Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System
Warrior2SoulMate at New Orleans VA
Falling in love is easy. Birds do it, bees do it, and so on and so forth. But staying in love? That’s much more difficult. In the United States, it is estimated that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. Our nation’s heroes face even greater odds: Veterans are 60 percent more likely to separate or divorce than non-Veterans.
There are many different reasons Veteran couples have more marital difficulties than non-Veterans. Stressors like back-to-back deployments while one or both spouses is active duty, reintegrating into the flow of everyday life after deployments or upon leaving the service, or a non-Veteran partner being unable to relate to their Veteran, and vice versa, are all possible causes of strife. Adding to the problem, the coping skills Veterans learned on active duty are very different from those better suited to intimate relationships: ‘toughing it out’ versus sharing feelings, exchanging ideas rather than giving orders.
With all this in mind, VA is doing something to help Veterans and their loved ones combat these challenges. The Warrior to Soulmate (W2SM) program was designed to help these couples improve communication, learn healthy conflict resolution skills, expand their emotional awareness of each other, and deepen their connection and intimacy. W2SM encourages healthy relationships that promote whole health and well-being for both the Veteran and his or her partner.
W2SM is not traditional couples’ therapy. Instead, it is a boot camp-style skills training, done in a small group with a few other couples over one hyper-focused weekend. Marine Veteran Nolan “Buddy” Joseph Boudreaux III and his wife Lorna “Lorie” decided to try W2SM at the New Orleans Veterans medical center.
Mrs. Boudreaux said, “We’re both very aggressive personalities. I can communicate with anyone but him. We need to learn how to talk to each other in a more productive and healthy way. It has been getting to where we just exist in the same house.”
“Communication is the biggest hurdle in our relationship,” agreed Mr. Boudreaux.
Mrs. Boudreaux said, “We argue, we bicker, we get so frustrated with each other. We get so defensive, both of us.”
This defensiveness can be common in intimate relationships.
“We are asking for connection, but there’s a fear of that vulnerability, of ‘What if my partner won’t receive that?’ implicitly driving that disconnection,” said Blaine Wilson, a licensed clinical social worker and certified sex therapist who is part of the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System’s W2SM program cadre. “The program is interactive and gives couples practical tools they can use in their relationships with each other as well as with other important people in their lives. It helps each half of the couple get to a deeper place as individuals to strength the couple as whole.”
On the second day of W2SM, Mrs. Boudreaux said, “I feel like this program has given us some tools to be able to mold our reactions. It’s not that I can’t react, but I have to learn the best way to react. It’s going to be very different how I react to him than how my mom and dad reacted to each other. Neither of them was military, neither one of them had been in combat. So, the way that I react to him has to be better. This has given us the tools to react to each other better and save the third entity, “The Relationship,” and we never looked at it that way. Doing that is one of the biggest things we learned. Looking at the relationship, not at the individuals.”
“That was huge for me too. I never thought about it like that,” agreed Mr. Boudreaux.
“I ask them, ‘What is it like to maybe have a different marriage, a different relationship?’” Wilson said. “I want the class to understand that change happens in a very purposeful way. I know that change can be difficult but it’s absolutely worth it. I hope they all continue to grow.”
Freshly graduated from the program, the Boudreaux’s were both glad they gave W2SM a chance.
“If you’ve ever considered trying it, it’s well worth it,” said Mr. Boudreaux, offering advice for other couples. “The time that you invest into it, you’re gonna get so much out of it. Honestly, yesterday we were like, ‘we’ll go today and if we don’t like it, we won’t come back Sunday,’ but halfway through yesterday we both looked at each other and we were like, this is awesome, we want to come back tomorrow.”
Mrs. Boudreaux agreed. “Do it. Be open minded to it. You’ll see other couples that are struggling, and it’s not necessarily the same, but you can relate. And like me, being the non-Veteran partner, with the other three non-Veteran partners in this group, you feel so much less alone. I have so much appreciation for the couples in this room, and the facilitators. We don’t have friends who are military-connected back home. I’m very appreciative that everyone came in here and opened themselves up. It’s a very good feeling to know you’re not alone.”
The next cohort of the SLVHCS W2SM program is planned for March 14-15, 2020. To learn more, contact Wilson at 1-800-935-8387 ext. 65190 or by email at Blaine.Wilson@va.gov.