MINNEAPOLIS - For 88th Regional Support Command Chaplain Nickolas Gaines, there's no such thing as the perfect marriage- because we aren't all perfect people.
Gaines is trying to help couples overcome the strains of marriage through teaching relationship techniques through the Strong Bonds Program, which uses an Army approved curriculum which is facilitated by Chaplains.
During the latest 88th RSC Strong Bonds event at the Marquette Hotel in downtown Minneapolis, April 24-26, Gaines said he wants married couples to have healthy relationships, something which provides him the impetus to teach the training.
"I'm trying to teach relationship dynamics through skills based training- which includes teaching people how to look for traits in a partner and how to communicate, especially through conflict," said Gaines. "There has to be some kind of faith, some way to be grounded for these couples."
Gaines, a first lieutenant who lives in Chicago, was a pastor for seven years before joining the Army Reserve and said many of the things he teaches in Strong Bonds are things people know, but don't take the time to talk about.
"Couples don't stop and say 'we need to repair some stuff' and 'we need to build forward-not backwards,'" said Gaines. "There's a lot of non-traditional families, families with geographical bachelors and they're dealing with unique relationship dynamics all over the place."
"I want to teach them how to have a blended family and have the adult be in charge of the house," he continued. "From my experience it's been super helpful for these couples."
For some couples attending Strong Bonds is often the first time many of them have been alone in a personal setting together for years, said Gaines.
"A lot of times it's hard to shut off being mom and dad and just to be husband and wife," said Gaines. "When they leave they're so refreshed, because they haven't done anything together in 10 or 15 years in some cases."
Gaines said he has been teaching Strong Bonds for three years and derives the most joy from helping couples move forward, when it seems things are spiraling backwards.
"I like teaching positive relationships and showing this is how you can be healthy- and as long as you're healthy, you will move forward," he added.
Among the 30 couples attending Gaines' training was Maj. William Bishop, of the 377th Theater Sustainment Command, who was joined by his wife Amy at the training and said this was their third time attending Strong Bonds, which has helped their marriage of 24 years immensely.
"It's given me better techniques for communicating with my wife and to me that's the main ingredient to a happy relationship," said Bishop. "The listening technique has improved our marriage greatly."
"It gives you ground rules for discussions instead of a free for all," he said.
Bishop said during deployments overseas he's seen lots of Soldiers going through hard times in their marriages due to communication barriers, something which makes Strong Bonds invaluable.
"It helps military folk a lot more than civilians I think because of the unique circumstances of their work," said Bishop. "It's great to be here and have an opportunity to learn and have fun. You need that kind of prompting sometimes."
The training has definitely bought them closer together, said Amy, who added being able to spend time together and absorb the information is invaluable, especially after deployments and separation.
"We always learn something new every time, including at this event," said Amy. "I don't like the time apart, but it's just something you have to do."
"These weekends we've spent at Strong Bonds has allowed me to see more of my husband than I would at a weekend at home," Amy joked.
This type of reaction is what makes teaching the course personally satisfying, said Gaines.
"When we do course evaluations people unanimously say they've learned a ton to take home," said Gaines. "We at the 88th (RSC) don't have a lot of research to see how the couples are six months later, but we do know communication is better and there are less fights."
Gaines urged Army Reserve couples to attend a Strong Bonds retreat if they've never been.
"People have nothing to lose by attending- why not take a chance to improve your relationship and yourself?" he said.
"The focus, no matter who attends, is to walk away with skills for healthy relationship and I'll do my best to achieve that for them."