I spoke with told me that they expected their reunions with their husbands to end the stress and strife of life apart. Although a wounded warrior's return home does close a certain chapter in his life, any fighter who has seen combat may end up leaving part of himself behind on the battlefield. The stresses and horrors of modern warfare take a chunk out of nearly every veteran, even after he or she has left the combat zone.

2. Not all injuries are visible.

In my book, I share the stories of families whose beloved veterans have returned home with amputated limbs, burns, and other visible scars. But I also delve deep into the invisible injuries: Post-traumatic stress that can haunt wounded warriors long after their physical wounds have healed, and traumatic brain injuries that may only reveal themselves months or years after a veteran has returned home. Some wives shared that the visible injuries were easier to cope with since they were clear to everyone. The invisible injuries were far more insidious.

3. Flexibility and quick-thinking are life skills.

“Nothing prepared me for all the paperwork, decisions, and medical terminology that came at me,” a veteran's wife named Natasha told me. “I had no medical or legal training. I had to rely on my wits every single time I was asked to sign something.” More often than not, spouses to wounded warriors are thrown into a life packed with medical jargon and endless bureaucracy. They are asked to make life-altering decisions on a regular basis. They all learn to think on their feet, ask questions until they receive clear answers, and be agile in the face of constantly-shifting demands.

4. When someone you love is wounded, you are wounded, too.

Our combat-injured veterans have made the ultimate sacrifice to keep our country safe and secure. The spouses who support them may never have seen the battlefield, but the pain and suffering their loved ones bring home affects them deeply. It is impossible to be married to a wounded warrior and not feel somewhat wounded yourself.

5. Being the support system to a wounded warrior is just as rewarding as it is difficult.

These spouses have a tough row to hoe, no doubt about it. But many of them find that the transformation can be a positive one. A wife named Mai told me, "After [my husband] Lanh came home injured, I had to tap into a strength I didn’t know I had to get help for my husband and family. Sometimes what comes out of ashes is better than what went down in flames.” Time and again I heard about the growth and strength these women drew from the upheaval and strife. They didn't just look on the bright side, they built new realities for themselves, their children, and their beloved wounded warriors.

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