Reintegration, Moving, and Marriage Retreats

Yesterday I was chatting with a friend about an upcoming Marriage Retreat that her family is attending.  Having just passed the 3 month mark of my husbands return from Afghanistan and less than 2 months from our tentative “leaving Germany” flight time, I am both thrilled for my friend, and envious of the opportunity to go.

Four years ago, the Army made a promise called “The Army Family Covenant” to provide funding to improve programs and create new ones in order to strengthen our Army families during a time of war.  In a re-affirming commitment event last year, Gen. George W Casey Jr., chief of staff of the Army said, ”Never before in the history of our Army have we asked so much of our Families.  They are serving side-by-side with our Soldiers, enduring their hardships, providing the unconditional love and support that truly make our Army strong.”


One of the things the Army Family Covenant has made possible are “Strong Bonds” Retreats for both single and married soldiers and their families. We have had the wonderful opportunity to attend 2 of these retreats during our 4 years here in Europe. (One in late 2009 after our daughter was born and again in 2010 before my husband’s most recent deployment.)

Both were beyond perfect timing for us.

In 2009, Seth returned in May from a 14 month Iraq deployment. I was 5 months pregnant (Yay surprise R&R pregnancy!) and had moved us to a new apartment. So attending a marriage retreat with 3 children (4 years and under) where the focus was maintaining the lines of communication and learning how to ‘fight fair’ was just what we needed.


In 2010, we had again moved to another apartment (due to construction on post) and were preparing for yet another deployment. So while I was thrilled our new apartment had its own washer and dryer, I was not looking forward to yet another year of being a solo parent in a foreign country. This marriage retreat again focused on effective communication and how men’s and women’s brains work (task oriented vs emotion oriented). Once again, the refresher course and encouragement to keep our relationship a priority in the midst of all the stress in our lives was wonderful reinforcement and a perfect precursor to an extended separation.


So fast forward to yesterday, I shared this status via my personal facebook…

I think every married couple should have the opportunity to attend a marriage retreat within 3 or 4 months post-deployment. There are so. many. challenges that families face during reintegration and moving (which often follows long deployments). And even if everything is “Leave it to Beaver” perfect in your relationship, it’s always good to change the oil and rotate your tires as a preventative maintenance measure!

The immediate response was an honest, open, and heartfelt conversation.

Quite a few friends commented that they too hadn’t had a chance to ‘make the list’ before they moved – and while they are happy to let others attend (not angry/ jealous), there is a quiet agreement that yes, this would be a very good thing for families to have access to.  That even after 3, 4, or 5 deployments there are different challenges and hurdles to work through.

Another friend from North Dakota who is an amazing National Guard Military Spouse commented “I am dealing with dozens of spouses right now— have been through the 30-60-90 day yellow ribbon—- and hubbies have deployed 3-5 times in the ten years…. and they are on the brink of collapse… and there is nothing out there for them…”  My heart aches for these families.

And so my dear readers, I am sharing all of this with you to open the door for YOUR stories.

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Have you every attended a Marriage Retreat?
(This question is for both military families and those not married to the military!)

How did the Marriage Retreat or Workshop impact your family?

What resources have you found or used to strengthen your marriage during times of stress?

Also, I encourage everyone to please share any programs or information that might be specifically helpful for those geographically dispersed military families like the Coast Guard, the National Guard and Reserve who may not have access to these “Strong Bonds” retreats offered to Active Duty families who are stationed at a military installation.  Let’s encourage one another!

This week I have been honored with a nomination for a MilBloggie award.
(It is the equivalent of winning an Oscar or the Pulitzer Prize within the Military Blogging Community.)
If you would like to cast your vote, you will find Household 6 Diva in the Military Spouse Category.
I encourage you to have a look around – there are some inspiring blogs among the finalists!

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21 Responses to “Reintegration, Moving, and Marriage Retreats”

  1. Erin Says:

    From a non-military family, my husband and I attended our first marriage retreat during our first year of marriage. Probably somewhat unheard of, but such a tremendous blessing to us and something I recommend to every newlywed couple. The two-day “Love and Respect” kicked off at a local church where we were living at the time, and were were so challenged by this and still are.
    Marriage is flat out hard sometimes (not to mention the added stresses of military life) and purposing to prioritize, to learn, and grow together has been huge. So many of these really popular and valuable retreat-teachings are now available as “small group” curriculum, books or DVDs that almost anywhere you are you can reap some of the same benefits.

