Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

DU marriage experts work to improve military marriages

The mental and emotional challenges faced by members of the armed forces have been the topic of much recent attention. Unfortunately, the challenges can carry over into a soldier’s home life and impact his or her marriage.

The U.S. Army, in partnership with the DU’s Center for Marital and Family Studies, is working to identify those challenges and find ways to support healthy and happy marriages for Army couples.

Under the direction of DU’s Scott Stanley (PhD ’86), the center is conducting the Army Marriage Project study with the 101st Airborne at Ft. Campbell, Ky. The center’s Howard Markman and Beth Allen are principal investigators. Stanley and Markman co-authored Fighting for your Marriage (Jossey-Bass 2001).

In the research study, couples complete confidential questionnaires every six months for five years to 600 participating couples. Some couples are assigned to participate in a 16-hour workshop led by Army chaplains to teach skills and principles associated with a healthy marriage. Soldiers are provided with duty release to participate in the workshop. 

Stanley says the project is not a religious program, but a relationship enhancement program that teaches couples how to communicate, handle conflict better, work together as a team, and work together to preserve and protect commitment and friendship. 

Couples who participate in the workshop will be compared with those who simply fill out questionnaires to determine the effectiveness of the workshop intervention.

“We hope over time to lower the rates of breakup, aggression and divorce, and in turn show higher rates of reenlistment and lower rates of disruption of soldiers in their work,” Markman says. “When our military members feel safe at home, they are better soldiers.”

Mechelle Gilbert attended the workshop with her husband, Sgt. Damon Gilbert, in June. 

“During the weekend retreat, using the techniques, we were able to put to rest a major issue that has been a very emotional struggle for us for the last four years,” Mechelle says.

Both say the experience will strengthen their relationship, and Damon believes it will make him a better soldier.

“Using the speaker-listener technique we learned, we have much more effective communication in all aspects of our life, not just the conflicts,” Damon says.

The project is funded by a $2.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health and Development and support from the U.S. Army.

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