CHUNGCHEONGNAM-DO, South Korea — Amidst uncertainties from the pandemic and tensions from adapting to the new normal, the Unit Ministry Teams at the 501st Military Intelligence Brigade hosted a Strong Bonds retreat to help build Family resiliency with 20 of its couples.
The event started the evening of the arrival at the Island Resom Resort with an ice breaker contest meant to bring the spouses closer together, before discussing similarities and differences between both men and women and between partners to facilitate a better understanding and build stronger connections.
Capt. Justin Wax, chaplain for 532nd MI Battalion and lead for the weekend, introduced the group to a program titled Oxygen for Your Relationships, built by the nonprofit Stronger Families for military families and first responders. Stronger Families said they designed the Oxygen Program to provide the opportunity to significantly improve couples’ ability to communicate, resolve conflict, create emotional intimacy, interact with their spouses more effectively, achieve greater empathy, and improve their parenting.
After the evening session, the couples were released to meet back up with their children and get some rest.
The next morning’s session began by focusing on the results of the couple’s reports from a survey titled “The Couple Checkup,” which was completed in advance. The surveys assessed the couple’s strengths and growth areas. This process allowed them to learn more about themselves and how to better relate to one another.
“It’s all about building your connection,” Wax assured them.
During a later session Capt. Michael Anderson, chaplain for 3rd MI Battalion and facilitator for the event, told the group that communication is something we can always improve on.
“One of the main keys to effective communication is developing empathy,” said Anderson. And developing empathy for your partner, he told them, will increase your connection.
After finishing the sessions for the day, the group was given the task of finding something fun or engaging to do around the property, while spending some quality time with their families.
On the final day, the first session focused on how to deal with conflict in relationships. Wax explained some coping mechanisms to deescalate tensions while also emphasizing the need to come back together when things were calm to talk through the issue that caused the tension.
Next, Anderson taught a session discussing the facets of the love triangle: passion, intimacy, and commitment, and why maintaining a balance are important to maintaining a connected relationship.
Wax facilitated the last session, ending the event by talking about forgiveness.
“Forgiveness is a decision; it’s a path you choose to let go of negative emotions,” said Wax. “If the hurt is deep, that choice can be moment to moment, but if we don’t learn to forgive, we are ultimately hurting ourselves.”
He explained that we all make mistakes that hurt our partners, but it is essential for the health of both individuals and their relationship to learn to forgive.
After the last session, Joshua Williams, from 719th MI Battalion, said that while participating in the sessions, he and his wife, Katie, learned that they are actually closer than they thought.
Katie said she felt that these experiences are especially important for married people with children. They allow couples to spend time focusing on their marriage as partners and not just as parents.
Wax said he feels that events like Strong Bonds are important for the Army because Soldiers swear an oath to defend their country, and the country is made up of families.
“Stronger Families mean a stronger country, stronger neighborhoods, stronger communities, so we have to invest in our people,” said Wax. “One of the new Secretary of Defense’s primary concentrations is on people and strengthening our people, and this is how we do it. We focus on building relationships, helping us connect with one another. If we have stronger marriages, we will have stronger families, stronger communities, and a stronger country as a result.”
He continued that events like 'Strong Bonds' are methods the UMTs used to take care of their people, and teach them how to better care for and meet their Family’s needs. He hopes that the participants take away the concepts of being more selfless and the importance of investing in their relationships.