Operation Military Family
Saving Military Marriages Through Mentorship
Michael J. R. Schindler
Current programs designed to strengthen military marriages are not resulting in a
decrease in military divorces - change is needed. Results will be found by implementing
the Relationship Champions program. Relationship Champions goes beyond a one
session briefing or a "weekend away" retreat - this program is viral and peer-to-peer. It
moves from the class room to the community and encourages the creation of smal
groups and community involvement – with the support of online and live experts and
the best practices resources standing by at a moments notice.
Here is why we need to implement this now:
Divorce rates within our military continue to rise – to the tune of a 5.4 percent increase
over fiscal year 2007 statistics. To bring the numbers home, this is more than 25,000
failed military marriages per year – 2.8 divorces per hour. The economic costs to the
taxpayer, to the military in future retention and recruitment as well as the emotional
costs to families is one that cannot continue to go forward without a strategic plan.
The Relationship Champions program, presented by Operation Military Family, is a peer
to peer, grassroots approach to preparing and equipping the military marriage for pre-
deployment and post-deployment "battle readiness.” The intent is to prepare and
preserve the military family. This program moves beyond the class room or briefing and
into the communities, creating a network of family, friend and expert support that
current programs do not offer.
The program is cost effective. The average divorce costs taxpayers approximately
$20,000. The per person investment is $390 and includes ongoing support costs. Three-
tenths of one percent shift in the current military divorce rate would render a $10 million,
2 year pilot program cost effective as wel as improve future retention and recruiting
initiatives, which are not factored in the savings analysis.
It is recommended that funding for this program be considered and implemented with
expediency in first quarter 2009.
Challenges Faced by Our Military Families
The Pentagon released a report in late 2008 that military divorces are on the rise. The
previous study tracked military marriages between October 2006 and October 2007
and found 25,000 active-duty military marriages failed during that time (Pentagon,
2008). According to Gen. George Casey, The Army Chief of Staff, “the stress of
repeated deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan is beginning to show in the declining
quality of Army recruits, retention of midlevel officers, desertions, and other factors such
as suicide.” The 5.4 percent increase in failed military marriages in 2008 over the
previous year can be attributed to the stress referenced by Gen. Casey (Brook, 2008).
There is a relationship between the current recruiting problems and an increase in
military divorces among personnel on repeated deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Too many marriages have been a casualty to the war. Currently, 2.8 military marriages
fail per hour – over 2000 per month (Jelinek, 2008). It is almost a 50-50 chance that a
service member will return from war to a divorce
and child support. When military couple’s divorce,
retention rates drop and recruiting goals go up.
Divorce rates within our
However, happily married military personnel are
military continue to rise – to
twice as likely to make the military a career as
the tune of a 5.4 percent
those with troubled marriages or those who
increase over fiscal year 2007
statistics. To bring the
Bottom line, marital health and relationship
numbers home, this is more
wellness are at the core of force readiness, troop
than 25,000 failed military
recruitment and family retention.
marriages per year – 2.8
The Historical Challenges
Historically, the image the military put forth about marriage was that if they wanted the
soldier/airman/sailor to have a spouse, they would ‘issue them one’. Today the
expectations are different. Leadership recognizes that strong marriages equal a strong
military member. The success or failure of a marriage over multiple deployments has
been closely studied by the Rand Corporation. Absence only makes the heart grow
fonder if there is already a strong foundation for the marriage. Studies found that while
deployed service members are concerned about their spouse and family, they must
remain focused on the mission while in the field. Deployments are not easy on any
family; however, it is commonly reported that feelings of resentment and disconnection
occur. Readiness groups and family support groups have grown in recent years to
support families and help spouses cope with the increased tempo of deployments.
When the spouse left behind feels supported and included in the process of
communication and commitment, the service member’s commitment to their military
mission increases and retention goes up (Karney, 2008).