    • Ann Marie @ Household6 Diva Says:

      Thank you Erin! :) You and Kevin have been a wonderful example of marriage and warm hospitality since all the way back to our dinners in Michigan! :) Thank you for sharing!

      PS – If anyone needs a beautifully made baby quilt – Checkout their etsy shop!!!

  2. Bree Says:

    While we have yet to attend one of these fantastic marriage retreats, we been doing our own reintegration with one another. We did a 30 day journal to one another. Everyday for 30 days we both wrote 3 things that us made happy. It didn’t have to necessarily be about each other. Just about life in general and what makes us smile. We exchanged journals and we learned many new things about each other we didn’t know.

    We also do home “date nights” every week we each plan a home date night. It is FREE for us and it’s fun to create something exciting for each other person.

    It’s hard being away from one another for 365 days. You try holding to your relationship with hand written letters, Skype dates, Facebook etc but it is not the same thing as having your spouse right there in front of you looking into their eyes and talking face to face. To decompress at the end of the night and get that oh so needed hug.

    I’m glad the military has recognized the stress deployments has put on our marriages, I just wish they made it a little more priority during our reintegration time so that connection can be formed and you also get some tools to help navigate this chaos ;)
    Bree recently posted..Cherry Chocolate Crunch OatmealMy Profile

    • Ann Marie @ Household6 Diva Says:

      Good for YOU for sticking with the 30 day journal project!! And that’s a GREAT suggestion to do a date at home each week! We need to do more of that! Thank you for sharing!!!

  3. Holly Says:

    We’ve never been able to do Strong Bonds — every time it comes up we either don’t know about it til the last minute (some Chaplains aren’t the greatest about putting it out there), or it’s for singles,or it just doesn’t work timing wise. In the States we have attended Family Life’s Weekend to Remember and it was awesome! They do have special workbooks for the military and seek to honor what we do. We’ve also done Mark Gungor’s Laugh Your way Live which was sooo fun . I would encourage everyone who can to attend something of the sort, just taking time for you two, everything else will eventually go away (Kids, military career, etc)… my one caveat with Strong Bonds is it really depends on the Chaplain you get as to how the retreat is structured.
    Holly recently posted..Warrior Prayers … praying for your sonsMy Profile

    • Ann Marie @ Household6 Diva Says:

      I agree, Mark Gungor’s videos are awesome! I’ll definitely keep an ear out for the “Family Life’s Weekend to Remember” program once we’re stateside again! Thank you for sharing!

  4. Holly Says:

    oh and I feel for the NG spouses but it’s not true that there is nothing there it’s just harder to find …. the retreats I mentioned are available as are special weeks at camps,etc
    Holly recently posted..Warrior Prayers … praying for your sonsMy Profile

  5. Sarah Says:

    The Strong Bonds program (retreats/classes etc) is funded through the Chaplain Corp (whether a chaplain is Active, Reserve, or Guard they come from the Chaplain Corp). Chaplains with the Army Reserve and National Guard are given opportunities for training along with the active duty chaplains. The training I attended with my active duty Army chaplain husband in Frankfurt during the fall of 2010, was attended by many reserve and guard chaplains who were flown over from the US for this large training. My suggestion for those in the Guard and Reserve is to contact your unit chaplain and request marriage classes and/or retreats.

    Also, for those on active duty, there are more reintegration tools available besides retreats. Currently, through the Garrison Chaplain’s office here in Baumholder, Germany there is a marriage seminar and a Financial Peace class being offered. Sometimes a weekly 1-2 hour class for 8-12 weeks can be more valuable than a weekend retreat, particularly if a family schedule is hectic on weekends with sports etc. A reintegration retreat is not the end all be all of tools for the marriage tool box.

    I love the ideas posted by Erin and Bree. The Love and Respect book/workbook is a great resource to use together. Purchase two copies, read assigned chapters together and discuss on date night. This can be done with any marriage or parenting book.

    It’s an amazing benefit to have the Strong Bonds program available, which wasn’t in existence a number of years ago. Unfortunately, like everything else, funds are limited. The Army’s mission is not, nor will it ever be, to strengthen my marriage, though I’m grateful for what they offer. As an Army Chaplain’s wife who co-facilitates with my husband on retreats, and this past year co-facilitated numerous deployed spouses retreats with the Rear-D Chaplain team, I want to encourage everyone to take advantage of the retreats when offered, but also look for the many other resources the Army is providing to aid in building strong marriages. Most importantly, Army or no Army…my marriage is half MY responsibility to grow and nurture. It’s rare for a chaplain & spouse to “go” on a retreat (that is without teaching), so we get creative and make gaining knowledge and tools our priority.

