Military matters of heart
It could be said that, behind every great soldier is a great spouse. After all, the U.S. military is the most resilient armed force in the world; and some of the most resilient marriages can be found in America’s Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy and Reserves. This should come as no surprise.
Military marriages are often forged in the furnace of numerous (and sometimes hazardous) deployments, temporary duty assignments (TDYs) and permanent change of stations (PCSs). This is in addition to the daily challenges that go with maintaining a household, parenting, community life and managing a career. Under such circumstances, even the healthiest marriages can feel the strain.
Enter: The “communication breakdown.” It is something that chaplains in every branch of service are all-too familiar with. Sure, lack of communication can plague any marriage, but the wear and tear of separation due to military life is one of the biggest challenges to keeping an open line of communication in a military marriage.
“These separations put strains on the marriage that couples in the civilian may never face their entire marriage,” says Chaplain Capt. Paul P. Loser of Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. “These times apart for the couple will, often, limit the time for proper communication. Couples often find themselves withholding information, thinking it will get better with time.”
One Key way to counter that, according to Loser, is for couples to maintain an open line of communication when they are not separated – even if it means setting aside 10-15 minutes a day to talk.
“This seems short to some and like forever to others, but it will grow into (them having) a deeper understanding of one another,” Loser says. “The side benefit is each person will improve their listening skills through this time.”
For couples who talk to each other a lot already, this may come as no surprise; however others may discover a new-found – or old – friend. And that, says Chaplain Lt. Cmdr. David W. Alexander of Camp Foster, Okinawa, is the best thing military couples can do for their marriages – nurture and protect that friendship.
“Do things best friends do,” Alexander says, “talk to each other like best friends do, and be there for each other like best friends are.”
For some service members, communication can also be thwarted by the cultural, if not linguistic, differences that can come with international marriages, according to Sgt. Maj. Daniel Kang, chief chaplain assistant at Yongsan Garrison, South Korea.
“Not only language being the barrier between couples,” Kang says, “but being raised with different beliefs, values, and customs. This is a challenge that the couples need to face head on and be able to learn and build those communication skills necessary in order to enhance their relationship.”
Of course, one of the biggest contributors to the communication conundrum is the very long-term separation that comes with unaccompanied tours. The temptations at some of these “hardship-tour” locations can compound problems – especially for those prone to risky behavior, according to Yongsan Chaplain Maj. Sang Joon “Tim” Won.
“In Korea, there are many temptations that soldiers encounter: excessive alcohol, gambling, extramarital relationships, sexual addiction and such,” says Won. “Healthy communication is another road block among military couples during this period of separation. Due to time difference, frequent communication is a challenge.”
As a chaplain who’s been through three deployments, Won says encouraging couples to look on the bright side and a hands-on approach tend to work best.
“There is always a positive side to all situations,” he says. “I personally provide many counseling sessions to ease the tension between couples. I also help them normalize their issues and problems so that they can bring the problems and issues down to a manageable level.”
This resource – military chaplains and family service centers – can be a military couple’s most valuable asset, especially, but not exclusively, when a military marriage starts to feel the strain. Loser points out that chaplains provide couples complete confidentiality, which can help in more ways than one.
“The couple doesn’t have to worry that anyone in the chain of command will know of their struggles,” he says. “This enhances communication and eases stress if the couple’s relationship has come under strain.”
Military chaplain and family services offer couples more than emergency counseling, they also provide services to enrich and maintain any military marriage.
“Chapel always has resources like books and literature that couples can pick up for free to build more resilient and healthier marriages in the privacy of their own homes,” Loser says.
Each branch of service also offers marriage-enrichment programs such as the Navy’s CREDO (also used by Marines in the Pacific), the Army’s Strong Bond and the Air Force’s MarriageCare to enhance marriages by helping couples develop better communication skills and rekindle romance.
In doing so, they help keep the U.S. Military – and the military marriage – as resilient as ever.
Chaplain insights: How can military couples enhance, maintain enriched marriages?
The couple can enhance their relationships and maintain enriched marriages when they have better skills on how to effectively communicate, work together as a team to solve problems, manage conflict without damaging closeness, and preserve and enhance commitment and friendship.”
