Columbus VA program: Retreats help heal couples strained by military life
The Columbus Dispatch
A couple in a healthy marriage will change together over time.
That becomes almost impossible when one spouse has to deploy overseas, said Leandra Couasnon, a licensed social worker at the Chalmers P. Wylie Department of Veterans Affairs Ambulatory Care Center in Columbus.
The spouse in a war zone changes in one way to survive. The spouse at home, who might have to become a single parent for a year, changes in another way.
Recognizing that military couples could need some help, the VA center has put together two “ relationship enrichment retreats” for them. The first began on Aug. 24 with 11 couples.
One pair had been together for about two years. Another had been together for 41. A couple separated by Afghanistan can have the same issues as one separated by Vietnam, the retreat facilitators said.
The program “is broad enough to encompass a wide range of problems that any couple is going to experience,” said Patrick Meyer, a clinical psychologist.
Carla Cherry, chaplain at the VA center, first heard of the retreats at other VA facilities a few years ago and decided to bring them to Columbus. They’re funded by a grant from a new office within the federal veterans department, so they’re free to participants.
The retreats are based on a curriculum from the Florida-based PAIRS Foundation that gives couples tools to communicate and bond, said Bill Bailey, a clinical social worker and retreat facilitator. For example, spouses are encouraged to schedule a “daily temperature reading” to assess each other’s feelings, he said. Once a day, they share their appreciation, hopes, problems and confusions.
A deployment can cause strains in particular ways, Meyer said. A person who comes back from overseas might have changed his assumptions about the way the world works or the way people act. He or she might feel numb emotionally.
Communication tools can become particularly important then, he said. But any couple can benefit from the retreat.
Mike Taylor, 35, of the South Side, participated in last month’s program with his wife. Taylor is an Army Reservist who returned last year after a deployment to Kuwait.
He looked at the retreat as bonding time without their three children, he said. It’s true, though, that a deployment can make things hard for a while.
“Your life at home pauses,” Taylor said. “It’s at a standstill. But your wife and kids keep going. You come back, and things have changed.”
He felt that he had readjusted to home life already, though the retreat helped in other ways.
“We were learning the right questions to ask (each other),” he said.
The next three-day retreat is scheduled to begin on Friday at Mohican State Park. Space is limited and reserved for veterans already enrolled in the VA system. Call the chaplain’s office at 614-257-5795 for more information.