Change or Die: Military Marriage


Military family programs must change or die. A Tampa Bay reader wrote to let me know that a certain program for military couples was a big waste of money for the taxpayer.

“Ninety-nine percent of information can be found on the Web. The cost of transportation, food and lodging is over $1000.00 per person… multiply that by the number of people by the number of events and then add cost of producing the event.”

Since I am a big believer in military family programs, I wanted to know who the presenters were and what they taught and whether it was just a bunch of PowerPoint presentations.

“You’re missing the point,” Tampa Bay replied. “It’s a duplication of information’s found on the WWW. A waste of taxpayers $$$$$$.”

Oh. While I am all for cutting programs that don’t help couples change, I have no faith in internet repair for military relationships. If looking something up on the internet was enough, all of us would be thin, smoke-free, sexophiles with big savings accounts and the happiest marriage on earth.

Those facts are all on the web. Millions and millions of articles have been written with essentially the same facts in them. The same frightening statistics. The same threats that if we don’t change our ways we will all die.

Funny how those things don’t ever make people change. In his marvelously named book, Change or Die, author Alan Deutschman makes the case that fear, facts and force never make people change. Even when people are threatened with death (by heart disease, drug abuse, diabetes, etc. ) they only have a one in nine chance of changing their behavior. Change is that hard.

Yet people do change. And change is so necessary in so many military relationships. We are a population that marries young. We are a culture that instantly subjects our young couples to threat—little money, vast separations, combat.

Change is a necessary part of a military relationship. We could use some help with that change, Oh Taxpayer. It is cheaper than divorce. Which is why those programs exists.

Deutschman reveals that the keys of change are found when people reframe, relate, and repeat:

Reframe. The first key is to reframe the way you think. You have to learn new ways of thinking about your situation and your life. Trolling the internet has been shown to confirm the way you already think. A great program can light you up to something you haven’t thought of before.

Relate.We relate when we form a new emotional relationship with a person or community that inspires and sustains hope. You have to be sold on yourself and your ability to change.  The internet cannot do that for you. It takes an inspiring idea or a motivating presenter. Deutschman notes:

“The leader or community has to sell you on yourself and make you believe you have the ability to change. They have to sell you on themselves as your partners, mentors, role models or sources of new knowledge. And they have to sell you on the specific methods or strategies they employ.”

Repeat. The last key to change is to repeat the new behavior. Over and over a-thousand-time-over. You need to meet some real people in person to practice this with. A military post, command or unit can provide like-minded others to talk to who understand exactly what you are going through. The relationship helps you learn practice and master the new habits and skills you need.

I am in total agreement that no program that is slapped together from a bunch of PowerPoint slides that tell you to eat right and sleep well and com-mun-i-cate is going to give you the keys of change. Those things are just facts at best with a little force thrown in.

The ability to reframe, relate and repeat can make all the difference to a military couple. I contend that any program that changes a rocky marriage is vital to our fighting force. A strong military marriage can produce a servicemember who lives up to their training and a family resilient enough to stand the course. Worth every dime.

About the Author

Jacey Eckhart
Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs for Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan?? Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times. Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom. Find her at

7 Comments on "Change or Die: Military Marriage"

  1. I attended a "couple" workshop in which the spouses received a day off (an unheard of thing in this duty) but were not allowed to attend. It was such an utter waste. It had the ability to be amazing if I was able to attend with my spouse.
    So, I felt that the intention was that the higher-ups could say that they are provided support to the marriages.

  2. Maybe these programs would be worth the money if my husband were ever home to attend. Telling me how to make my marriage better when he is gone 3/4 of every year, sometimes more, seem like a joke. Call me crazy, but maybe making deployments more realistic/less frequent would be the real key to making marriages stronger!

  3. god those marriage retreats are SUCH a waste of money. In our unit we have the same 3 spouses that insist on going on every one…they think of it as a "free vacation" without the kids. They have NO interest in doing anything related to marriage. My husband told them they couldn't go to the last one and to leave the spots open for other couples and one of them had such a fit she went to the new battalion commander…who proceeded to rip my husband a new one for "not supporting marriage". My husband then informed him that her husband was failing PT, was failing tape, and that he'd taken days to go on the past three with her. That opened a new door but it was too late because the BN commander already put them on the list….

    So, essentially, the taxpayers paid for 3 (now 4) mini vacations for them, paid for their 5 kids to be in child care, all for a soldier that is going to be kicked out in the coming months for not caring enough about rules to keep his weight in check and pass a PT test (literally the guy hasn't passed one in a year and a half)

  4. Gosh I flagged this post to read until later and I'm glad I finally did. Military marriage is/always was such a hard topic for me. I feel like I fail at it over and over. But at least I keep failing with the same man over and over. As I read, I sat for a very long time and stared at these words:

    [Change] is cheaper than divorce. Which is why those programs exists.

    The Navy has "Returning Warrior Workshops" for couples after an IA deployment and I'm a big fan. What I didn't like about it was that we went to it too soon – during the honeymoon phase of post deployment. But what I liked was that they put us up in a hotel. In other words we were forced, after a day full of 20-minute "popcorn" presentations, to either stare at each other, or talk about it. And we don't stare at each other very well.

    So maybe that's part of the solution. I'm thinking about this topic alot, lately. Change is required. Change is good. Breathe in, breathe out …

  5. So true! I have finally stopped attending anything on post because it is just that – a glossed over Power Point that doesn't move beyond the superficial. My experience has also been either families do everything military or they completely eschew the military and build a non-military life off post.

    My other concern is that many of the programs duplicate efforts outside the gates in the larger community (I am speaking of CONUS installations). One poster pointed out they used a marriage program at their local church. There are many groups off post that would love to connect and support members of the military. Even though these aren't programs for and by the military, I think everyone would benefit from the larger perspective and would help create more understanding both military and civilian. Most of these programs would be willing and able to adapt to the special needs of the military families they serve. Too often when these groups reach out to the military installation, they are ignored or no real relationships are cultivated.

  6. Johnny Cusimano | February 4, 2013 at 9:56 am |

    Please consider attending the Master Resiliency courses held at Army posts. I am not sure about the National Guard's efforts, but the life skills of resiliency are taught in a group setting with plenty of interaction. They are conducted by Army Community Service on Army installations and are free of charge. Family Members and Soldiers are encouraged to attend togehter. This training will not be found in the local community and is different than marriage educaiton (which I storngly encourage). As some military couples may not be willing to attend a religously based program (no matter how helpful it could be), Army Community Service also offers excellent classes on strenghtening realtionships. These classes and access to such programs as the Chaplains, MOS, Military Family Life Consultants (MFLC's) and Tricare counselling services are a great compliment to the education component if needed.

  7. An integrated approach is always best. We need to be connected to other military families, who share in our specific struggles. But we also need connections in the non-military world, lest we lose ourselves in the bubble.

    So many people want to help military families. If the family programs could teach real problem-solving and networking, you would have a backbone of military support, teaching family members how to find what they need themselves from their specific community.

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