Military marriages have been put through the wringer over the past 20 years. Frequent, hard deployments, months spent apart for training and schools, and traumatic moves from one part of the world to another have taken their toll. Even strong marriages have cracks in them from the stress of military life.
But those cracks don't have to break a marriage. And healing doesn't have to be done alone. Military couples have a lot of people supporting them, from foundations and programs to fellow military spouses.
If you're looking for a way to bolster your marriage, do a little preventative maintenance or maybe even a complete overhaul, start with these resources.
1. USO Video Series
The USO has long been a player on the military family support stage, but now it is working to bring resources to marriages facing a military-initiated separation. To do that, the USO is covering the current deployment separation of Chaplain Matt Weathers and his wife Corie.
Through monthly webinars, the couple talks about the process of gearing up for deployment, the tension before it starts, parenting through deployment and many other topics, ending with reintegration. The webinars are a great way for service members and their spouses to see firsthand what another couple is going through. It can help validate their feelings, Corie Weathers said.
Want to participate?
You can view past webinars and see the schedule for upcoming webinars here. Accompanying each webinar is a worksheet, or listening guide, that helps couples navigate through the tougher topics.
2. Project Sanctuary
Project Sanctuary is a nonprofit that firmly believes that when one person serves, the entire family serves. It offers six-day therapeutic retreats across the country at no cost for military and veteran families. The families work with professionals on areas including financial planning, mental health and relationship counseling; children participate in youth and teen programs.
"We take a human-centered, solution-based approach to helping military families by building relationships based on trust in an environment where the whole family can come together and begin their healing journey. We do this with a blend of mental health programs, classes and recreation, as well as two-year follow ups post-retreat," said Danella Soeka, the project's director of marketing and communications.
It also has year-round services for family support and destination resource weekends throughout the year that focus on each couple's unique and personalized needs, Soeka added.
What families say about Project Sanctuary:
"We were struggling with the effects of PTSD, but we were merely surviving, not managing. We've improved with other programs, but we specifically chose Project Sanctuary because they were the only program that could help us with communicating with our children. It was also important for our children to meet others similar in age and going through similar struggles. There are a lot of programs that help veterans, but Project Sanctuary is the only one we've found that allowed us to include the children in the experience and help them also understand what's going on." -- Melissa, Retreat #211, Black Mountain, North Carolina.
Want to attend?
Families can apply online for any of these resources. All military families, including single individuals and the LGBTQ+ community, are welcome. The 2021 retreat schedule is available online as well.
3. Taya and Chris Kyle Foundation
The Taya and Chris Kyle Foundation (TACK-F), previously known as the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation, has been working with military and first-responder marriages for years. Through a few key programs, the foundation has found great success in rebalancing participants' relationships.
Corie Weathers, the national clinical director of programming for TACK-F, explains that couples go through a process, or pipeline, so counselors can get to know them as a couple and help them with what they need. Most couples start with the Strength Training program, where they have five coaching sessions and end with an overnight date.
Spouses can then attend an Empowered Spouses Retreat, or ESR -- three are planned for 2021 -- where they meet with other first-responder and military spouses. The retreat environment seeks to give the attending spouses time to relax and recharge, and offer the spouse who is left at home the opportunity to feel what that's like.
"All the programming really rebalances the relationship on several levels -- whatever the marriage needed --- and that's what we're trying to do in marriages this year. Tackle the suicide numbers from within the marriage, address the conflict in the home," Weathers said.
What couples are saying about this program:
Want to participate?
To participate in this program, you can nominate yourself or another couple online. The program lasts for a year or two across all its parts, and deep connections are made between the spouses when they attend ESR. Currently, ESR is open only to women, but there will also be a virtual option this year that may include men.
A strong marriage can change everything, and programs like these are there to help you heal and strengthen your marriage. We may not talk about the benefits of strong marriages enough as a community, but we all know them when we see them.
"I look at these families and I think, 'You just don't know that you can go through it and you'll be better for it,'" Corie Weathers said. "We're going to do life together, and then you'll get to the place where you're ready to be that person for someone else. I want to save families. When you save a marriage, you save generations."
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