In the most difficult days of her marriage, Corie Weathers practiced a principle she learned as a licensed professional counselor: Say out loud the things that are hard to say out loud.
Like many military couples, Corie and her husband, Matt, an Army chaplain, experienced their toughest trial after Matt’s first deployment. During that deployment, several of Matt’s fellow soldiers were killed, and many were injured.
“My husband came home definitely with combat stress, on the line between combat stress and (post-traumatic stress disorder),” Corie said. “There was a lot of his experience that I couldn’t relate to, because I wasn’t there, and I didn’t share those experiences with him.”
On the homefront during that deployment, Corie was using her own expertise, counseling and supporting the spouses of the killed and injured and others, as well as being the sole caregiver of the couple’s two young sons.
“I had my own experiences that [Matt] didn’t know how to process,” she said. “We now call them sacred moments. There’s no way for each of us to understand what the other went through; because we can’t understand it fully, we have to respect those spaces.”
Reaching that understanding required Corie and Matt to learn how to communicate their feelings to one another.
“There’s so much power in saying it out loud,” she said. “For me to verbalize how mad I was that I was so tired, and when my husband came home, I couldn’t just jump back into dual parenting immediately. That was a difficult transition.”
Corie and her husband often lead military marriage retreats, using their hard-won knowledge to help other couples work through similar issues. Corie also draws from her personal experiences in her work as a professional counselor. She is a volunteer for Give an Hour, a nonprofit organization that mobilizes counselors to provide free services to meet the mental health needs of military members, veterans and families.
In recognition of her work in support of the military community, Corie was named the Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year for 2015.
Developed by Military Spouse magazine in 2008, the Military Spouse of the Year is selected annually by a combination of social media voting and judging by panels comprising representatives from Armed Forces Insurance, Military Spouse magazine, Joint Chiefs of Staff spouses and senior enlisted spouses.
The well-connected title carries clout and visibility. Finalists and winners, including Corie, receive White House invitations and television interviews.
Corie wants to use this platform to increase awareness of the mental health needs of military spouses, advocating for those who need a voice, and highlighting organizations that reach out to serve them.
“Spouses carry a huge burden of feeling they need to be the strongest one in the home and to hold down the fort,” she said.
Corie said spouses sometimes defer their own needs for fear of taking attention away from their servicemember, who might also have mental or physical wounds.
“Soldiers and veterans need the attention they’re getting,” said Corie, who counsels both spouses and servicemembers. “I’m definitely here to promote that cause too, but I want there to be an equal light on spouses so we can realize that spouses have a stigma too. They are afraid if they get help that they’ll appear weak. They need to have that assurance that it’s okay.”
She also wants spouses to know that getting mental health care is not complicated. Family members can make an appointment with a civilian counselor without a referral from their primary care manager.
During her year as Military Spouse of the Year, Corie said she’ll advocate policy changes that make it easier for spouses to find counselors with military backgrounds.
“Spouses prefer to go to people who understand what the culture is like,” said Corie. “They want to go to a clinician who understands.”
Current regulations prohibit referrals that would give preference or appear to endorse particular clinicians. Corie said there are good reasons for these policies, but adjustments to the rules would provide balance and improve the situation both for spouses who are counselors, and those seeking counselors with military experience.
Corie said much of what she does, both as a counselor and alongside her husband, is influenced by her experiences. That first reintegration was a turning point.
“It was a new normal,” Corie said. “We had to start over in a new way. We had to repurpose and re-envision who we are as a couple. We both had changed. … It changed our marriage. We don’t regret that. We’re better for it, and we use our story in our marriage retreats to normalize and validate what other families go through."