Strengthen Your Family with Marital Counseling
As service members and their spouses face the stressors of multiple deployments, seeking marital counseling both pre- and post-deployment is becoming increasingly common. Separation from a spouse or loved one, coupled with the uncertainties of deployments, may result in additional stress for military families. However, DoD is taking steps to improve access to a continuum of counseling support for married service members and their families, and to inform service members and military families that seeking marital support is a sign of strength.1
How Can Marital Counseling Improve Your Relationship?
Each couple experiences and handles stress differently. Although it’s clear that deployments can be stressful, so can the time before and after deployment. During these times, one or both spouses may experience feelings of sadness, irritability or other emotional distress.2 Also, some may try to handle their distress by withdrawing, picking fights or avoiding difficult discussions. These feelings and behaviors are common for military families throughout the deployment cycle, so don’t put off seeking counseling support if you feel you need it. Addressing concerns before they escalate can help alleviate the pressures of deployment and improve your relationship with your spouse.
Understanding the Two Types of Available Counseling
Marriage Enrichment Programs Improve Family Resiliency
In addition to counseling, another way to strengthen a marriage is to take advantage of the marriage enrichment programs offered by each service and component. Whether you’re an engaged couple, newlyweds or have been married for many years, marriage enrichment programs can help you and your spouse overcome challenges together. Get a full list of marriage enrichment programs from the National Military Family Association.
Two types of counseling are available to service members and military spouses who are experiencing increased stress:
Non-medical counseling is designed to address everyday concerns, such as improving relationships at home and at work, stress management, anger management, adjustment after deployment, parenting and grief issues. Non-medical counseling is generally a short-term, problem-solving approach to enhance military family readiness.
Medical counseling is designed to assist with long-term issues, such as drug and alcohol abuse, psychological concerns, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, child or spousal abuse, suicidal ideation or other psychological issues that adversely affect a marriage.
Nearly every military installation has a family service or support center, chaplain support, child-development center or other service where spouses can get help, from crisis intervention to counseling, depending on their need. Use the information below to locate the resource that’s right for your family.
Use Non-Medical Counseling to Address Everyday Concerns
Non-medical counseling resources available through Military OneSource and the Military Family Life Consultant program can be used as preventive tools to address marital issues before they evolve into more serious concerns.
Military OneSource offers service members and their spouses free, non-medical counseling. Military OneSource can refer a service member or eligible family member to a licensed professional counselor in the local civilian community at no cost. This counseling can be conducted face-to-face or over the phone, and addresses non-medical, short-term concerns for up to 12 sessions per issue per person. For more information, call 800-342-9647 or visit Military OneSource.
Military Family Life Consultants are licensed, experienced clinical providers that hold masters or Ph.D. degrees and offer support to service members and their spouses. Like the counselors available through Military OneSource, they provide non-medical, short-term counseling for concerns like anger management or parenting issues. Importantly, Military Family Life Consultants refer situations requiring additional psychological health treatment to appropriate behavioral health agencies. Contact a Military Family Life Consultant through the appropriate resource at your home installation:
- Army Community Services
- Marine Corps Community Services
- Navy Fleet and Family Support Centers
- Airman and Family Readiness Centers
- Members of the National Guard or Reserve (and their spouses) can call the Military Family Life Consultant referral service toll-free at 888-755-9355
- All service members and families can contact the DCoE Outreach Center by calling 866-966-1020 or logging on to Real Warriors Live Chat for free, confidential guidance on contacting Military Family Life Consultants.
Relationship enhancement classes are offered by most installations and many civilian communities, either through family support or service centers, through chaplain services or in their counterparts in the civilian community. Many of these classes are held once a week over several weeks or are offered in a weekend retreat format. Examples include PREP, PREPARE/ENRICH, Army’s Strong Bonds, Navy’s CREDO and Air Force’s MarriageCares program.
Use Medical Counseling to Address Longer-Term or More Complex Issues
To receive medical counseling, service members and spouses from each branch of the military — including National Guard members, reservists and DoD civilian employees who have deployed overseas — can be evaluated and treated at a Military Medical Treatment Facility. Military personnel and spouses in need of psychological health care can seek help from a range of providers, depending on their condition. An excellent starting point for locating the appropriate medical counseling for you or your spouse is TRICARE’s Find a Provider web page.
For further information on eligibility requirements and support provided, visit TRICARE’s Mental and Behavioral Health web page, contact your civilian health care provider or call the DCoE Outreach Center at 866-966-1020 today.
Reaching Out to Strengthen Your Family is a Sign of Courage
Unfortunately, reaching out for counseling to improve a marriage can sometimes be wrongly seen as a sign of weakness — when in fact it is a sign of courage and strength. Fortunately, a wide array of counseling services is available through Military OneSource, Military Family Life Consultants, Chaplains, TRICARE, civilian providers and other options to help counter the stress married couples commonly experience throughout the deployment cycle.2 You are not alone — so reach out for counseling support using the resources outlined in this article to strengthen your marriage and your entire family.
- Community Circles of Support for Veterans' Families
- Share your stories of courage and strength with other military families at the Real Warriors Message Boards.
1Overview on counseling, Military HOMEFRONT. Last accessed Nov. 8, 2012.
2Miles, Donna. "More Troops, Families Tapping Into DoD Counseling Services." American Forces Press Service. Published March 14, 2006.