– Chaplain Cmdr. Myung Dan Kim, Director of CREDO Japan at CNRJ Yokosuka
Service members have many resources available to them to enhance and maintain their marriages. … The chapel community hosts retreats (MarriageCare) that give the couples the tools and resources needed to strengthen their marriage. Through grants and Chapel Tithes and Offerings (CTOF), the chapel has the funding necessary to provide these retreats in a relaxing setting where the couple doesn’t have to worry about the stresses of home life, but can completely focus on each other.”
– Chaplain Capt. Paul P. Loser, 36th Wing Andersen Air Force Base, Guam
… Marriage is not just about feeling satisfied. It is about a deep, abiding friendship. The research tells us that what both men and women want from marriage – even if women are from Venus and men are from Mars – is a relationship with someone that is intimate even in the worst of times, and will last through thick and thin. The best thing military couples can do to enhance their relationships is to protect their friendship. “
– Chaplain Lt. Cmdr. David W. Alexander, MCIPAC CREDO director, Camp Foster, Okinawa
The key to enhancing their relationship is to build great communication skills and to personally invest in the marriage by attending these Strong Bonds Programs that help build on their relationships and provides knowledge and tools that work by dedicated professionals who have invested their lives in helping couples reach marriage satisfaction and success. … The retreat or “get away” provides a fun, safe, and secure environment in which to address the impact of relocations, deployments, and military lifestyle stressors.”
– Sgt. Maj. Daniel Kang, chief chaplain assistant, NCO, 8th Army Religious Support Office
Military families have many obstacles that civilian families don’t often deal with. They are long and frequent separations, traumatic events, high stresses and constant fear of death and injury. However, military families can not only survive such environment but also thrive in it. For this reason, Strong Bonds focuses on several areas of enrichment: they are communication skills, stress managements, and understanding of self and other members of family.”
– Chaplain Maj. Sang Joon “Tim” Won, USAG Yongsan, Family Life Center director
Marriage enrichment getaways
CREDO Marriage Enrichment Retreat
From the Chaplains’ Religious Enrichment Development Operation, or CREDO, marriage enrichment retreat, couples will learn to communicate even more effectively and work as team to preserve and enhance love, commitment, and friendship. They will have the opportunity to discover more about one another’s emotional, physical, and spiritual needs. They will also be able to relax and enjoy themselves in a beautiful, stress-free location. This is a FREE (lodging, meals, transportation) retreat and is not religion focused.
For more information about CREDO Marriage Enrichment Retreat, call CREDO Japan at (DSN) 243-8865.
CREDO Marriage Enrichment Retreat
CREDO in Okinawa is focused on helping couples come together to pay very specific attention to their bond of “best friendship” for three days at a time on the most beautiful and lavish resorts Okinawa has to offer. We recommend that couples make time get away for such weekends regularly on their own, but on our Marriage Enrichment Retreats, we also offer some powerful, evidence-based tools to help couples learn about each other and grow together, in close proximity to other military couples and with the help of an experienced marriage coach. All expenses are paid!
For more information about CREDO in Okinawa, call MCIPAC CREDO on Camp Foster at (DSN) 645-3041.
MarriageCare is a three day retreat written by Air Force Family Life trained Chaplains. It was designed to revitalize strained military marriages and build marital resiliency. MarriageCare targets married couples through the use of the traditional American marriage vows. There are only four one-hour sessions. This allows the couple time through the weekend to work on the tools and skills in this relaxing environment. MarriageCare believes that a marriage is more than a contract between two people. The course sees the marriage union as a uniquely spiritual union where the two become one. The best way to strengthen a marriage is from a spiritual framework. MarriageCare is for couples from all faith backgrounds.
For more information about MarriageCare, call Osan Air Base Chapel at (DSN) 784-5000.
The Strong Bonds program is not designed for a one-time fix for marriage issues. It is designed to empower couples to develop communication skills and to build trust with one another. The chaplain of the unit develops trust with the attendees, so they can continue to follow up with that chaplain for further marital development and guidance. The command also supports the Soldiers and Families who attend and ensure they are not distracted while attending these retreats. You’ll gain practical, useful information based on world-class curriculum developed from years of research. In small groups, you’ll participate in activities that renew bonds with your peers. And, as a couple, you’ll practice communication and relationship-building skills, as well as share intimate moments.
For more information about Strong Bonds, call USAG Yongsan Chapel, 736-3018.