Making marriage work for the modern day Marine

14 Sep 2010 | Pfc. Christofer P. Baines

In the old Corps, some senior leaders often said, “If the Marine Corps wanted you to have a spouse, they would’ve issued you one.”

Today, that could not be further from the truth.

Marriage in the military has a combination of stressors unique to service members and their spouses. Between deployments, extended working hours and other military obligations, it can be a mentally and emotionally challenging endeavor for a Marine and their spouse.

For a marriage to be successful, like anything else, preparation is vital. The people involved must be ready for the stresses of a military lifestyle.

An effective form of preparation is marriage counseling. Although the general perception is that counseling is a last resort, experts say that is not the case.

Marriage counseling is good for saving marriages and preventing issues within a relationship to grow. It is suggested even before marriage to build a solid foundation of communication said, Tamika Alexander, a clinical counselor with the Family Advocacy Program at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.

The high divorce rate in the military today is no secret. The foundation of problems within a marriage is often times lack of communication, Alexander said.

The Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program workshop, usually taught by a Marine Corps Family Team Building representative in conjunction with a chaplain, is a straightforward class with insights into nourishing a fulfilling marriage. PREP is not therapy; however, it is a highly recommended class to take prior to getting married and at some units is required.

It is interesting that you can’t work at McDonald’s without some type of formal training and you can’t become a Marine through recruit training, but marriage is the only thing you can jump into without any preparation, said Lt. Cmdr. Maurice Buford, the Marine Corps University chaplain, who also teaches the PREP class.

Ivette Bennett, a PREP instructor and Marine wife, says the program gives couples a fundamental understanding of communication skills to reenergize relationships and teaches them how to have a more fulfilling and fun relationship.

“Good communication between couples breeds healthy and happy relationships,” Bennett said.

The workshop helps couples realize bad habits and allows them to revisit these habits to change them. It explores other arenas such as expectations, different perspectives and understanding your spouse’s personality, she added.

“Even though you come together as one in marriage, you’re still individuals and will continue to grow and change,” Alexander said. “Ongoing counseling and things such as reading books together, and going to workshops help keep things fresh and open.”

Communication, though vital, is only one portion in the dynamics of a military marriage. A military career and the personal sacrifice involved do not only affect the service member, but their family as well. Between permanent change of station orders and deployments, it is vital for the spouse and family to understand, and support what their service member is doing.

Bennett, a mother of three with 14 years of active duty spousal experience, said that understanding and supporting your Marine is vital to maintaining a healthy marriage.

“You’ve got to understand that when you’re with a Marine that’s a part of who he is,” she said. “My husband lives, breathes and bleeds it.”

There is a considerable number of resources available to spouses that were not available only a few years ago, she added. Organizations such as Military and Family Life Consultants, which take no notes and keep no records, are available to help military couples.

“I think Marines and their spouses should take advantage of these resources that are available to them,” Bennett said. “Sometimes you just can’t do it alone."

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