"Strong Bonds is not about counseling or any kind of preaching on the part of the chaplain," said Chaplain Capt. David Morris, the program's action officer for Mississippi. "It's actually curriculum that we use that encompasses the whole marriage relationship. It opens up an opportunity for couples to talk about things that they might not talk about on their own."
Resiliency is a solid component of Strong Bonds' curriculum. Webster's Dictionary defines resilience as "The ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens."
This is a vital characteristic of a healthy marriage, Morris said. Soldiers and their spouses experience unique hardships that are rare in civilian life but commonplace for those in uniform. Strong Bonds helps couples navigate the rough waters of separation due to deployment or training. Extra stress from added duties and emotional issues can be huge challenges for the soldier and their spouse. Periods of long separation often cause the greatest strain on a military member's marriage.
There are multiple Strong Bonds programs for families to benefit from. Strong Bonds for Couples curriculum covers topics ranging from conflict resolution to intimacy. Strong Bonds for Single Soldiers offers guidance for managing priorities and what to look for in a future spouse. Strong Bonds for families teaches how to maintain closeness during deployment and transition to and from a prolonged separation. There are opportunities for every service member to benefit from the Strong Bonds program.
The program provides time away from daily distractions to allow couples to communicate more effectively with each other. Strong Bonds began in 1997 with 90 couples participating in four events. It has since grown to over 130,000 soldiers and family members taking part in nearly 4,000 national events annually. Studies have shown the program has had a dramatic effect on lowering the number of divorces for service members who participate. One study showed the divorce rate for members who had participated in Strong Bonds was one-third the rate of those who had not attended the program.
"It helped me and my husband out greatly after a deployment," said Staff Sgt. Frankie Washington, of C Troop, 106th Brigade Support Battalion. "We were going downhill in our relationship and Strong Bonds helped us overcome it. We are able to handle the conflicts better because of the tools that we learned here. Would I recommend this? Yes! A thousand times over!"
The entire experience is top notch, from food, to accommodations, to presentations, Washington said.
Couples are provided a nice dinner upon arrival Friday night. They are encouraged to eat with their fellow attendees and get to know each other. Each couple is provided a room for the weekend and five meals through Sunday lunch. Saturday morning and afternoon consists of interactive lessons on handling problems that can arise during marriage. Participants are released Saturday afternoon to prepare for a date night and enjoying time alone with each other. Sunday morning begins with breakfast and is followed by two final sessions and a boxed lunch at noon. The only expense for the entire weekend is transportation and Saturday dinner.
Spouses are able to experience a more relaxed side of the military than they may be used to. It is especially helpful for spouses who may not have much interaction with others experiencing the same struggles, Morris said.
"Being at Strong Bonds helps me bond with the family," said Kenya Washington, husband of Staff Sgt. Frankie Washington. "I use the word 'family' because these are the people that have my wife's back when she is deployed or during training. These are her brothers and sisters and I've really enjoyed it."
You can visit www.strongbonds.org for more info.