Strong Bonds retreats build healthy families, stronger units
February 5, 2013
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - "My parents have been married almost 50 years."
Holly Coats and her husband, 1st Lt. Josh Coats, a platoon leader with 563rd Aviation Support Battalion, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, have used her parents as a marital role model.
They said they realize their own 20-year marriage is a comparatively remarkable milestone these days but, like anything worthwhile, it takes work.
U.S. Army Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Rodie Lamb said every married couple at some point encounters difficulties with something, whether it be communication, conflict resolution, stress and relaxation, managing anger, sex and intimacy, problem solving, compassion and forgiveness, managing money, commitment and fidelity, or trust and friendship.
However, military life places certain pressures on a marriage many civilian couples do not experience, said Chaplain (Maj.) Ed Yurus, the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade chaplain.
"Consider the amount of time families are separated for schools, training exercises and combat deployments," he said. "These extended separations place tremendous strain on a marriage. When a spouse or a parent is away from home for an extended period of time, there is a significant void in the family structure. It is imperative for the long-term success of the marriage that the void is filled in a healthy fashion."
Interventions such as Strong Bonds, an Army program designed to enhance resiliency, are beneficial to build security within relationships between Soldiers and their spouses. Single Soldiers are included, with their programs targeting characteristics of a healthy relationship and how to attain it.
"The Strong Bonds program is highly effective in helping Soldiers and family members develop resilience and readiness by giving them the skills necessary to cope with stress within relationships," Lamb said. "Strong Bonds training helps reduce relational stress as well as the subsequent outcomes of divorce and suicide."
"We're in the midst of a five-year longitudinal study evaluating the outcomes of the Strong Bonds training program," he said. "Preliminary outcomes show a fifty percent lower rate in divorce with an increase in marital satisfaction for participants."
Strong Bonds helps Soldiers and family members develop skills that enable them to build resilient relationships and healthy families, and ensure that Army children grow up in healthy Army families.
The techniques presented at Strong Bonds are proactive and preventative, designed to recognize and correct any issues before relationships are in crisis mode.
Capt. Jon Strobel, the 159th CAB flight surgeon, likened Strong Bonds retreats to periodic health assessments, a medical requirement for Soldiers.
"When your body is healthy, you perform better," he said. "It's also true for your relationships."
"Soldiers and family members need to spend quality time together in order to strengthen their relationship and build resilience," Lamb said. "The off-post experience gives them an opportunity to enjoy one another and connect with other couples facing similar challenges in a safe environment."
Getting away from post and work enables the couples and families to get away in an undistracted setting and work on relationship skills that will help in building a strong marriage.
"You get to take yourself out of a mechanical life of military service and just concentrate on your marriage," Coats said.
Strong Bonds was designed to strengthen marriages, but they have more impact on participants than just that.
They also create a strong support group for Soldiers and families, as there is some amount of interaction with other Soldiers and families, in turn connecting Soldiers and families to each other, the unit, and important resources such as chaplains and Military Family Life Consultants.
"It is also a time for our Army spouses to meet one another and develop friendships that may endure and flourish throughout the upcoming deployment," Yurus said.
Most importantly, because the family relationship has a strong foundation, it enables Soldiers to stay focused on the mission, improving readiness and retention.
"A Strong Bonds Couples Weekend has a positive impact on our Soldiers and spouses for several reasons," Yurus said. "It is a weekend when a couple decides to stop their hectic weekend schedule and replace 'busyness' with time together gathering great information to apply to their marriages and families."