Retreat provides relationship refresh for III Corps couples
February 11, 2011
FORT HOOD, Texas -- Around Valentine's Day, love is in the air. There is no time like now to strengthen existing relationships and build on those that are foundering.
The Army is committed to helping its families work on their relationships. Through modules such as the Chaplain Corps-sponsored Strong Bonds program, Army couples are offered tools and tips to help with the tough times or further strengthen already strong marriages and relationships.
Last year, Fort Hood, Texas, chaplains hosted 280 Strong Bonds events for 14,000 attendees. Several are already planned for this year, as well.
Although many of the retreats are for married couples, Strong Bonds also hosts retreats for single Soldiers, families, families of deployed Soldiers and pre-deployment and reintegration retreats.
Many of the retreats are scheduled to coincide with pre-deployment and reintegration cycles, times that can be most trying on Army families.
As III Corps Soldiers return from a year-long deployment to Iraq, Strong Bonds retreats are being scheduled to help ease the transition at home.
Eighteen couples, the majority of whom had Soldiers who had recently returned from Iraq with III Corps Special Troops Battalion, attended a Strong Bonds marriage enrichment retreat Jan. 21-23, in San Antonio.
At the San Antonio retreat, the couples learned non-threatening ways to manage often confrontational situations, communication techniques, forgiveness and some of the danger signs in a relationship.
"Every marriage will have conflicts," Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Don Sides, STB, III Corps, said. "Thirty years of research shows the biggest predictor of marriage failure is how you handle conflicts."
Although the Strong Bonds program has several different curriculums for retreats, the San Antonio retreat was about handling conflicts in a non-threatening manner and effectively communicating, key tools for a happy, lasting marriage.
The retreats are for all couples who want to work on their relationships, not only for those who are struggling.
"The people who do this want their marriage to succeed," Sides said.
Two couples that attended STB's retreat, Sgt. 1st Class Richard Fiesel and his wife Denise, and Master Sgt. Eduardo Farnum and his wife Carmen. Each couple has nearly 20 years in the Army, but both feel they benefit from the curriculum offered in Strong Bonds.
"We attended one before and had a really good time," Richard said.
The Farnums also attended previous Strong Bonds retreats.
"It's a good opportunity to bond even more," Carmen said. "As the chaplain goes through things, you always have an 'ah' moment."
For the couples who had attended previous Strong Bonds retreats, this one was special because Sides brought his wife of 37 years, and she was involved with the lessons.
"It was pretty cool," Richard said. "They talked about their relationship."
For the couples, it was good to see others who wanted the best out of their marriages.
"It's inspiring to see other couples as committed to working on their marriage as you are," Carmen said.
For many couples, a Strong Bonds retreat is a good way to focus only on their marriage for a few days and refresh their relationship.
"It's marriage training, not counseling," Eduardo said. "It takes you away from home to just work on your marriage."
With deployments, training cycles, children and work, Army couples sometimes lose the focus on their marriages and need to work to regain the intimacy and sense of partnership in a marriage. Strong Bonds helps bring that focus back.
"No matter how long you have been married, you still have to work on your marriage," Denise said.
The 18 couples came to the retreat with their relationships in different phases, but everyone seemed to learn from each other.
"We had some couples who exhibited amazing resilience and commitment and they shared that," Sides said. "We also had a few that were struggling and appreciated learning from other couples."
This retreat was the first for Pfc. Cassandra Arrington and her Soldier husband. As a dual-military couple who have only been married two years, the Strong Bonds retreat was a learning experience.
"I walked away knowing my husband a lot better," she said.
Cassandra got something out of the retreat that surprised her. As she and her husband communicated and really listened to each other, they were able to talk about difficult subjects in a non-confrontational manner.
"There are hidden and semi-hidden issues," she said. "We learned about other issues and dealt with them in an easy, comfortable way."
Because they had learned how to effectively communicate and actively listen to each other, the Arringtons found a way to bring up subjects they might not have previously discussed.
"The best way to promote positive behavior is to encourage positive behavior," Sides said.
The long-time couples also learned from the younger couples.
"You look at the younger couples and see yourself," Eduardo said. "It's cool to see the process they're going through. It makes you more aware."
One lesson from the retreat was about a man's nothing box, the same place men go in their minds where they think about nothing. Women do not have a nothing box.
Sides told the couples, "own your feelings."
Another lesson involved a floor card, where the person holding the card was the only one allowed to speak and the other could only listen and then rephrase what the speaker had said.
This was an effective tool for Cassandra.
"That was the best thing and it actually worked," she said. "We used the floor card last night and today we are a lot better."
The couples agreed that programs such as Strong Bonds better prepare them to handle conflict in their marriages and leave them better able to cope. The skills they learned in San Antonio are portable and long-lasting.
"The last retreat we attended was over a year ago," Richard said. "We still use those skills."
The couples said they hope all Soldiers take advantage of the Strong Bonds program.
"I believe the whole program is an excellent one for all Soldiers and all should be given the opportunity to participate," Eduardo said. "This program is one way the Army shows it does care about Army families."