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By Kelli Kirwin for LIFELines

Married and MilitaryMarried and military means you may face challenges that your civilian friends won't. Deployment, moves, and living far from family are just a few of the lifestyle quirks that come with active duty. Like any relationship, a marriage takes work and effort from both partners. One way to strengthen a marriage, even when separated by deployment, is through personal growth. Both husbands and wives can individually and together seek opportunities for personal growth that will not only make them better people, but also better partners.

The family life chaplain at Ft. Bliss Army Post in El Paso, Texas, recommends that military couples take advantage of programs like the Army's Building Strong and Ready Families, a marriage enrichment program conducted by unit chaplains.

The chaplain also recommends the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP). Most of the armed services offer PREP. This course for couples focuses on marriage basics, including commitment, communication and problem solving, budgeting, children, and spirituality. "Even if your marriage is healthy," the chaplain says, "it can be good marriage maintenance."

When couples are oceans apart, separated by deployment, they can still explore personal growth opportunities. In addition to marriage enrichment retreats for couples, Chaplain's Religious Enrichment Development Operations (CREDO) provides individual personal growth retreats aimed at both service members and spouses. The deputy director of Marine Corps Family Team Building (MCFTB) at Camp Pendleton, suggests spouses of deployed service members swap babysitting services, so that each spouse can participate in individual retreats.

MCFTB also recommends that spouses look for volunteer opportunities. Many programs — such as Army Family Team Building (AFTB), the Navy's COMPASS program, and the Marine Corps' L.I.N.K.S. program — provide childcare along with educational opportunities. MCFTB believes that volunteering leads to personal growth for both program participants and volunteers.

Deployment may make it challenging for service members to pursue personal growth. Resources and facilities are often limited. The family life chaplain advises service members ask their unit chaplain for guidance. Service members can educate themselves by reading marriage enrichment books recommended by Pederson, such as "The Five Love Languages" by Gary Chapman or "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work," by Dr. John M. Gottman. Chaplains may even provide copies of marriage and personal growth books for deployed service members.

Dr. Denim Slade, Ph.D., a marriage and family counselor, believes that personal growth alone "is not enough to strengthen a marital relationship. Both partners must make a cognitive decision to strengthen their marriage and stay committed, regardless of the circumstances." Slade adds that "commitment is what protects a marriage from the destructive effects of things like loneliness and infidelity."

Slade also states that the efforts of both individuals to improve themselves, combined with a deep-rooted commitment to the relationship, can only benefit a marriage. "Each partner must refill their personal reservoirs in order to be able to have something to give to the relationship. Seeking personal growth is one way you can make sure you have something positive to pass on to your marriage."


 

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