Lorenz on Leadership -- Cherish your spouse

  • Published
  • By Gen. Stephen R. Lorenz
  • Commander, Air Education and Training Command
Just last week, while walking past the base chapel, I witnessed a scene that caused me to pause and reflect. I turned and watched as people, dressed in their Sunday best, flowed from the chapel doors, smiling and casually chatting. 

They slowly split into two lines, creating a path that led to a waiting limousine. The crowd stood and waited, fueling my anticipation. Suddenly, a photographer burst from the doors, turned and captured a bride and groom as they ran outside. The crowd erupted with cheers. 

The bride, white gown flowing as she ran, paused to hug a friend. The groom immediately tugged at her hand, pulling her towards the waiting limousine. Without pause, they hopped in the limousine and the crowd again cheered as they sped away. 

I couldn't help but smile as I watched the newly married military couple start their new life together. It made me think about our spouses and our military families. The secretary of the Air Force and our chief of staff named this the "Year of the Air Force Family." 

In doing so, they hoped to bring more attention to the sacrifices our families endure and the service they provide our nation. I couldn't agree with them more -- our families, especially our spouses, are the foundation that enable each of us to serve in the world's greatest Air Force. 

I don't think anyone would argue the importance of having such a foundation. Our lives need balance and our spouses help provide that stability. I like to use the analogy that such balance is similar to the spokes of a bicycle wheel. 

You see, a bicycle needs balanced spokes in order to provide a smooth ride. Our lives are no different. I think of the spokes as the different priorities in our lives. If one of the spokes, like the relationship with your spouse, the needs of your children or the responsibilities at work get slighted, the wheel no longer rolls the way it should. It might even get to the point where it stops rolling altogether. 

We must balance each of our life's spokes very deliberately and carefully. When we are balancing shortfalls and managing a limited amount of time, money and manpower, our spouses often are the ones who get short-changed. We can't afford to let that happen and must always make time to tell our spouses how much we appreciate them. 

When you're tired from the challenges at work, take a deep breath, walk in the door with a smile, and tap your energy reserve to make a difference with the time that you have. It only takes a minute to let them know how much you care - a simple squeeze of the hand, rub on the shoulder or a phone call during the day. 

Think about the things that make you feel appreciated and loved. Do those things for them in return. Always strive to give more than you receive. This isn't an easy thing to do. Maintaining the friendship, trust and energy in a relationship is a full-time job. It's up to you to make it a fun job - for both you and your spouse. 

In a recent article I talked about the danger of complacency in our professional lives. The same goes for our personal lives too. Many people confuse complacency with comfort. Although comfort can help build stability in a relationship, complacency can cause a relationship to drift apart. Never, ever take your spouse for granted. 

Our spouses make significant sacrifices each and every day. There are countless stories of spouses who go above and beyond -- stories of men and women who volunteer in the local community and pursue their own successful careers despite long days and deployments by their military spouses. 

There are even more untold stories about spouses who quietly make a difference every day. The story of the wife who, after a long swing shift, returned home to wake her family, cook everyone breakfast and send them all out the door before collapsing herself. And the story of the husband who stayed up all night taking care of sick children so that his wife could go to work rested and ready. Resist the temptation to become accustomed to such acts of sacrifice and kindness. 

These tremendous examples are often interrupted by the "other" stories. We've all done "boneheaded" things - forgotten important occasions, not paid enough attention to our spouse's concerns, tried to solve their challenges for them instead of just listening sympathetically. 

Work hard to avoid these thoughtless acts in the first place. Be critical of yourself and the things you do. Your standard of excellence at work should be no different when at home. 

Lastly, when you feel your spouse has neglected you in some manner, it is best to forgive without pretense. Put past grudges aside so that you can move forward together. After all, forgiveness is what you hope for after apologizing for those "boneheaded" things I just discussed. 

As I turned to leave, the crowd had already forgiven the bride and grooms' hasty departure, and started to dissipate from the front steps of the chapel. The couple was starting their life together, as a military team. 

I thought of my spouse, Leslie. We made a commitment to each other more than 34 years ago. We knew that our lives would be better if spent together and have learned through the years to depend on each other in order to accomplish our goals. 

For me, Leslie has been the key to keeping my wheel balanced. I've worked hard through the years to make each day with her better than the one before; to keep my wheel rolling smoothly. 

Our individual strength comes from the foundation that our spouses provide at home. By cherishing your spouse and making sure they know how much you appreciate them, your wheel can continue to cruise happily through life as well.