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Your partner is NOT your enemy: Workshops teach tools to strengthen relationships

Close up of a couples' hands with small fingers interlocked.
Warrior to Soul Mate workshops lead couples toward better communication and stronger relationships. Partners can assess and share their feelings while learning relational tools they can use at home to foster greater intimacy and connection.

“We need to learn how to talk to each other in a more productive and healthy way,” said the wife of a U. S. Marine Corps Veteran during a couple’s workshop. “It had gotten to where we just existed in the same house.”

This couple found help through Warrior to Soul Mate (W2SM), a program originating from VA chaplaincy. 

Finding the right program
“We came across the PAIRS program, Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills, in 2012 and renamed it ‘Warrior to Soul Mate,’” said Donald Blomberg, chaplain with Cheyenne VA Medical Center. “Using their foundation materials, we offer targeted tools to help couples improve communication.” 

W2SM workshops introduce couples to six different tools of communication, which incorporate the practice of confiding in one another to build trust and instill the importance of gratitude. 

Methods of connecting
Blomberg said participants learn about triggers and how to combat hurtful interactions that involve “attack language.” Instead, they begin to understand what it means to be a good listener and a good communicator.

Blomberg explained that, while this program provides stability in relationships, it is not therapy. 

“It’s teaching tools couples can use on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “We allow them to practice tools in our workshops, so they use them at home correctly.” 

One tool is referred to as “emptying the emotional jug,” based on the principle that if people don’t let out their emotions, they tend to explode, often in ways that harm others. It involves asking participants questions that foster discussion and listening. 

Couples specifically ask and discuss, “What are you mad, sad, scared and glad about?” This in-depth examination always ends on a positive note to bring the couples out of any emotional pit. 

Fully inclusive 
Although stemming from VA chaplaincy, workshops are often held off-site and with no faith component to create an inclusive, comfortable atmosphere for participants.

W2SM workshops are free and usually held over a weekend with six to 10 couples – married, engaged or dating for more than a year. One facilitator oversees sessions for every two couples.

Program effectiveness 
Veteran families in W2SM workshops increase self-knowledge, lower their levels of anxiety and conflict, increase intimacy and affection, and improve relational unity.

Blomberg said consistent use of the communication tools provides stability, helping many couples salvage their relationships. 

“We try to do a refresher about a year after the initial course,” he said. “We also encourage participants to reach out to us if they get stuck on a tool.”

He reflected on a World War II couple in the workshop. The wife, after learning the first tool, felt her husband truly heard her for the first time in their decades together. 

Upcoming program
The next W2SM workshop will be held on April 12-13, 2024, in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Registration is limited.

To sign up for the April workshop, call VA chaplaincy at 307-778-7377 or have your primary care team enter a consult for chaplain services for W2SM relationship assistance. 

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April Love is a writer-editor on the VISN 19 Creative Task Force. She began working for VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System in 2016 and lives in Aurora, Colorado.