By Mr. Kevin Stabinsky (IMCOM)February 26, 2010
FORT mCPHERSON, Ga. - Although differences can make relationships difficult, they can also add excitement to a partnership.
Recently, more than 180 people saw how such differences can apply to a marriage via a special presentation by Forever Families co-founders Jeff and Debby McElroy during a community dinner held at The Commons at Fort McPherson.
The event, put together by the U.S. Army Garrison Chaplain Office staff, helped couples celebrate the love that brought them together and get a good laugh at some of the over-the-top presentations of common disagreements and issues faced by Families.
"I hope people laugh a lot, but (also) realize that some of the stuff they laugh at are things that need to change," Debby said. "It's a satire."
Although many of the skits did cause laughter, the underlying reason for the event was more serious.
"Marriage is important," Debby said. "Families depend on strong marriages and the country depends on strong Families."
Unfortunately, relationships, especially in the military, are suffering due to the operational tempo of the armed forces.
"The military is in a constant change of flux," Jeff said. "Where civilian couples can make plans and adjust, military Families may not. Deployments can be such a tragedy to Families."
To help military Families, Jeff and Debbie, who have been married for 25 years, adapted their blend of humor and knowledge of scripture to cater to military audiences and began to offer active duty servicemembers free admission into their conferences.
"My dad served with the 82nd Airborne and both my grandpas served in World War II," said Jeff. "This is my chance to serve those who serve." It is also a chance to help the children of those who serve, added Debby. "Nine of 10 kids would be okay if adults straighten out," she said, drawing on her previous experience as an elementary school music teacher, youth minister and mother of two: a 19-year-old daughter, Kristen, and a 14-year-old son, Trevan.
"Content kids come from content parents," Jeff said.
The reason adults tend to portray the wrong image to children through their marital interactions is because of the fundamental differences between people, Jeff said.
"What makes relationships tough is God makes us all different and then asks us to make a single unit," he said. "You become one flesh, but it is tough to determine what flesh to mold yourselves after."
All too often, Jeff said, each partner tries to impart their will on the other, wanting the partner, rather than one's self, to change.
"You don't want to be married to you. If you don't believe me, ask your spouse," Jeff said.
Quoting Ruth Bell Graham, evangelist Billy Graham's wife, Debby added, "If two people in marriage are the same, one of them isn't needed."
To make sure each partner is needed and equal, the pair expressed the need to constantly think of how one's partner thinks and to do nothing out of selfish interest.
"To have a good Family, you have to deny yourself," Jeff said. "Take up your own cross and stop nailing everyone else to theirs."
Jeff said husbands need to realize their wives didn't marry them to fix their life, but instead to help them face it, and Debby said wives need to take the good things in their marriage and focus on them.
Although this line of thinking won't eliminate all problems, Jeff said that's OK, as differences give one's partner the opportunity to fill them up.
Differences and the struggles they cause can also lead to a sense of accomplishment when good things happen. "Difficulties make victory worth it. Dreams aren't worth anything if you didn't struggle," he said.
Edgar Titus, a World War II and Korean War Army veteran who attended with Jane, his wife of 53 years, said he agreed with what the McElroy's said, crediting his and his wife's long marriage to their ability to resolve differences peacefully.
"What they said rang true," added Jane, who was married in the Protestant chapel at Fort McPherson and is a member of the Fort McPherson Protestant council. "You need to listen to one another and be slow to anger."
Overall, Jeff said he hopes couples in attendance got a good laugh and some valuable insight into strengthening their marriage. He also encourages Soldiers who might be experiencing difficulties in their marriage to seek the help offered by the Army.
"The Army, out of all the other branches, has put the most resources out there, but not enough are taking advantage of them (because they are) afraid it is going to come back to hurt them (and their career)," Jeff said. "(Getting help) is a lot less risky than not getting help. When a Family falls apart, that's worse for the Soldier."