Marriage in the military is a significant challenge today. The non-deployed spouse must
cope with often unpredictable deployments, single parenting for significant periods of
time, financial pressures, and frequent moves in an institution often perceived unfairly as
ambivalent to families. The military is a stressful environment even in peacetime and al
too often the spouses feel that they are doing a ‘job’ that is undervalued.
Today there are thousands of non-deployed spouses who are male. There are no longer
clear cut lines delineating the roles of men and women in billets that separate them
from danger. According to the Rand research, women in al branches of the military
are more than twice as likely to divorce as their male counterparts. It has been
suggested that existing programs are not geared to support the unique needs of
families where mom is deployed.
When families are in distress, discipline in the military
decreases and desertions and unexcused absences
• The emotional and
increase. Gen. Casey reports, “You’re seeing folks not
showing up for deployments.” Suicide rates attributed to
economic cost to
damaged relationships (as a result of lengthy
deployments) have increased in direct correlation to
increased divorce rates among military marriages
The emotional and economic cost to families, the
government, and taxpayers is astounding. Each divorce
costs taxpayers approximately $25,000 - $30, 000. This
means that for every one dollar spent by the state and
- $30, 000.
federal government to build healthy marriages and
• Strong marriages do
relationships, $1000 is spent on the consequences of
broken families (Economic Cost of Divorce and Unwed
Childbearing, Institute for American Values, 2008). America and the US Armed Forces
can no longer financially afford the consequences of broken marriages. Financially we
are at an impasse where the dollars must be invested not only in the service members’
military training, it now must also include as a part of mission readiness: marriage
preparation for deployment. Strong marriages do result in a strong military member.
Steps for Achieving Strong Military Marriages
With the costs so high, it is in the Pentagon’s best interest to enhance the training and
support of service members in the area of marriage and military life. According to
“Families Under Stress,” enlisted training curriculum in all branches must begin to provide
their members with effective tools to help them survive the rigors and challenges of
military married life. Retention of married service members is directly related to the
success of that marriage (2008).
There are several existing studies that indicate strongly that people in struggling
marriages take longer to heal physically from injury
and illness than their counterparts in happy
marriages (Kiecolt-Glaser, 2005). Children of
25% of marriages that
divorced or single parent families are twice as
likely to drop out of school and to have
inventories or who seek
behavioral/psychological problems (Parke, 2007).
professional help during
However, the converse of this is that 25 percent of
marriages that complete premarital inventories or
marital difficulties find that
who seek professional help during marital
their relationship is stronger
difficulties find that their relationship is stronger and
and more committed as a
more committed as a direct result of seeking help
direct result of seeking help
through professional services or marriage
through professional services
enrichment tools (Butler, 2007).
or marriage enrichment tools
Consider the Options
It is critical that all branches of the armed services provide training and curriculum like
that of Relationship Champions that helps prevent divorce. By promoting successful
marriages, the military will not only help lower divorce rates but will also promote military
retention and recruitment. Studies strongly suggest that preparation, smal group, and
community involvement improve marriage satisfaction and drive down divorce rates.
Recognizing the hardships and challenges of military life on relations is critical to the
success of service members. Programs must offer a strategic online and offline network
of family, friend and expert support in addition to an initial phase assessment program.
These programs must enrich the marriage and help both spouses cope with the stresses
inherent to the military lifestyle by teaching couples how to manage conflict, solve
problems, and communicate effectively. When a couple identifies problems before the
problems become too serious, the marriage becomes more resilient. The four major
areas of difficulty in most marriages are communication, children/parenting, money,
and sexual intimacy. Research clearly shows that programs that focus on these areas
reduce marital challenges. This is the core of the Relationship Champions program and
will lead to improved marriages and a strong military. The military recruits service
members, but it retains families.
When the military supports the military marriage, the benefits to the family result in a
happier soldier/sailor/airman and thus additional benefits to the family are:
• Feelings of control: An understanding that marriage and military life are
voluntary thus, they remain in some sense of control of the circumstances
and feelings of resentment are reduced.
