Helping Veterans Strengthen their Most Significant Relationships
“I wish you could have been present to see the…the tears, bonding and joy, the healing for so many.”
VA Chaplain Dick Millspaugh is talking about the Veterans and loved ones who attend relationship-bonding retreats.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is trying a new path to caring for and healing the nation’s wounded Veterans. Now, in addition to repairing their damaged bodies and minds, VA is going one step further and helping to repair their crumbling intimate relationships.
The retreats are conducted by VA chaplains, social workers, psychologists, and nurses. They are PAIRS-certified instructors, teaching better communication skills, relationship skills, and emotional literacy skills to couples. PAIRS stands for: Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills.
“Research shows that 70 percent of our combat Veterans are experiencing marital problems,” said VA Chaplain Ron Craddock. “Twenty percent of them decide to divorce before they even return from theatre. This is staggering. The toll on the individual Veteran is staggering. The toll on his family is staggering.”
“They taught us how to listen to each other,” say Michelle, wife of an Army Veteran. “When that happens, it brings you closer together. It feels really, really good.”
Chaplain Millspaugh has dozens of quotes like that.
The VA retreats, called “From Warrior to Soul Mate,” are based on a program created by the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation which, for over a quarter century, has provided educational programs that deliver practical skills to strengthen marriages and families.
The retreats take place in a group setting, with instructors, often over a Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday, or in several class sessions.
Instructors are skilled, perceptive, effective facilitators from various disciplines. They have been trained and certified.
“How can one measure the lives saved?”
The retreats of 30-60 people are conducted with an open invitation for participants to ask questions and offer contributions from their unique life experiences. After introductions, instructors outline ground rules for discussion, and then explore an understanding of how learning and relationships evolve. Soon participants are introduced to practical communication tools and invited to practice those skills with their partners.
An example of one of the sessions at a weekend retreat:
PAIRS Relationship Roadmap — The conversation begins with an exploration of the root causes of pain and pleasure, considering symptoms and signs of happiness and unhappiness and their connection to the deprivation or fulfillment of biologically-based needs, including the human need for bonding.
Here’s a complete overview of what happens at the retreats and a look at the syllabus.
The vision to move the “From Warrior to Soul Mate” initiative from a local effort to a VA nationwide program has been an outstanding success. Since 2011:
- Nine “Train the Trainer” workshops have certified over 400 PAIRS facilitators at VA locations around the country.
- Multiple enrichment retreats have been held at 26 different sites to the benefit of hundreds of couples.
- Partnerships have been set up with the faith community, the American Red Cross, the Border Patrol and organizations serving Active Duty personnel.
Participants’ evaluations revealed that many Vets and their partners felt that “everyone in the military should be required to attend” such retreats, that the retreats helped with the problems of multiple deployments, PTSD, and other challenges of military service and transition.
“I would like to say thank you for PAIRS couples retreat. It helped my husband and I see that our relationship is still worth fighting for.”
In a lengthy report filled with important statistics, Chaplain Millspaugh reflected, “How can one measure the lives literally saved from suicide, the children not touched by divorce, the costs not incurred by stress borne illnesses or homelessness?”
From Warrior to Soul Mate has been a unique and important program to help so many of America’s Veterans strengthen the health of their families.