Benefits of attending an Army “Strong Bonds” event

View from Kramer Mountain peak
View from Kramer Mountain peak

Benefits of attending an Army “Strong Bonds” event

by Tamala Malerk
Stripes Europe

When my husband came home a few weeks ago and asked if I wanted to get away to the Alps for a weekend, completely funded by the Army, I immediately said, “Yes … But what is the catch?” The “catch” was that we would be attending a chaplain-led marriage retreat called "Strong Bonds" where we would learn about the "5 Love Languages" and other skills and techniques to help our marriage. I felt like our marriage didn’t need help; yet, who was I to turn down a free trip to the Alps?

I went into the weekend with the mindset of going to a timeshare presentation. I figured I just had to grit my teeth through the videos, lectures and exercises (i.e., the sales pitch) and then focus on the fun and explore the Alps. What I didn’t expect was that I actually enjoyed myself during the training hours and learned quite a few things. 

After a five-hour drive that began in Germany, cut through Austria and then landed us back in Germany, we arrived at Edelweiss Lodge and Resort in Garmisch-Partenkirchen on Friday afternoon, where we immediately checked in to our room that overlooked the mountains. We received our itinerary for the weekend, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that we were actually given plenty of time to “reflect” on our own, outside of the nine training hours that were split over the three-day weekend. Our first task was enjoying a buffet-style dinner. Then the real work began in the first session.

View from the room at Edelweiss Lounge and Resort | Photo by Tamala Malerk

We were seated with two other couples and because we had space at our table, the Battalion Chaplain sat with us when he wasn’t leading the exercises or lecturing (three different chaplains rotated leadership duties throughout the weekend). This was both terrifying and exciting because it’s a lot of pressure to “do well” at a retreat when the person running it sits with you. The first night we focused on learning about the program and understanding what exactly the “5 Love Languages” were. We also watched video lecture clips from the 1990s that I did my best not to laugh at. Don’t judge me. The information was great, but definitely seemed dated to me. Our “homework” was to guess what we thought our spouse’s love language was as well as complete the Love Language Quiz and discover what our own language was. I have to brag that I correctly guessed what my spouse’s language was. He was not so lucky, because apparently, I have three (so he was 1/3 correct).

Another view from room | Photo by Tamala Malerk

Our Saturday morning began bright and early at 6:30 a.m. That day’s session was at 8:30 a.m. and we needed time to enjoy breakfast, even though we were still full from the buffet spread from the night before (free food is free food). Saturday’s tasks involved watching some more 1990s video clips and listening to speakers, but most importantly, learning how to utilize the love languages now that we had the information. There is no use knowing what your partner’s love language is if you don’t “speak” it. After the session, we were released for the day for “reflection time” and “date night” to practice some of our newly learned skills.

Historic Ludwigstraße | Photo by Tamala Malerk

We chose to use our reflection and date-night time to explore the historic Ludwigstraße in Garmisch. Unfortunately, it was raining pretty heavily so we had to keep our outdoor activities to a minimum. While on Ludwigstraße, we enjoyed a nice hot decadent cup of hot cocoa from Das Ludwig Kaffee Bar and talked about what we thought of the workshop so far. We also discovered vending machines that served beer, butter, sausage, cheese and eggs for all of your food-related needs.

Essentric Vending Machine | Photo by Tamala Malerk

Sunday was another 6:30 a.m. wake up and also our third and final session. Sunday was the most productive day because it was the day that we did the most “hands-on” activities. Our most involved activity was learning how to use the Speaker-Listener Technique. Of all the things that we learned and discussed over the weekend, this technique was the most beneficial thing we learned. It focuses on using “I” statements rather than accusatory “you” statements and not interrupting the other person when they are speaking. We even utilized this two days after getting back from the retreat when we got into an argument about how wide we should keep the windows open in our house (I know that seems like a minor issue, but I worry about birds and bats having enough room to fly in, and he worries about being too warm).

I began this retreat with a lot of reservations. I didn’t want people to think that my marriage was in shambles because I was attending this kind of event. However, what I came to find is that your marriage doesn’t have to be in danger of failing to gain benefits from techniques that make it better. It is always beneficial to learn communication skills and listening skills. And on top of everything else, I got to spend a romantic weekend in the Alps with my husband. I recommend Strong Bonds events for any Army couple. For those couples in other branches, you can learn more about their marriage retreats here


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