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Program helps service members strengthen relationships

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

AUSA Family Programs often partners with other associations or groups to provide assistance to families for the various challenges we know they are experiencing.

Stronger Families is one of our partner organizations and we recently sponsored a number of Army families to attend an "Oxygen for Your Relationship" Seminar.

Every day, members of our military put their lives on the line to serve and protect our country. Unfortunately, in their fight for freedom, many return home to struggling marriages and stressed families.

Numerous military marriages are under heavy pressure due to the strain of repeated deployments and other military demands. Time and distance apart often lead to a loss of connection and communication. Sadly, many military marriages aren’t able to overcome these strains.

Reports state that in 2009 alone, approximately 27,000 divorces took place between couples where one spouse was or had been on active military duty.

Stronger Families is dedicated to helping our servicemen and women strengthen their relationships. Their ultimate goal is to drive down the divorce rate within the military by providing couples with the tools and support they need to communicate better and maintain the family link during separations and other demanding times.

When Stronger Families leaders heard these military family divorce statistics, they sought to learn how they could help couples avoid the breakdown of their families and provide support to our nation’s troops on the home front.

Through collaboration with Army officials, and Stronger Families military adviser Maj. Gen. Jimmy Collins, USA, Ret., the Oxygen For Your Relationship program was developed.

Oxygen is a relationship-building seminar that helps couples create a personalized action plan and design a support system to help handle the unique stressors of military life. Through a combined grant with TriWest Healthcare Alliance and AUSA Family Programs, a demonstration project was launched in March 2010 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

The local AUSA Meriwether Lewis Chapter and the installation’s Family Life chaplain also supported the program.

The Oxygen Seminar is intended to help couples work on their relationship in a fun and non-threatening environment. Couples learn how to improve communication, understand spousal differences, resolve conflict, rekindle intimacy and find renewed hope.

Prior to the seminar, couples take an online assessment called the Couple Checkup. The results are personally applied throughout the marriage building sessions. No one sees their results, but they then use the checkup as a tool to help assess areas of strength and growth in their relationship.

An Army chaplain noted, this pre-assessment not only provides instant relationship feedback, it allows spouses of deployed soldiers to connect and communicate despite the distance.

After attending the seminar, couples are entered into Oxygen for Your Relationship.com, an online support system that offers continued marriage enrichment through videos, articles, mentorship, and strategies to help during conflicts or separation. Couples are also encouraged to seek out local mentors and support groups.

Since March 2010, six Oxygen seminars have been offered to nine brigades with 160 couples in attendance. Stronger Families has also trained eleven facilitators to independently lead future seminars.

Due to overwhelming success, I Corps chaplains were allowed to offer the seminar during the workday. Carlene Joseph, the Meriwether Lewis Chapter president, observed that scheduling the seminars during duty hours not only allowed for increased couple participation, but it reduced cost.

In addition the one-day seminar allows commands to assess objectively family wellness concerns in a comprehensive manner and begin a prescriptive response before soldiers and their families depart for block leave."

Stronger Families continues to receive positive feedback from Oxygen participants. One husband said, "Oxygen has given me important insight into how my wife’s feelings and emotions toward me are connected to how I communicate my love for her."

Another participant shared the vast improvements in conflict resolution she and her husband were experiencing saying, "Because of the many deployments my husband has had, we have found ourselves stuffing issues under the carpet. Whenever we would bring up one of these hidden issues it would cause a huge fight. At the seminar we learned how to resolve conflict the right way. The conflict resolution checklist is definitely something we plan to use in the future."

A soldier who had expected to be bored during the session said, "The night before I came I said: ‘Oh man, I will be falling asleep,’ but my experience was very much the opposite. The seminar was great and I would definitely go to another in the future. I also will pass on this information to other couples that are in need of help."

A comprehensive survey of six seminars at Joint Base Lewis-McChord further reinforced the positive testimony from participants. On a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being the best, when asked if the program would help with reintegration, 91 percent answered 4 or 5 on the scale. And, 95 percent said they would do things differently as a result of participating in the seminar. When asked if they would use what they learned, 77 percent said most definitely.

Additionally, Army chaplains at the installation reported that Oxygen helped meet the need of strengthening military marriages and would find future use in their chaplain’s tool kit. The program’s flexibility to meet the individual requirements across the installation and the ability to use it collaboratively with other Strong Bonds programs is an added value. The seminar received endorsement by base senior command leadership.

Military families need our support and encouragement. Soldiers sacrifice so much for this nation; they shouldn’t have to sacrifice their marriages and their family relationships as well. Thanks to the hard work, and dedication by the leaders at Stronger Families, The Oxygen for Your Relationships program is proving to be an exemplary program for helping relationships and strengthening military families.

Stronger Families has served communities including churches and low-income families in the North West for nearly 20 years. Now, our military is its number one target area.

If you’d like to bring Oxygen to military families at your location, contact the Stronger Families executive director, Noel Meador, at [email protected], or by phone at (425) 679.5671, Ext. 101.