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Building Resilient Relationships with Army Strong Bonds Retreats

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A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I enjoyed a romantic weekend getaway at a local tourist spot, complete with catered meals, outdoor activities, great relationship-building sessions, and a nice evening out. We made some new friends and came home with great insights about ourselves, each other, and our relationship; our marriage feels stronger and less troubled by conflict. The experience was amazing, and it was provided free of charge thanks to the Army’s Strong Bonds program.

 

What is a Strong Bonds retreat?

Strong Bonds is an Army program designed to help soldiers and their families form closer, stronger, more resilient relationships. The program, run by unit chaplains and funded by an Army grant, provides weekend retreats for single soldiers, couples, or families with kids; these retreats usually take place within a short drive of the base, just far enough away to be a nice getaway. Meals, lodging, and some recreational activities are provided, and most units can offer some help with transportation if it’s needed. Each retreat offers:

  • Skills for building stronger relationships, forming closer bonds, and handling stress and conflict with greater resiliency.
  • Time to relax, have fun together, get to know other soldiers / families / couples from your unit, and renew and strengthen your relationship.

Who can attend a Strong Bonds retreat?

Although Strong Bonds was originally developed in the late 1990s as a marriage retreat program for active duty soldiers and spouses, today the program is open to National Guard and U.S. Army reserve members and their families, and specifically designed retreats are available for soldiers in a variety of relationship situations, including single soldiers, married soldiers, and soldiers with children.

  • Strong Bonds Single Soldier - This Strong Bonds program is designed to equip single soldiers to make informed, healthy relationship decisions. It emphasizes the importance of choosing the right partner, as well as skills for building strong, healthy, resilient relationships. Visit the Single Soldier page on the Strong Bonds website for more details.
  • Strong Bonds for Couples – Strong Bonds for couples is focused on helping couples renew and strengthen their bond, as well as develop communication and conflict-resolution skills to build more resilient marriages. Generally, fiancees and other long-term partners, as well as spouses, are invited and encouraged to attend. Visit the Couples page on the Strong Bonds website for more details.
  • Strong Bonds for Families – Designed for families with kids, this program focuses on parenting skills and on keeping the whole family close. Kids over 8 can join in most of the sessions, and child care is usually available to give parents some time to bond as a couple. Depending on what your unit offers, parents can usually choose to take the kids to a Strong Bond Families retreat, or find a sitter and attend a Strong Bond Couples retreat together.  Single parents are also welcome. Visit the Families page on the Strong Bonds website for more details.
Specially designed Strong Bonds retreats are also offered for soldiers and their families facing an impending deployment or working through the challenges of homecoming and redeployment. Visit the Strong Bonds websitefor more information on pre-deployment and redeployment retreats.
What do you do at a Strong Bonds retreat?
All of these retreats include some classroom sessions. Usually taught by your unit’s chaplain, they are generally fairly informal and involve some group discussion and activities (in other words, it isn’t like Army training). Plenty of time is also set aside for recreational activities and free time; much of the purpose of these retreats is to give soldiers and their families time to relax and enjoy some time together. The chaplains and their staff are also usually available between sessions to answer questions and offer as much one-on-one help as possible.

military family support

The specific material at each retreat varies a little, but our retreat emphasized the importance of understanding our own and each other’s personality types and communication styles. We took a (surprisingly accurate) personality assessment, then got insights from the chaplain and group discussions about how our personality types differed and how to understand each other better, communicate more effectively, and meet each other’s needs. These sessions were interspersed among meals and outdoor activities, which gave us time to relax, have fun together, and get to know other couples from my husband’s unit.
As useful as the sessions and the training material were, the real value of the retreat (at least for us) came from the discussions we had as a result, and the time and relaxed atmosphere that fostered those discussions.
How can you sign up?

For more information, or to find out when your unit is offering a Strong Bonds retreat, visit www.strongbonds.org or talk to your unit’s chaplain.