Couples take time to nurture, strengthen relationships
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Approximately 14 military couples spent the weekend at the Kafuu Resort north of Kadena for a chapel-sanctioned marriage retreat March 14-16 here. This retreat focused on couples communication and the roles each member plays in their marriage.
"The Air Force gave some money to (the Air Force Chaplain Corps) to conduct resiliency retreats," said Chaplain (Capt.) Onyema Okorie, 18th Wing Chapel Catholic chaplain. "We've put the money to good use to strengthen the marriage of our military families who go through a lot, especially in our mission and with frequent deployments."
Okorie explained how these events give couples the opportunity to spend time with each other away from children to focus on themselves and their relationship.
"This retreat helps our military couples be away from children, gives them some time alone and, with the help of the guest speakers and a scripturally based presentation, they are able to talk with one another," Okorie said. "They talk about some of the issues in their relationship, and our sessions provide couples a lot of opportunities to share (their experiences)."
Although the retreat is built on a religious foundation, the retreat mainly focused on couples connecting with one another and the importance of effective communication.
"If couples don't communicate, sooner or later they will start having problems," Okorie said. "Talking is one thing but hearing one another is also a critical part of communication. They truly need to communicate and know the spouse is hearing them and making proper note in order to be able to work together as a couple with one mind and one heart."
Okorie, a minister of five years and an Air Force chaplain of 10, has facilitated many weekend workshops during his career, with three of them at the Kafuu Resort in under one year.
"It's been an incredible experience for the couples," Okorie said. "This is our third time here at the Kafuu resort, and we plan to do another one here in May. We will continue to focus on our military couples because when we strengthen the relationship of our military couples, we truly strengthen their families, and then we strengthen our military personnel in their readiness."
Master Sgt. David Alvarado, 18th Operations Group Aeromedical Branch superintendent, and his wife are one of two couples who have attended this event in the past, taking the opportunity to return to the basics of communication and reconnecting with his wife.
"I think (getting down to the basics) also helps us in many different ways as well with resilience and wing readiness; having a strong marriage foundation makes marital challenges easier to overcome," Alvarado said.
Alvarado said though effective communication is often stifled by misinterpretation, the mannerisms don't always match what they are trying to say.
"Also, sometimes when our spouses are talking to us, we don't always hear what they are saying to us because we are so preoccupied with the hustle and bustle of everyday occurrences," Alvarado added. "Communication really is the foundation of the marriage retreat here."
Okorie said that couples who have attended before provide support to new couples attending and share their experiences so new couples could learn from them.
"When you hear from other couples, you know that you're not alone and it helps you to resolve whatever issues you may have together," Okorie said. "Common sense tells us that we all need to take our car into the auto shop to have it tuned up. In fact, the older the car, the more tuning it needs. Even if you've been married for 20 or 30 years, don't get too comfortable. I've seen couples who have been married 20 years get a divorce, so take in your marriage; it's like a car, you have to tune it up."
"I think we benefitted from the retreat because at times, we become complacent," Alvarado added. "Each marriage has its ups and downs... and being able to share that with others, I think that really helped us to reflect on our own lives and marriage better because of it."
For couples who have children, childcare was provided by previous couples or volunteers who had attended past workshops, allowing this weekend's couples to enjoy a weekend away.
"Come reap the benefit of the workshops, talk to one another, interact, any time away from children is cherished by our couples," Okorie said. "We have the privilege of some of the couples who have come on the retreat before providing babysitting, which is an incredible thing. It really shows you how much our military family cares. We are very resilient in every way and military couples support one another, we are all in this together."
Alvarado recommends couples to attend future marriage retreats, and thanked the chaplain services for putting on the event at the Kafuu Resort.
"Also, I'd like to thank the catholic community here at Kadena Air Base for giving us the opportunity to come out and talk about some things that can help you grow in your marriage," Alvarado said. "I'm thankful that the Air Force has given us the opportunity. I know that it's helped me to meet a lot of other couples. My wife and I took the opportunity to come out and pay it forward, and hopefully we'll continue to either attend or facilitate more marriage retreats like this."
Okorie finished with encouraging couples to be humble and to take advantage of a weekend workshop.
"Most of the time once the children come, couples get too busy and all their attention is on the children, so they forget nurturing themselves," Okorie said. "That's when the families and relationships start to suffer, you don't have to totally forget about yourself; you have to take the time to nurture your relationship.
"I pray also that in the future we'll have an opportunity to put together a retreat for our senior leadership because they are the workaholics we have in the Air Force," Okorie continued. "They need some time away too and I hope that one day our wing senior leadership will take some time out to attend one of our chapel sponsored couple's retreats and spend some quality time with their spouses and nurture their relationship. We as a chapel are ready to provide them that service."