"It seems as if a great deal were attainable," wrote Robert Louis Stevenson in an essay entitled "El Dorado," "in a world where there are so many marriages and decisive battles, and where we all at certain hours of the day, and with great gusto and dispatch, stow a portion of victuals finally and irretrievably into the bag which contains us."  --  Such must have been the U.S. Navy's thought in setting up a program of MERs (marriage enrichment retreats) in Gig Harbor, all expenses paid. -- But the benefits are not limited to sailors:  "The program is open to servicemembers of any branch," the Northwest Navigator reported on Apr. 15, "as well as authorized DoD civilians with a valid ID card. All seminar participants wear civilian clothes, and use first names only."  --  The Navy, it appears, is a great expert on marriage: "'Great marriages don’t just happen,' said Cmdr. (sel) David Tubley, a chaplain at the Navy’s Pacific Northwest Spiritual Fitness Center.  'Great marriages take work.'"  --  Who better than the U.S. military to give instruction in marriage?  --  As R.L. Stevenson said in another essay ("Virginibus Puerisque"), "For marriage is like life in this -- that it is a field of battle, and not a bed of roses." ...

By QM2(SW) David Sturgell, Staff Writer

Northwest Navigator
April 15, 2005

Original source: Northwest Navigator

[PHOTO CAPTION: Chaplain Lt. Steven Barstow leads a discussion on effective communication during a recent marriage enrichment retreat at Gig Harbor. The event was sponsored by the Navy Pacific Northwest Spiritual Fitness Center.]

Servicemembers and their spouses gathered last weekend for a marriage enrichment retreat (MER) sponsored by the Navy. Fifteen couples from Navy and Coast Guard commands in the Pacific Northwest traveled to Gig Harbor for the retreat, one of more than nine such events held each year for the benefit of DoD families.

“Great marriages don’t just happen,” said Cmdr. (sel) David Tubley, a chaplain at the Navy’s Pacific Northwest Spiritual Fitness Center. “Great marriages take work.”

Tubley went on to explain that the retreat is a Chief Naval Operations program designed to let Sailors and their spouses get away for a weekend and learn techniques that can build and maintain deeper, healthier and more fulfilling relationships.

The retreats, taught by Tubley and fellow Chaplain Lt. Steven Barstow, bring together couples throughout the region for a weekend of presentations and discussion groups.

This year the events are taking place at The Inn At Gig Harbor, a hotel and conference center in the historic picturesque seaside village of Gig Harbor. The Navy pays for all lodging and meal costs. The program is open to servicemembers of any branch, as well as authorized DoD civilians with a valid ID card. All seminar participants wear civilian clothes, and use first names only.

The MER uses material from the University of Denver’s Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program, incorporating over 20 years of research and counseling experience. Among the various topics covered are marital danger signs, creating intimacy, managing conflict, and the speaker/listener technique, which is a structured way to talk about tough issues.

One participant, who traveled from New York to attend with her husband, a geographical bachelor stationed with the U.S. Coast Guard in Seattle, was surprised at the content of the course.

“I thought a Chaplain’s retreat would be all spiritual,” she said. “And there was some of that here, but I didn’t expect the practical and useful methods they taught. I hope I can continue to apply the honest communication techniques I learned here.”

Barstow emphasized that MER’s are for anyone who wants to improve his or her relationship. Airman Kacie Harnick, of VAQ-129 agreed.

“When I told people at work I was going to a retreat, everyone said, ‘Oh no, what’s wrong with your marriage?’” she said. “I told them there’s nothing wrong, we want to make a good thing better.”

Her husband, Aviation Maintenance Administration-man 2nd Class Noah Harnick of USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) found the material useful.

“MER is an excellent resource for dual military couples,” he said. “This information is giving us what we need to ensure our marriage can be successful.”

Each of the more than nine MERs scheduled throughout the year follows a similar plan. In addition to presentations and discussion groups, couples are given time on Saturday afternoon to explore the historic waterfront of Gig Harbor. The activities typically end early on Sunday afternoon in time for the participants to return home. Many couples also choose to renew their marriage vows with one of the Chaplains at the conclusion of the retreat.

Chief Electronics Technician Aaron Dahlen, assigned to the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10) summed up his experience at the MER:

“I learned some good basic communications tools, like the speaker/listener technique, that will be very useful in the future.”

Dahlen’s wife Mary was also enthusiastic about the program.

“The material is so good for anyone wanting to renew their relationship after a long deployment,” she said. “I’m glad we were able to come here together.”

Chaplains from the Navy’s Pacific Northwest Spiritual Fitness Center teach marriage Enrichment Retreats throughout the year.

For more information on upcoming MER’s and other events, contact the SFC at (360) 476-3793 or at http://www.credo-pnw.navy.mil on the Web.