Military life, with its multiple deployments and other pressures, can put substantial stress on families. Recognizing this challenge, the various branches of the military are providing more services designed to strengthen families and help them avoid divorce. These outreach programs include ongoing support groups, weekend retreats for military couples, and more. As a result of these programs, in recent years, the divorce rate in the military has been slowly decreasing, and is now at its lowest level in more than 10 years.
Divorce certainly has a negative effect on families. But there’s also a cost to the military itself when marriages are struggling. Servicemembers in happy marriages tend to perform their duties better and have fewer disciplinary issues. They are also more likely to stay in the military.
To ensure the divorce statistics continue to improve, the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force have improved existing programs and created new ones. Let’s take a look.
- The Deployment Cycle Support Program, assists soldiers with the challenges of absence and return and teaches valuable coping skills. This program includes comprehensive Care Coordination Services to veterans, service members, and their families who are engaged in the deployment cycle, helping them with deployment and reintegration.
- Strong Bonds is a weekend long event that was introduced in 1999 when the Army brought together 90 active duty couples to participate in a retreat where the couples spent most of their time in discussions or practicing effective communication skills. As a couple, and in a small group setting, participants learned about expectations, commitment, forgiveness, and feeling understood. Since then, the Army has welcomed well over one hundred sixty thousand couples to this ever-improving marriage and family program. There are now four Strong Bonds programs that address the needs of single soldiers, couples, and families and help them cope with the turbulence of deployments and rigors of army life. Strong Bonds is unit-based and lead by chaplains.
- The Single Soldier Program, under the umbrella of Strong Bonds, utilizes the P.I.C.K. Program (Premarital Information Choices and Knowledge) which helps single soldiers examine their priorities, choose their mates wisely, and build skills they’ll be able to use throughout their lives.
- The Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP) is a research-based approach designed to teach couples (premarital and marital) how to communicate effectively, work as a team to solve problems, manage conflicts without damaging closeness, and preserve and enhance their commitment and friendship. Programs are held on many bases and include a wide variety of themes.
- The Chaplains Religious Enrichment Development Operation (CREDO) is a program offered by the Navy Chaplains Corps, and provides a wide range of retreats for Navy personnel of all ages and stages of family life. Here are a few examples of the retreats they offer:
- Personal Growth Retreat (72-Hour PGR). As the central focus of the CREDO operation, the Personal Growth Retreat (PGR) is an opportunity for individuals to pursue personal and spiritual growth in a quiet natural setting. The purpose of the retreat is to provide participants with (1) the opportunity to understand themselves better and (2) the chance to develop new perspectives in their relationship with God, family, shipmates, the military, and the broader world. Each person is also encouraged to explore the basis of his/her inner spiritual resources. Many participants have described this weekend experience as a turning point in their lives.
- Marriage Enrichment Retreat (MER): An opportunity for committed couples to explore how they may better grow together in intimacy and love. Couples on this retreat will reflect upon and actively explore the health of their relationship by looking together at where they are in their relationships, how they got there, and where they want to go. CREDO recommends that you go through an individual Personal Growth Retreat before attending MER.
- Men's Retreat: What does it mean to be a man these days? How does a boy become a man? The CREDO Men's Retreat offers an opportunity for men to understand their roles and their relationships as husband, father, or son.
- Women's Retreat: This weekend will focus on how social, spiritual, and personal issues relate to a woman's image of herself. Participants gain understanding of their own path of being a woman.
· Each Navy region offers its own CREDO workshops--and each one has its own Facebook page. Here's the one for the Southwest region, but we encourage you to search for the one closest to you.
- The Air Force offers a variety of family support programs, including the annual Spouse and Family Forum, which provides tools for resiliency. Check the Facebook page for the the dates and location of the next forum. The Air Force also provides workshops and support at individual bases.
Edited and updated by Armin Brott, October 2016