• Feelings of being part of something greater
Support programs must
than self: Military life requires teamwork. It is a
enrich the marriage and
lifestyle that requires active engagement by
help both spouses cope with
both partners and it is not just a job.
the stresses inherent to the
• Feelings of appreciation: Honoring the
military lifestyle by teaching
sacrifices of each partner. Successful couples
couples how to manage
appreciate and respect each other and
conflict, solve problems, and
recognize the difficulty of the ‘job’ of both
spouses. Each is committed to the success of
• Feelings of being heard: Communication is
the foundation of all successful relationships. Understanding the other person
helps them to feel understood and appreciated.
• Feelings of preparation of military and married military life: Couples who take
marriage preparation and marriage support courses and retreats are better
able to face and overcome challenges and adversity together.
• Feelings of being connected and supported: When connected to a support
group during deployments, members feel more accountable to their
marriage and are more apt to work to maintain trust in their relationship.
Successful marriages take work. Military marriages require constant commitment to
overcome the difficult challenges and unusual pressures that come with the territory.
Happiness and fulfillment are possible; as is a reduction in the military divorce rate.
When we openly address the reality of the military marriage in training programs like
Relationship Champions we open the doors of communication wider.
Key Considerations for a Solution
Healthy military marriages yield long term benefits to the
armed forces. Families are the most vulnerable part of the
Characteristics of a
active duty force as we now enter into our 8th year of
continued deployment and armed conflict. The
effectiveness which the armed forces partners with each
branch of the military and their families wil dictate if this
generation raises the next generation of soldiers/sailors/and
airmen. Retention and recruitment of future soldiers
As identified by Lewis and
depends on how leadership deals with the personal
stressors facing our forces today.
Military spouses face far more concerns than their married
civilian counterparts. While there are books and resources
• Feelings of
that provide insight into the military lifestyle, practical
coping tips for times of separation due to deployments are
incomplete without a support network. Mentorship and
• Spouses interested
networks like Relationship Champions where the work is led
in each other’s
by those who can relate or who have “been there” are
desperately needed to support these marriages.
Preventing marital distress is based on the basic premise
• Expression of feeling
that couples can learn how to build and maintain stable
marriages. Through Relationship Champions workshops,
military couples wil be prepared in advance of
• De-escalation of
deployments and taught how to increase behaviors that
make a marriage cohesive and successful. They will also
be taught what effective tools and resources are available
to them, depending on the command.
Conflict at home that is mismanaged has negative effects
• Shared values
on work productivity and especially on children. Successful
marriages take work. They are based on behaviors and
• Ability to deal with
attitudes about how to handle disagreements and
differences. These behaviors can be taught to couples at
any stage in their relationship quite effectively. Couples,
who are taught how to communicate more effectively
Relationship Champions is
through curriculums such as that provided through
the catalyst to promote what
Relationships Champions, learn to manage conflict and
work as a team. As a result, they are much more likely to
be more productive at work and far less likely to divorce or to participate in other
higher-risk actions. Studies by the NIH concluded that those who sought to strengthen
their marriage through education lived longer, earned and saved more money, and
had a decreased incidence of domestic violence. All of these benefit the United States
How Relationships Champions Works
Developed originally to strengthen the civilian market place, the program is currently
being customized to fit military protocol in early January 2009.
Here's how it works:
1. Prior to deployment, the couple takes an online assessment - the Couple Checkup-
of their relationship, developed by Life Innovations, provided by Operation Military
2. The Couple Checkup is a 156 question assessment designed to help couples learn
about each other and enhance their relationship by providing insight on how to:
• Understand their partner’s emotional needs.
• Recognize unrealistic relationship expectations.
• Develop communication techniques that will increase intimacy.
• Learn 10 steps to resolving conflict.
• Learn how to attack financial debt and not their partner.
3. The couple is provided the results along with a discussion guide on how to work
through the growth areas. Results are private and they can choose to share the results;
we encourage them to do the following:
• Meet with another peer couple to walk through the results.
• Encourage their neighbors to take the Couple Checkup so neighborhood
smal groups can be established.
