Marriage workshop teaches skills, dispels myths
By 2nd Lt. Meredith Kirchoff, Public Affairs
/ Published May 06, 2011
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Engaged cadets and cadets in committed relationships took time to explore relationship topics at a marriage preparation and relationship enhancement workshop April 29-30 at the Academy.
The workshop began in 2002 when members of the Academy's Behavioral Sciences Department wanted to dispel a myth that Air Force Academy graduate marriages experience higher-than-average divorce rates, and aimed to equip graduates with helpful information and tools for long-term relationships.
"The divorce rate among USAFA grads is half the divorce rate of the general population," said Dr. David McCone, professor of behavioral sciences, citing a study conducted at the Academy in 2002 and published in Military Psychology in 2006.
Graduate to graduate marriages are at no higher risk than graduate to civilian marriages, he added. Early versus later marriages also show no difference in divorce rate. However, graduate to graduate early marriages are at higher risk for divorce, but are still lower than the general population.
The workshop, put on by the Behavioral Sciences and Leadership Department, is open to cadets of all classes and their military or civilian partners. It has grown from 14 participants the first year to about 60 in the past couple of years.
Dr. McCone said he thinks cadets have the unique pressure to make decisions about a relationship with graduation as a sort of deadline. Cadets must decide if they want to be single, engaged, married or pursue join-spouse assignments when they start their active duty careers.
"Couples don't often have time to step back and honestly reflect, especially during the busy lives we lead," said Cadet 1st Class Mark Benischek who attended with his girlfriend who is also a cadet. "This seminar was a great opportunity to take a deep breath and delve into some weaknesses or strengths in our relationship."
Dr. McCone noted expectation management as the most important topic covered during the workshop, but communication skills building was another area from which he thought cadets would benefit. The workshop teaches a simple, but effective, skill called the speaker-listener technique.
"Cadets are so quick to try and problem solve without being patient and fully understanding an issue," Dr. McCone said. "By and large cadets are not great listeners, so learning how to listen is huge."
A unique aspect of this workshop is a panel of married couples the organizers host to engage with participants. The panel is comprised of different marriage make-ups including military to military and military to civilian marriages, as well as a different lengths of marriage and those with and without children.
Cadet Benischek thought the panel discussion was the most helpful aspect of the workshop, saying, "They were extremely honest about the realities of relationships, making it very clear that no relationship is perfect, but even in the military they can work beautifully."
Organizers hope participants walk away with information about risk factors and protective factors for marriages, as well as conflict-management skills, and knowledge of the specific stresses and support that come with military marriages.
"Not only to keep the marriage together, but to have a strong marriage," Dr. McCone said.