Retired Military Wife Coaches Women, Shares Keys to Happier Marriage

Your husband's gone again... and then, just when you've gotten used to tackling the kids and the chores on your own, he's back. Any wife whose husband serves in the military, or works in the oil field, or drives a long haul truck knows — a husband's frequent work-related absences can stress even the best marriage.

Joyce Zook understands firsthand the challenges of wives in long-distance marriages. She supported her husband through 26 years of U.S. Army service in her 42 years of marriage. When he retired, and they settled in one place, Joyce began working with women as a life coach, gleaning from years mentoring others in Bible study and through the military's Protestant Women of the Chapel (of which she eventually led European operations.) Joyce is certified by the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC).

Joyce offers wisdom learned from her experience as a military wife and mother. She and her husband, Aaron, accepted Christ early in their marriage and found strength and stability in their faith. Joyce had survived a disastrous, short-lived marriage previously, and not wanting to repeat the past, found direction in God's word.

"When we applied what we learned, we fought less often, and our friendship and devotion for one another grew. Best of all, joy and peace filled our hearts when we implemented the truths we discovered," she posted.

Strategies that worked in Joyce's marriage eventually became the foundation for her book, 12 Keys for Marriage Success, published in 2019. The book grew out of material she presented at speaking events and from a radio program, Love that Lasts a Lifetime. She has since expanded her resources to include a webinar teaching series based on the 12 Keys that can be accessed on her website. Joyce speaks, teaches, and coaches women around the world to love their lives and their marriages, offering advice that is both biblically sound and practical, teaching life skills and helping marriages get back on the right track of intimacy and engagement.

Military life imposes unique hardships on marriages. Families are constantly uprooted when postings take them across the globe. There's an ever present concern for the loved one's safety. And husband's deployments move them in and out of the family routine with little warning. These trials, compounded by financial struggles and the exhaustion of parenting children single-handedly, take their toll.

Military husbands, too, find it hard to admit they need help as word may inadvertently reach their workplace. Joyce realized that to help military marriages she would be most effective if she concentrated her efforts on the wives, encouraging them to change the things they could and not fixate on their husband's faults.

"So many times guys won't read the books and won't go to a counselor," Joyce said. “So I focused on what a wife can do to create a wonderful marriage." The military tries very hard never to let the home life affect the military member's performance reports. But from my experience of working with so many women over the years, I found it is not humanly possible to keep the two totally separate - home life affects workplace performance.

She began where she started, in 1 Peter 3, which admonishes women to win their husbands over by their actions. "I had a little hole in my Bible in that spot where my finger had worn through the page," she said. She draws from that passage to inspire women to stop trying to change their husbands. "Everyone wants to fix him," she said. "Most of my women think they are helping."

"Guys want to know what you are doing when you stop nagging and do things differently," she said. The cornerstone of 12 Keys to Marriage Success starts with wives working on what they can change about themselves — their attitudes, their mindsets. Often a husband is motivated to respond more positively to his wife when he sees some of their points of conflict reduce, Joyce said.

Her first key, Stick Like Glue, stresses commitment to the marriage. She grounds her process on the Bible's words concerning divorce and marriage. Joyce acknowledges it is hard for someone to give up the idea of changing their spouse, so she begins her practice by making sure wives are committed. (See sidebar for the Keys)

Joyce's words for the wise:

  • The only person we can force to modify their actions is ourselves, which is extremely hard. But we can set up circumstances that make our husbands want to adapt and adjust their lives for the better.

  • If we try to fix or force our spouses to perform a task our way, it frequently backfires. It is possible, though, to amend our own behavior and thereby produce an atmosphere that influences our guys to change their reactions to us.

  • If we sound like their mother, most guys tune us out or walk away in anger. Grown men don't want to be told what to do or treated as children.

  • Nagging rarely causes anyone to switch what they do without resentment. But our husbands will show a renewed interest in us as women and wives when they experience our acceptance and admiration for who they are.

  • Shifting our behavior to act as their girlfriend and lover, not their mom, causes our mates' reactions to turn for the better. We create an environment that invites them to adjust their conduct because they feel valued. Once they sense our continued support, they begin to express their appreciation and love for us more readily.

  • Marriages can change for the better. Suppose our guys don't show any initiative to work on the relationship or don't agree there's a problem to fix. We still have the opportunity to completely transform our marriages even if we are the only ones trying to improve it. Our consistent adjustments to our conduct set the stage for our mates to reconsider their responses and actions.

  • The Lord works through and alongside us as we embrace His truths to build the deep connections we crave with our husbands. We can discover greater happiness and a richer intimacy with our husbands by incorporating the twelve keys for marriage success into our lives.

One of the challenges Joyce addresses is how to cope with a husband who's in and out of the household — whether he's going to war, gone for a year, or on training exercises. "The Bible tells us to submit to our husband's lead – but how can he lead when he's not there?" she asked. She suggests couples agree before he's away what decisions the wife should make while her husband is gone.

Joyce teaches wives to set up a routine that's consistent whether her husband is home or not. Joyce remembers setting dinner time at 6 p.m. when her boys were young. Her husband would either be there to join them, or his meal would be waiting on a plate in the refrigerator. She said it was remarkable how knowing a family dinner would be waiting for him motivated him to be home.

"We don't think about how planning to make meals can change a marriage," Joyce said. "But if you can't feed that man food when he gets home, he's grumpy!"

Joyce stresses the importance of wives taking care of themselves — developing a personal relationship with the Lord, fellowshipping with other believers and addressing their personal health. "Make sure you get some rest," she said. "How are you going to do that when you have toddlers? Figure out how to take the focus off the kids and put your husband back on the priority list."

She prompts women to listen for what her husband is asking, and then assess if complying with his wishes is something she can do. "Most of the time we can figure out how to give them what they want as well as what we want at the same time," she said. "My husband didn't want to trip over toys when he walked in the front door." Joyce realized that was a request she could honor, and stressed how small changes like organizing home responsibilities can make a real difference in improving the atmosphere of a home and not drain time and energy that could be spent on something positive.

While Joyce mentions clients have shared stories about marriages rescued from the brink of divorce, many of her strategies will be more effective before a marriage gets to the state of desperation. More experienced women in particular might find great joy in walking a group of younger ones through the 12 Keys, either alone or in conjunction with Joyce's video lessons.

Connect More with Joyce Zook:

You'll find Joyce at Her on-demand Marriage Success tab with twelve videos and study guides went live on April 1, 2021: On her website, you'll discover 12 Keys for Marriage Success and her other books, Priorities for Life and God and Your Closet, along with links to her blog. Join Joyce each Wednesday at 10 am on Facebook Live at and check out more of her videos on YouTube at

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