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Cmdr. James Johnson presents pre-marriage training called “Before saying I do” as part of the iRelate program at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Jan. 26, 2016. The iRelate program gives Marines the knowledge, skills and abilities to make informed decisions about intimate relationships in order to reduce the divorce rate among junior Marines. Johnson, from Lake Park, Minn., is the chaplain for I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Caitlin Bevel)

Photo by Lance Cpl. Caitlin Bevel

Love is a battlefield: Marines prepare to take on marriage

1 Feb 2016 | Lance Cpl. Caitlin Bevel I Marine Expeditionary Force

The Marine Corps is often referred to as the nation’s 9-1-1 force because they are ready to take on any challenge at a moment’s notice. This readiness includes not only weapons and equipment proficiency, but also stability on the homefront.

Cmdr. James Johnson, the chaplain for I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, presented pre-marital training at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Jan. 26, 2016.

The class was the second of three in the Intimate Relationship Awareness, Training, and Enrichment Program. The first section, “How to succeed at intimate relationships,” focused on being aware of intimate relationships and how they evolve over time. The second class, “Before saying I do,” prepares couples who have already decided to tie the knot for some of the challenges they might face and puts the idea of marriage into perspective.

“We want to get these young Marines to be fully aware of what an intimate relationship is and how to embrace and engage all levels of that relationship,” said Johnson, a Lake Park, Minnesota, native.

The presentation included the results of a survey conducted by Loma Linda University showing the need for the Marine Corps to take action to prepare their Marines. According to the study, young Marines are getting married and divorced at three times the rate of civilians the same age.

“Marines were overestimating their readiness to get married and underestimating the challenges of being married,” said Johnson.

According to Johnson, the high divorce rates keep Marines emotional and distracted, which detracted from the readiness within their unit. The iRelate pre-marital training reduces the risk of divorce by ensuring that Marines understand themselves, their partner, and have the tools to overcome challenges they might face in their relationship.

A large portion of the class was dedicated to understanding some common obstacles to effective communication.

“I learned a lot about the ways men and women think differently,” said Sgt. Joselyn Alvarez, the assistant warehouse chief for Assault Amphibian School Supply, School of Infantry – West.

Alvarez, from Palmdale, said the class made her think about her emotions and communicating what she really feels instead of just her frustration.

“Anger can cover sadness and fear,” said Alvarez. “It makes a lot of sense when you think back to when you were mad, but maybe you were just covering another emotion with anger.”

Her fiancé, Brandon Keifer, from Assumption, Illinois, said that he’s caught himself doing just that on a few occasions.

“I’ve gotten upset with her before out of fear for her safety,” said Keifer. “I didn’t articulate myself well enough for her to understand why I was upset.”
Alvarez and Keifer met in Russia through the Marine Embassy Security Guard program. Their wedding is scheduled for July and they have been seeking out different forms of pre-marital preparation by reading and speaking with a chaplain.

They agreed that their research brought them a deeper understanding of what marriage is and a more solemn perspective of the commitment that they are making.

“Marriage is not something you should just do on a whim; you need to plan and think about what is going to happen,” said Alvarez. “You have to be mentally prepared, mature, and understand what you’re doing isn’t just moving in. Marriage is an allegiance.”

During the training, Johnson exposed the myth of “Hollywood love” where true love means never having any problems and feeling more in love every day. He also stressed the importance of patience, effort, and commitment through good times and bad.

“There is a tendency to think that a good marriage happens automatically and you either have one or you don’t,” said Johnson. “No Marine bases a deployment on hope; they base it on preparation, readiness, and full engagement of what it means to take on the challenges in front of them.”

Johnson stressed the proven benefits of pre-marital counseling, through iRelate or any other program, to reduce the risk of divorce and help Marines have more fulfilling marriages.

“It’s wonderful that the Marine Corps is keeping faith by offering programs like iRelate,” said Johnson. “If things are good on the homefront they go much better [while] deployed.”

In addition to combat training and job skills, the Marine Corps offers countless programs to prepare Marines for deployment in every part of their lives so they can be focused and ready – mind, body and spirit.

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