Baylor team prepares for Mastering Your Marriage program

October 25, 2017

Service to others is a calling many social workers feel. Service to others through life-threatening situations is not usually part of it, though. Military and first-responder families deal with a unique set of circumstances that many civilians may not understand.

Serving to keep others safe sometimes comes at a cost ... ask almost any soldier, police officer, firefighter, paramedic or the spouse of one. Marriage can be hard enough for couples in any stage of life, but add in the stresses of deployment and life-and-death situations, and it just might be unbearable.

The Chris Kyle Frog Foundation (CKFF) knows the importance of dealing with these stresses head-on and has partnered with the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work and The University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work to develop a new "boot camp" for military and first-responder couples called Mastering Your Marriage.

“All marriages take work; we know these couples face many additional struggles,” Dean Jon Singletary said. “Strong, committed marital relationships can be such a resource for these servicemen and women.”

The CKFF provided $100,000 grants to each university and seeks to create a program that is transformative, sustainable, large-scale, and measurable for military, veteran, and first responder families, according to Dean Singletary. With this in mind, the Baylor team is working to produce three specific outcomes:

  • Healthy and resilient marriages in the active military and first responder community.
  • Informed and responsive communities for nurturing and sustaining military and first responder couples.
  • Evidenced-informed models for transforming marriages in military and first responder communities.

According to the foundation, if service marriages are going to truly succeed, they need marriage curriculum that is as unique as they are. This project will empower couples to create a new vision for their marriage and family.

It is hard to imagine a more meaningful opportunity for our faculty, staff, and students than working to support the marriages of active military personnel and first responders.

“To our knowledge, the Mastering Your Marriage program is the first to offer intentional, sequenced marriage education over an extended period of time in the home and community context of the couples,” Dr. Dennis Myers, GSSW project director, said.

“This innovation is complimented by activating and equipping family life counselors and social workers to completely engage military and first responder marriages.”

The program accepted 21 couples from around the Central Texas area into the pilot program, and they all converged on the Waco Hilton in September for phase one of the program, a kick-off orientation retreat and intensive training. Upon completion of the boot camp weekend, couples will continue the curriculum for the next six months. This phase is the community and home sustainment phase. Couples will not just work at home on their own, they will also meet virtually for synchronous training all together as time permits. At the end of the six months, a one-day capstone event is planned to evaluate outcomes and disseminate results.

Dr. Preston Dyer, GSSW professor emeritus, has been working with couples for more than 40 years, and this project gives him the opportunity to help couples have better relationships.

“I have a passion for helping couples develop thriving relationships,” Dr. Dyer said. “This project gives me the opportunity to do that with a very special group of couples that have lots of obstacles to developing great relationships.”

The curriculum is based on four core areas of relationship growth: communication, conflict resolution, intimacy, and spiritual resilience. Dr. Dyer added that it is research-based and designed to develop interpersonal skills. He said there will be much time provided to practice skills in couple dialogue and to learn from other participants.

“It is hard to imagine a more meaningful opportunity for our faculty, staff, and students than working to support the marriages of active military personnel and first responders,” Dean Singletary said. “Knowing the commitment these men and women make to our nation and our communities, and the commitment their husbands and wives make as well, we feel privileged to partner with the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation and walk alongside them in support of their families.”

The desire, after completion and evaluation of the pilot program, is to create a replicable model which can carry the Mastering Your Marriage project to more military, veteran, and first responder couples all across the country.