Keeping Marriages Strong Across Miles


YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea -- When Tech. Sgts. Gena and Barry Armstrong received orders to Korea, their marriage had gone through some rough patches and they had all but decided divorce seemed like a good idea.

The couple had dealt with numerous deployments and temporary duties away from each other, common stresses in military relationships. Then they received separate assignments to Osan Air Base and Kunsan Air Base, both in South Korea.

Though geographically separated, the Armstrongs are giving their marriage another shot.

A Marriage Care Retreat hosted by the Kunsan AB Chapel from Aug. 8-10 gave them and 20 other couples the chance to work on their relationships.

"We've been married for about eight years, and not all of it was good," said Gena, a broadcaster with the 51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs office at Osan AB. "We had a rocky few years before we even came to Korea. We saw this retreat as a really good way to get professional help and more avenues for fixing our problems. It's cool knowing that everyone kind of goes through the same things."

Each day of the retreat opened with a reading of the traditional American wedding vows by 8th Fighter Wing Chaplain (Capt.) Kevin Hudson. Then the group launched into sessions covering everything from "The 5 Love Languages" to personality types.

The Military Family Life Consultant and a representative from the Airman and Family Readiness Center also taught classes. All the lessons were geared toward helping couples, especially geographically separated ones, reconnect and learn to communicate with each other.

"People thrive in life when they are happy in their marriage," said Staff Sgt. Joshua Strom, the 8th FW chaplain's assistant who was responsible for organizing the event. "The world could be against them, but if they are happy in their marriage, then everything is OK in the world. Couples sometimes wait until it's too late to fix their marriage, and this opportunity made it easy for them to work on it sooner."

While a few of the Kunsan AB Airmen were able to have their spouses attend, many more had their loved ones listen and watch via Skype. Some of the sessions were joint exercises where the spouses could follow along and participate.

"Some couples might come into this retreat with their marriage hanging by a thread," said Hudson. "By the end of the weekend, we hope it's a rope. The challenge is to help them realize that even though they are separated, their marriages are not on hold.

"It's important for couples to know their marriages don't have to suffer while here," he added. "It can not only survive, it can thrive in a separated environment."

The theme "communication" was present in all sessions: Find the best way to communicate with your loved one, and your relationship has a stronger chance of surviving.

"The military wants you to be the best person you can be in every facet of your life," said Barry, who is with the 8th Maintenance Group at Kunsan AB. "If you have a family or partner, they want you to strengthen that bond just as much as the military bond."

Both he and his wife admitted it can be difficult listening to each other with an open mind and taking each other's different personalities into account. They also cited taking work home too much as an issue. The atmosphere of the Marriage Care Retreat, miles away from the worries of work, was just the place for them to focus on strengthening their relationship.

"Getting away from your daily environment really allows you to concentrate on what you're learning here," said Gena.

Her husband agreed. "Having it at Yongsan helped us get out of our comfort zones and really embrace what they are trying to teach us. It helps you focus on your spouse and the tasks at hand."

Programs hosted by the Chaplain Corps are just one avenue the military provides to help couples deal with the high-paced military lifestyle. MFLCs provide free, anonymous counseling, and provides more counseling options and many other resources.

Hudson said he hopes the retreat was just what the Airmen needed to strengthen their marriages.

"Marriage Care is designed to renew and revitalize marriages," he said. "Only the couple and God are the experts in their marriage. If the couples can understand their commitment and renew their desire to serve, care for and appreciate one another regularly, then their marriages will thrive."

The next retreat is scheduled for early October.

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