    My marriage…my mission!

  6. Karyn18 Says:

    I adore your family. I really do. How strong your bond is. The boys were so eager about their baby sibling. How wonderful family is.
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  7. Kiki Says:

    We’ve been married a little over three years and have not been to a marriage retreat, yet. I would like to go some time, but my husband (Army) is increasingly cynical about the military. He did say he would consider it even though he doesn’t think we need it. Me, I’m all for trying new things and learning how to make that great fantastic, ie improving on near perfection.

    I think me being a Communication major, however, has really helped me understand the importance of continuously improving communication in our marriage. It’s just us two, so we’re using our first five years of marriage as the “getting to know each other” before we begin to have kids. Before we got married my husband said that he never wanted to stop dating me. He’s gone above and beyond to keep that vow :)

    I do love reading about other people’s experiences with going utilizing the various relationship/marriage resources available and how they work for them. I’m always looking for inspiration, looking to learn from other people’s no-nos and successes. Keep the love alive :)
    Kiki recently posted..London’s CallingMy Profile

    • Ann Marie @ Household6 Diva Says:

      Awww! “Never stop dating” < — That is so sweet! :)

      If you ever get a chance to attend a retreat – they are awesome! – but it sounds like you are doing an amazing job already!!! Yay you!!!

  8. The New "Normal" Says:

    We’ve never had a chance to attend one of the Strong Bonds weekends, but that has always been because of our schedule. We are a Guard family and I think we are in the lucky position that our Chaplain is very active in getting information out to our families about programs like this. During the deployment, he held a Strong Bonds-type event that was for the spouses of the deployed Soldiers to discuss reintegration, communication, how we were doing, etc. It was great to connect with the other wives since most of us are geographically located far away. But I know that other Guard families did not know about these programs because it was not brought to their attention through their unit or they didn’t know where to find information about them. During our Yellow Ribbon Programming after the deployment, we were also given information on a wide variety of resources that we could seek help from (marriage, financial, etc).
    A few years ago, my husband and I attended Family Life’s Weekend to Remember and learned that they offer a program geared toward military families as well. I would like to go to that one sometime as well.
    I think this is a great topic and a really important one to spread the word on!
    The New “Normal” recently posted..She Sleeps With a Camo BlanketMy Profile

    • Ann Marie @ Household6 Diva Says:

      As a Guard family, have you found it to be more beneficial to have a retreat with other Military Families or a mixture from your community/church? Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

      PS You are the second person to mention the “Family Life’s Weekend to Remember” program! I think I need to go consult Google now! ;)

  9. Sarah Ruth Says:

    My husband and I have been to 2 Strong Bonds retreats. They were both amazing and helped us grow closer as a couple and learn how to communicate better with each other. I agree that every couple should attend some kind of marriage retreat.
    Sarah Ruth recently posted..Back In The HospitalMy Profile

    • Ann Marie @ Household6 Diva Says:

      It’s a wonderful program that I hope continues as the deployment cadence slows down!

  10. Tara McMillan Says:

    wow- never heard of strong bonds, and the only marriage retreat I heard of while my husband is in the army was about- “you didn’t get invited?” lol- oh well…maybe when the time is right- it will fall in our laps- but its ot something we are trying to get. Seems like you have to be “lucky” to get something like that, especially with a4 kids, and one of them who has Autism.
    Tara McMillan recently posted..Food Challenge, Month Three: Healthy Oils and FatsMy Profile

  11. Myrrtle Says:

    What a nice family you had here.. All those kids are definitely very adorable.. I enjoyed reading your post here.. Thanks for the photos too..
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  12. Kim Kravitz Says:

    “We” have been to one in the six years we’ve been married. It was right before Aaron deployed the first time. And I say “we” because he was only able to make it to one out of the three days he was supposed too. I’m kinda bummed we haven’t had the opportunity to go again. I’d like to have him there the whole time to get the full affect lol.
    Kim Kravitz recently posted..Yes, I’m still hereMy Profile

  13. Pamela Oakley Says:

    Seeing your family makes me witness a beautiful and contented family. I could say that you have a happy and perfect family. Having those beautiful kids would definitely feel you being fulfilled.
    Pamela Oakley recently posted..Male Potency and Natural Ways to Be Sexually Potent MenMy Profile