Dual Military Marriages are big ‘Dills’
U.S. Army story by Gabriella Sullivan
Fort Knox, Ky. (Aug. 13, 2021) -- Looking at a photo of John and Tiffany Dills’ wedding you can tell the couple was overcome with joy and love on their special day. The beautiful bride and groom beam ear-to-ear on what seems to be the perfect stress-free day in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 4, 2008. And according to the couple, it was. The wedding was so easy going and neither the bride, nor groom had a care in the world. John had successfully planned the wedding of Tiffany’s dreams.
It’s unusual for the groom to plan the wedding, but John and Tiffany are not your usual couple. They are both lieutenant colonels in the United States Army. John is the chief of plans at V Corps, and Tiffany is the chemical and public affairs enlisted branch chief at U.S. Army Human Resources Command. Before their wedding, Tiffany was deployed to Kuwait with U.S. Army Central Command, leaving John to plan with her mother and sister. And, like most military couples, the Dills had two weddings, the day they became legally married, Oct. 5, 2006, and the day they celebrated with family and friends.
Their story starts like many others, they met through a mutual friend when they were at 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Georgia, when Tiffany first arrived at the unit. They quickly became best friends. Tiffany says that’s what makes their relationship unique. Their friendship paved the way for them to have an honest relationship built on communication which helps them navigate the challenges of being a married military couple.
Any married couple will agree that marriage is challenging, for dual military couples there are even more obstacles to overcome, like being deployed before your wedding. As John describes it, it’s chaotic and you need to make sure your time is being put into the right things.
“Imagine being in a warzone with only one other person, one rifle, one magazine and one knife,” said John, calm and composed, occasionally playing with the wedding band on his left hand. “You're in a fight, not with each other, just with everything else, because of your professions. Whether they're the same or different, it's always competing for your time. Then you add kids to the mix and that's another piece you have to pour time into.”
Even though the couple had honest communication from the beginning, communication was still a challenge that they faced.
“You are just trying to figure this whole marriage thing out, and then you've got all the military stuff on top of that along with the stressors that go with it,” sighed Tiffany. “It was a lot of learning how to communicate with each other about what my career needs and what your career needs, so that we can bring it together and make it work.”
In their 15 years of marriage, they reached a point in their relationship where they could tell each other anything, no matter how brutally honest it might be. They learned to communicate their wants, needs and feelings to each other.
“We have this thing where you may not be my favorite person today, or at this moment, and that's ok,” explained John. “I'm going to tell you you're not and when I settle down I will explain to you why you were not my favorite person. We will never go to bed angry, but we may go to bed upset. You just have to remember that people remember cuts, never the band aids, so you try not to make cuts.”
John said not only is it about communication, sacrifice and putting the other’s career first occasionally is also crucial.
“We’re kind of like a clutch and gas effect,” Tiffany laughed. “You can't always be the gas and that's ok. There will be times when I tell him you're not the gas this time, and he’s ok with that. It means that I may have to go somewhere and he’ll have to be Mr. Mom for a while and that's unique. He knows he’ll get his turn as the gas soon.”
John and Tiffany both said that they know what the other person does for each other. They make sure to give the proper affirmations. Their efforts do not go unseen, however, they agree it is not acknowledged as much as it should be.
While military marriages have their fair share of challenges, when both partners are in the military, there is a deeper understanding of the responsibilities that come with wearing the uniform. Dual military couples understand the long hours and changing schedules better than those that may not be used to it. The Dills’ say their relationship is stronger due to being dual military.
“[Dual military] gives us a common understanding of what the other is dealing with,” said John. “It's hard to express to someone who hasn't lived this life. They may not understand the requirements and things that go into the job. They see time away, they may have an understanding, but they don't fully grasp everything and why we have to do it.”
The Dills’ said they have worked at their marriage and it may be unconventional, but it works for them and they balance each other out. Tiffany is very bubbly and talkative, whereas John can be more quiet and reserved. She thinks that everything has to get done right away, but he is able to pull her back and get her to stop and just be in the moment. They said all couples need to find a way to do things that work for them, no matter how unconventional it may be.
“What I would mention to [new dual military couples] is; one, don't ever let anything come between you and your marriage,” said Tiffany. “Two, when you are both trying to progress in your career, communication is key. That means communication between each other, communication with the branch manager and communication with the unit so everyone knows what you are trying to do. Finally, setting goals. You have to set goals in your career and be honest about them with your partner. Make sure they know so they can help you get where you need to go and vice versa.”
John offers a different piece of advice.
“The biggest piece is when you leave the office, leave the office,” said John as he gestured to no pictures anywhere in the office. “When you are at the office, be at the office and when you are home, be home. I try not to take work home with me and it's rare when I do. The time you have at home goes by so quickly and if you don't nurture that you will end up developing resentment. So enjoy your time and put them first, everything else is in support of that.”
Regardless of the challenges or added stressors the military may have on a relationship, the couple agrees, marriage can be very rewarding.