Keeping Couples from Divorce

Despite a five-year war, 15-month long deployments to war zones and a high casualty rate in 2007, the military’s divorce rate has remained less than 4 percent, which officials are crediting to their divorce-prevention programs.

In 2007, the divorce rate amongU.S. military couples remained at 3.3 percent, the same as the previous year, according to Lt. Col. Les Melnyk, a Pentagon spokesman. That’s lower than the divorce rates among the civilian population, which is 3.6 percent, according the U.S. Center for Disease Control.

Why are military couples morelikely to stay hitched than their civilian counterparts, given the increased stress faced by service families? Military officials say it’s because theArmy, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps have spent millions to provide each branch of the service with a variety of programs aimed at helping married soldiers and their families handle the stress caused by multiple deployments to the Middle East and elsewhere. Those programs include:


“Strong Bonds” is the name of the Army program that helps married couples. According to the Army Web site, the program helps couples: “gain practical, useful information based on world-class curriculum developed from years of research. In small groups, you’ll participate in activities that renew bonds with your peers. And, as a couple, you’ll practice communication and relationship-building skills, as well as share intimate moments.”

Lt. Col. Ran Dolinger, strategic communications officer for the U.S. Army Chaplains Corps, said the $34 million program was started in the mid-1990s and uses Army chaplains to guide weekend retreats for married couples. During a retreat, Dolinger gets the couples away from the military environment, takes them on a hike and walks and talks with themabout marital issues. What we try and do is help couples communicate by not escalating the conflict.”


The Navy and Marine Corps use a program called CREDO, also known as Chaplains Religious Enrichment Program, to help sailors and marines adjust to life in the military. The program began almost four decades ago, near the close of the Vietnam War, and covers all phases of family life in the military. Retreats canfocus on marriage enrichment for couples but also can help their children as well. Personal growth, spirituality, and teenage issues are also topics included in CREDO.

In the Marriage Enrichment retreats, couples explore how they may better grow together in intimacy and love. Couples on this retreat will reflect upon and actively explore the health of their relationship by looking together at where they are in their relationship and how they got there and where they want to go. Capt. Gregory Caiazzo, assistant for public affairs for the Navy’s Chief of Chaplains in Washington, D.C., said, “The Navy really takes care of the married men and women. It determined if it had had sailors with healthy relationships at home they did better on the job.”

The couples who attend these marriage retreats are a mix of all ranks. They come to the off-base retreats in civilian dress without uniform or rank. The purpose of the marriage enrichment retreats is to help Navy personnel develop better skills of communication with their spouse. “It makes good marriages better,” he said. “It’s a very laid back and easy going experience. People realize when they come into this program they’re going to get out of it what they put in it,” Caiazzo said.

If a married couple has more serious marital problems, they may work through their difficulties with the Fleet Service Support Center on base or canbe referred to a civilian psychologists or divorce counselors, depending on the need. The Navy picks up the cost. In addition to these services, the Navy has established a family support system to helpout when a loved one is stationed overseas. If a person is in the Marines, the contact person is usually the command sergeant major. In the Navy, the contact would be the command master chief.


Lt. Col. Harry Mathis, an Air Force chaplain assigned to the office of the Chief of Staff for Chaplains in the Pentagon, said all Air Force chaplains are trained in marriage counseling to help improve a couple’s communication skills and have historically offered counseling as an option. The agency’s latest initiative, Marriage Care, consists of a team of chaplains who are trained as family therapists and have developed a weekend retreat for Air Force couples. In addition, counseling can be provided through a program called Family Readiness Flight, which offers marriage counseling from a secular perspective. And marriage counseling is also offered through the Air Force’s Mental Health Service.

Based on the most recent divorce rates, Lt. Col. Dolinger saidthe military marriageretreatsand other counseling options appear to be working. “We want to do what we can do to get them to turn the volume down so they can talk to one another,” he said.

About the authorDon Moore is a veteran newspaper editor and reporter who spent more than 40 years working at newspapers around Florida. He recently retired from the Port Charlotte, Fla., Sun-Herald. He can be reached at