• Take the results to a chaplain, priest, pastor, etc. to help design a strategy to
work through the growth areas while deployed.
• Encourage unit members to engage with the process.
• Set aside two or three coffee dates with their spouse to talk about the results.
The checkup itself is faith-neutral; however, it does have a button that says "church-
based" that will provide the self-selecting couple with scriptures to back up the
suggestions in their customized discussion guide. If they do not click that button, their
results will be based purely on scientific, research-based material.
4. The net result of assessment:
• The checkup gets the couple talking about their relationship
• Encourages them to create a smal group, whether in the middle of Omak,
WA or behind the wire in Theatre.
• Studies show that marriage satisfaction rates increase by 73 percent and
divorce rates drop by 50 percent, when couples engage in small groups.
• Healthy marriages saves federal & state government approximately $25,000-
$30,000 per year, per couple.
Relationship Champions Supported by Community Systems
Even if the couple is separated by deployment, a network of support is created where
individuals and other couples can get moral
support to help them through the difficult times,
both in a high-touch manner as wel as a high-
The Relationship Champions
program, by Operation
Relationship Champions are supported by a
Military Family, is a peer to
plethora of community support both on the web
peer, grassroots approach to
and in their local community.
preparing and equipping the
On the web, Relationship Champions and small
military marriage for pre-
groups will be supported by a pass code-
deployment and post-
protected online intranet where members can
discuss what is working, ask questions of experts
and submit questions; it will also provide a
connected pathway to specific resources and
tools based on inquiry and command
recommendations, as opposed to a “Google” list of resources. The intranet portion is in
first phase development but with funding wil be developed fully in 2009.
Couples wil also be trained in community support programs that are already
developed and in place (i.e. military readiness program, etc). Community support is a
foundational element of the Relationship Champions program and its vitality.
Case Study on Effective Community Marriage Initiatives
Families Northwest, a Redmond, Washington-based non-profit spearheaded by Jeff
Kemp,(and the developers of the Relationship Champions program), recently reported
having a dramatic impact on dropping divorce rates with one of their partnering non-
profits. This recent case study has been more effective than most:
o In 2008, Every Marriage Matters, part of the Families NW community
transformation partnerships, reported a verifiable 21 percent decline in
divorces since 2001 in Clackamas County, Oregon. Over the past 7 years,
they worked to unify the community around marriage preparation and
enrichment, and facilitated the creation of small groups and community-
wide mentoring support. The net result? Almost 1300 couples in this county
did not divorce, and 1100 children did not face a family split (FNW case
study, Dec 2008).
o The same methods and strategies that are working in Clackamas County, OR
were also implemented in Spokane County, WA and Vancouver, WA; both
areas have experienced a drop in the divorce rate (an average of a 12.5
Relationship Champions is the catalyst to promote what is working and will be lead and
supervised by the Operation Military Family team.
Relationship Champions – Real Solutions, Real Advantages
Smal group marriage enrichment and mentoring has been proven to work. Couples
who meet a few times per month in a smal group increase marriage satisfaction over
70 percent and cut the risk of divorce in half (Smal ey Relationship Center, Branson,
Missouri). Smal groups do not have to be limited by geography. Couples who
participate in marriage enrichment programs make significant gains in communication
skills and improve overall marital satisfaction. The average participating couple’s level
of satisfaction was 83 percent greater than couples who did not participate in marriage
preparation or enrichment training (Butler, 1999).
Clear evidence from more than 100 studies demonstrates that marriage enrichment
programs help reduce conflict, improve communication, and increase marital
satisfaction. Once couples have completed the Couples Checkup and have made use
of the resources and tools available to them, they will become the marketing channel
for best practices to their command. The program wil naturally multiply as couples pass
relationship-rich information and feedback to other couples.
Through careful monitoring and quarterly reports, Relationship Champions will be able
to assess their success by how many couples are influenced. OMF wil continue to track
the results of couple satisfaction rates anonymously with online and paper feedback