Relationship Retreats: Warriors to Soul Mates

PAIRS Veteran Marriage RetreatsHelping Veterans Strengthen Most Significant Relationships

Hans Petersen, VA staff writer

“I wish you could have been present to see the tears, bonding and joy, the healing for so many.”

VA Chaplain Dick Millspaugh is talking about the Veterans and loved ones who attend relationship-bonding retreats.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is trying a new path to caring for and healing the nation’s wounded Veterans. Now, in addition to repairing their damaged bodies and minds, VA is going one step further and helping to repair their crumbling intimate relationships.

Veteran Marriage RetreatsThe retreats are conducted by VA chaplains, social workers, psychologists, and nurses. They are PAIRS-certified instructors, teaching better communication skills, relationship skills, and emotional literacy skills to couples. PAIRS stands for: Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills.

“Research shows that 70 percent of our combat Veterans are experiencing marital problems,” said VA Chaplain Ron Craddock. “Twenty percent of them decide to divorce before they even return from theatre. This is staggering. The toll on the individual Veteran is staggering. The toll on his family is staggering.”

PAIRS Veteran Marriage Retreats“They taught us how to listen to each other,” say Michelle, wife of an Army Veteran. “When that happens, it brings you closer together. It feels really, really good.”

Chaplain Millspaugh has dozens of quotes like that.

The VA retreats, called “From Warrior to Soul Mate,” are based on a program created by the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation which, for over a quarter century, has provided educational programs that deliver practical skills to strengthen marriages and families.

The retreats take place in a group setting, with instructors, often over a Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday, or in several class sessions.

Instructors are skilled, perceptive, effective facilitators from various disciplines.
They have been trained and certified.

“How can one measure the lives saved?”

PAIRS Veteran Marriage Retreats

The retreats of 30-60 people are conducted with an open invitation for participants to ask questions and offer contributions from their unique life experiences. After introductions, instructors outline ground rules for discussion, and then explore an understanding of how learning and relationships evolve. Soon participants are introduced to practical communication tools and invited to practice those skills with their partners.

An example of one of the sessions at a weekend retreat:

PAIRS Veteran Marriage RetreatsPAIRS Relationship Roadmap — The conversation begins with an exploration of the root causes of pain and pleasure, considering symptoms and signs of happiness and unhappiness and their connection to the deprivation or fulfillment of biologically-based needs, including the human need for bonding.

Here’s a complete overview of what happens at the retreats and a look at the syllabus.

The vision to move the “From Warrior to Soul Mate” initiative from a local effort to a VA nationwide program has been an outstanding success. Since 2011:

  • Nine “Train the Trainer” workshops have certified over 400 PAIRS facilitators at VA locations around the country.
  • Multiple enrichment retreats have been held at 26 different sites to the benefit of hundreds of couples.
  • Partnerships have been set up with the faith community, the American Red Cross, the Border Patrol and organizations serving Active Duty personnel.

Participants’ evaluations revealed that many Vets and their partners felt that “everyone in the military should be required to attend” such retreats, that the retreats helped with the problems of multiple deployments, PTSD, and other challenges of military service and transition.

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“I would like to say thank you for PAIRS couples retreat. It helped my husband and I see that our relationship is still worth fighting for.”

In a lengthy report filled with important statistics, Chaplain Millspaugh reflected, “How can one measure the lives literally saved from suicide, the children not touched by divorce, the costs not incurred by stress borne illnesses or homelessness?”

From Warrior to Soul Mate has been a unique and important program to help so many of America’s Veterans strengthen the health of their families.

Originally published at

More Information:

PAIRS Foundation

Marriage Education Military Families News Research

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What is PAIRS?

Intimacy is critical to the process of developing and sustaining close relationships, now a major concern in our culture. Modernization has shifted the primary function of marriage from providing security, stability, and raising children to developing a lifetime of love and intimacy. In previous generations successful marriages depended upon duty and role competence. Modern marriages require greater interpersonal competence as well as equality between partners. Relationships are sought that not only create stable families but also provide partners with a lifetime of love and companionship.

The PAIRS (Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills) programs, developed by Lori H. Gordon, Ph.D., provide a comprehensive system to enhance self-knowledge and to develop the ability to sustain pleasurable intimate relationships. Gordon's approach integrates a wide range of theories and methods from psychology, education and psychotherapy and presents them in an educational format. PAIRS acts to bridge therapy, marital enrichment, and marriage and family development.

Programs: Courses and Workshops

PAIRS offers programs to the public led by PAIRS Trained Professionals (licensed health care professionals), and PAIRS Instructors (certified clergy and educators), trained under the auspices and supervision of Gordon and the PAIRS Foundation, the organization that officially oversees PAIRS programs, products and licensing worldwide. There are PTPs and facilitators around the world. Check “Finding an Educator” to find one near you or near one you love who may need PAIRS.

PAIRS is effective in all populations for which it has been adapted. PAIRS has relationship skills training programs for children and youth, PAIRS for PEERS, that are taught in schools, churches and agencies. PAIRS has programs for the Military, for use by chaplains and family service workers. PAIRS has faith-based programs for the Jewish, Catholic, and Christian church communities. PAIRS is currently developing programs and program delivery systems for disadvantaged youth, unmarried families, single parents, domestic violence, prison parolees, and related groups who can benefit from relationship skills training. PAIRS provides a vital ingredient to build stable marriages and healthy families with more hopeful futures for children. These programs for special groups will be taught by local agency workers and by specially trained community teachers and mentors. Research on PAIRS has demonstrated that PAIRS works for all groups under all circumstances evaluated. PAIRS is a modern technology adapted to our rapidly changing society in behalf of creating a saner, safer more loving world.

What you will learn in PAIRS

Sustaining a pleasurable intimate relationship does not work by magic. It depends upon a set of skills and understanding that can be learned. We learned most of what we know about intimate relationships through our early experiences in our families. Our personal history has a great deal of influence on what happens in our current relationships - on our behavior, our feelings, our expectations. We can change these influences if we become aware of them and wish to. It is well worthwhile to sort through what we inherited, keeping what fits for today and changing what does not.

PAIRS Competencies are specific skills that you will learn from PAIRS. These competencies focus in three areas: 1) emotional literacy; 2) conjoint partner skills for building and maintaining intimacy; and 3) practical knowledge, strategies and attitudes for sustaining positive marriage and family life. You may click on the above links to see a listing of the skills taught in PAIRS.

The Goal of PAIRS is a relationship that both partners can live with joyfully. For this to happen, each partner must become able to identify his or her own feelings and needs, and learn to communicate them in such a way that they can get met. This means communicating one's needs and desires without making the other partner feel resentful, smothered, burdened, manipulated, or inadequate. Easily and fully meeting each others' needs is the foundation of intimacy, fulfillment, and happiness.

PAIRS teaches specific easily learnable tools for successful communication such as confiding, complaining, and clarifying and for effective problems solving such as managing anger, expressing anger safely, fighting fairly for change and eliminating dirty fighting. PAIRS also guides the vast deepening of self-knowledge and develops emotional literacy. PAIRS addresses pleasure and satisfaction by teaching skills to enhance bonding, sensuality and sexuality in marriage. PAIRS teaches a profound but simple model, the Relationship Roadmap, to understand relationship success and to understand relationship mishaps and know what to do about them. PAIRS teaches over 60 skills that, after PAIRS, become the participants' PAIRS Tool Box for ongoing relationship maintenance.

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