Jillian Santillanez, left, victim advocate for the Presidio of Monterey Army Community Service Family Advocacy Program, teaches the “Pick a Partner” class at the Weckerling Center at the Presidio of Monterey, Calif., Oct. 19. Airman 1st Class Kira Adams, a Russian student assigned to the 311th Training Squadron, takes notes.
Jillian Santillanez, left, victim advocate for the Presidio of Monterey Army Community Service Family Advocacy Program, teaches the “Pick a Partner” class at the Weckerling Center at the Presidio of Monterey, Calif., Oct. 19. Airman 1st Class Kira Adams, a Russian student assigned to the 311th Training Squadron, takes notes. (Photo Credit: Winifred Brown) VIEW ORIGINAL

PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. (Oct. 22, 2021) – The “Pick a Partner” class at the Presidio of Monterey aims to provide active-duty service members with the skills they need for happy, successful relationships.

“We’re learning to marry the head and the heart together as we look toward building a long-term relationship with someone,” said Jillian Santillanez, class instructor and victim advocate for the PoM Army Community Service Family Advocacy Program.

Most recently, Santillanez taught the class in two 90-minute sessions Oct. 12 and 19 at the Weckerling Center at PoM. Santillanez started offering the class earlier this year, and it is especially important at PoM because most of the service members assigned to the installation are young, college-age students at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, she said.

The skills the class teaches have the potential to improve the quality of service members’ lives for years to come, Santillanez said.

“Whether they choose to get into a relationship now—or in the next two years or 10 years and eventually get married—these skills can help them at any of those stages in their lives,” Santillanez said.

In terms of skills, Santillanez said a main component of the class is teaching how to communicate in a healthy way, but there is much more to the class.

“We’re looking at boundaries,” Santillanez said. “We’re looking at red flags. We’re understanding ourselves as individuals and what we’re bringing to the relationships as individuals. We are learning to pace ourselves in relationships.”

The Weckerling Center works well as a location, she said, because the students have busy schedules and it is an easy place for them to access. She also kept the students’ schedules in mind by paring the class down to the basics.

“This is the best way to give them the most important knowledge as quickly as possible to help them navigate in real time,” Santillanez said. “They could even have left here after the first class and gone out on dates and had some really good basic skills to help them navigate.”

During the October class, participants received free copies of “How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk,” by John Van Epp, as well as the accompanying workbook. In addition, participants received “The Five Love Languages,” by Gary Chapman and the “52 Questions to Ask before Marriage or Moving In,” card deck by John Gottman.

The class includes information about Van Epp’s “Relationship Attachment Model,” which advises couples to “know,” “trust,” “rely” and “commit” before touching each other. Students receive a card that helps them visually track each stage.

Airmen 1st Class Kira Adams and Marni Wickert, roommates and Russian students assigned to the 311th Training Squadron, took the class together and said they would recommend it to others.

Adams said that not only is the class free, but it also provides a lot of information that most people wouldn’t think to look up on their own.

“It’s helpful for them not only to look for a partner and see what kind of partner they want, but also [to look at] themselves and see, ‘Well, maybe I need to work on this or this so I can also be a better partner,’” Adams said.

Wickert, meanwhile, said one of the reasons she took the class is because she has seen others rush into relationships and the problems that can cause.

“I wouldn’t want to put myself in that situation, so I’m just arming myself with the tools that I need to make sure that my relationships will go how I would like them to,” Wickert said.

The class provides information that might help some people realize there are solutions to relationship problems they thought were normal, Wickert said.

“Some people just don’t have any great examples for healthy relationships, so this is a good place to learn that,” Wickert said.

Santillanez said one of the reasons she decided to offer the class in October is because it is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and although the class doesn’t focus on domestic violence, it does aim to help service members build better relationships.

“Our goal when I teach these classes during DV Awareness Month, and in any other month, is healthy, realistic expectations in relationships [so participants can] find joy, compatibility and happiness,” Santillanez said.

Anyone experiencing domestic violence or who knows someone who is can call the PoM domestic violence hotline number at (831) 206-2789, Santillanez said. Victim advocates staff the hotline 24/7. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-787-3224 or 1-800-799-SAFE.