RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany --
More than 500 men and women from throughout the Kaiserslautern Military Community filled the Ramstein Officers' Club's ballroom Oct. 10 to hear from a man who has devoted his life to educating couples about how to improve their relationships.
Dr. Gary Chapman, award winning author of "The Five Love Languages - How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate," spent the day sharing his thoughts on healthy relationships as part of a marriage seminar hosted by the 86th Airlift Wing Chapel.
Learning love languages
According to the author, positive communication is the foundation of a good marriage and is especially important for military families.
"I think the stress factor of deployments is something you don't face in the civilian world," Doctor Chapman said. "There are business people who are gone a week at a time. To be gone for several months, that's the unique part of the military, as well as the stress that they are under while they are deployed. So, I think the pressures on marriages are greater in the military than they are on the civilian world."
The author started the six-hour seminar with communication 101, where he talked about the importance of being able to solve differences without arguing.
"All of us know what arguing is," Doctor Chapman said. "It doesn't lead anywhere. In fact if you win the argument, your spouse lost the argument. Who wants to live with a loser? What I try to [teach] is that we can respect each other, respect our ideas, respect our feelings and look for answers rather than trying to convince them to think the way you think."
He then moved on to how to understand and express love; that, he said, is where "The Five Love Languages" comes in.
"Everybody speaks a different [love] language and you have to learn to speak the language of your spouse if you want them to feel loved," he said. "All of us want to feel loved. And in marriage, the person you would most like to love you is your spouse. Understanding how to do that has helped a lot of couples stay connected emotionally."
Doctor Chapman also talked about the physical aspect of marriage.
"You would think in our society with so much talk about sex so openly, that this would not be a problem area," he said "The reality is, it is a problem area. Many couples struggle in this part of marriage."
The speaker then talked about how even the smallest issues can create tension in a marriage.
"Squeezing the toothpaste in the middle instead of the bottom," he said. "Those kind of things. How to get your spouse to change those things and how do you come to accept the things they either cannot change or for some reason they choose not to change."
Throughout the day, Doctor Chapman, who's been married for more than 35 years, used a lot of humor and examples from his own life experiences to illustrate his messages.
"My wife and I went through severe struggles in the early years of our marriage," he said. "So, I'm very empathetic with people who are struggling with marriage. I know what it is to be miserable in a marriage and I know what it is to find answers. I think this highly motivated me to help others because I feel their pain."
Speaking at Ramstein
Chaplain (Capt.) Bradford Phillips, 86th Airlift Wing Chapel, invited Doctor Chapman to Ramstein and organized the event.
"Doctor Chapman and I go back for about 15 years," Chaplain Phillips said. "He was my pastor when I was going through bible college and seminary, and he is also the associate pastor at my home church, Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C. So, when I was going through those affirmative years and lots of major events in my life, he was part of that."
When Chaplin Phillips came to Ramstein about a year and a half ago, he thought, with 50,000 military dependents in the KMC, it would be a great opportunity for Doctor Chapman to come and offer one of his seminars.
"You can call it marriage maintenance," Chaplain Phillips said. "We do maintenance on our cars, we do maintenance on our airplanes; this does the same thing for marriages."
The chaplain also echoed Doctor Chapman's thoughts on the role a healthy marriage plays in a deployment.
"Positive communication is absolutely key," Chaplain Phillips said. "If you leave with your communication skills at 20 percent, things are not going to go very well. And lots of things come up during deployments that could be bad. You want to have the healthiest marriage possible before you leave, so you can go downrange, do your job and not worry about your marriage."
And for those in attendance, it was a message well received.
"[The seminar] was outstanding and very entertaining," said Senior Master Sgt. Zachary Thomas, U.S. Air Forces in Europe Headquarters command equipment manager, who attended the seminar with his wife, Master Sgt. Carrie Thomas, 3rd Air Force Headquarters contingency supply operations chief. "Being mil-to-mil is tough. Between two careers, kids, deployments, temporary assignments and the operations tempo we don't have a lot of time to devote to each other. This was an opportunity to take it in, sit back and look at our relationship. After 14 years of marriage, you think you've got it right, but not a chance. You are always going to learn something new when it comes to relationships."
Year of the Air Force Family
As part of the Year of the Air Force Family, which runs from July 2009 to July 2010, approximately 16 bases will host Marriage and Family Enrichment Seminars and Retreats.
As was done during this event and throughout the year, significant emphasis will be placed on various areas of concern for Air Force families, to include health and wellness.
For more information on the Year of the Air Force family, check out the official Web site at http://www.af.mil/yoaff/index.asp