By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Nov. 01, 2021) -- Strong relationships make for strong families, and with a strong family back at home, service members can focus on providing the nation with a strong defense.
To better help service members build a strong relationship or strengthen an existing one, the Military Community and Family Policy office will host the inaugural "Relationship Wellness Summit," on November 16 and 17.
The completely virtual event aims to provide military couples with tools and techniques to help them strengthen their marriages and to help parents develop stronger relationships with their children. Single service members are not left out. The summit also will feature a variety of experts with tips on how to navigate the social minefield of dating and provide techniques on how to stay resilient when dealing with the emotional complexities of a breakup.
"Our target audiences are military couples, single service members and parents," Kelly Smith, with the Military Community and Family Policy office, said. "Within each session, participants are going to be able to walk away with strategies that they can use to improve their relationships -- really, tips and strategies they can use right there on the spot."
Military Community and Family Policy runs the Military OneSource website and Smith says that the No. 1 reason service members and spouses seek non-medical counseling is for relationship issues.
That observation, she said, served as a catalyst for adding a relationship component to this year's Virtual Military Spouse Symposium, which happened earlier this year. That pilot effort gained a lot of attention.
Another driver for the summit, she said, has been the change in family and relationship dynamics that have arisen from COVID-19.
"A couple of our sessions, within the parenting track and the couple's track, are focused on strengthening your relationship during COVID and also how to parent through COVID," she said.
Another big area of focus, she said, is the amount of time spent online using social media, playing games or watching streaming services.
"It's an area where people struggle -- how to find that balance with managing time on social media or screen time," she said. "We've seen couples and parents struggle to set healthy social media and screen time boundaries."
Among single service members and Americans in general, Smith said the struggle to deal with the fallout of a breakup can be hard. And evidence of that has shown up in numbers reported regarding suicidal ideation.
"There is a correlation between relationship challenges and risk for suicide, particularly within single service members who have experienced a breakup and started exhibiting maladaptive coping strategies," she said.
"We want to have a conversation around managing and breakups and how to identify when extra help, like non-medical counseling, is needed," she said.
The two-day relationship summit includes 20 sessions, meetup mixers and panels with experts on a variety of topics including breathing life into an existing relationship, dating in the 21st century, maintaining a long-distance relationship, positive parenting, the effects of social media on relationships, parenting in the COVID-19 environment and techniques on how to restore trust.
Relationships, counseling and dealing with emotional issues are subjects some service members tend to shy away from. But mission effectiveness and combat readiness are things the same service members are proud to embrace. Relationship challenges can negatively impact mission readiness and combat effectiveness, and it's something Military Community and Family Policy is committed to helping service members overcome.
"We believe in what we can see anecdotally from the relationship counseling provided through our non-medical counselors: when our service members are able to focus on the mission and not be concerned about their marriage, their relationships, or how their children are doing at home with regards to parenting, they can focus on the mission," Smith said.
Service members begin military-related training from the day they put on a uniform, and it never stops, Smith said. But nobody gets trained on how to build and maintain a strong partnership with a spouse or a child. And that's something the Relationship Wellness Summit looks to address.
"We will equip servicemembers with the tools they need to help strengthen and support their relationships, and I feel that's directly connected to being mission ready," Smith said.
Single service members, married service members and spouses interested in securing mission readiness by squaring things away on the home front with their own interpersonal relationships, can sign up for the Relationship Wellness Summit by clicking here.