Military marriage

by Tetsuo Nakahara
Stripes Guam

Military marriage is not without its challenges. TDYs, deployments, retirements, transitioning and adjusting to an overseas environment are just few. But through good times and bad, military couples who have weathered such challenges over time say that they have helped forge lasting bonds.

Lawrence and Julie Stephens, both 46, know this all too well. After 27 years of marriage the former high school sweethearts from Missouri look back on their first taste of military life with nostalgia and awe.

Soon after they married in 1987, Lawrence Stephens, now a fitness center staffer at Camp Zama, Japan, joined the Air Force. Before the young couple knew it, they were overseas with a baby in Lajes Field, Portugal.

Back then, his wife recalls, there was no base housing for E-4s and under; they lived off base. There were no shopping centers or fast food restaurants. The houses didn’t have heat or air conditioning. They didn’t even have a car; they had to walk everywhere.

“I came from Missouri in the country, had never been anywhere and it was my first experience on an airplane ever,” says Julie Stephens, a health clinic compliance manager at Zama. “I came from a big family and we were together all the time, so it was hard to suddenly be alone, with nobody to talk to or rely on.  At that time there wasn’t the Internet and people didn’t have phones off base. We were allotted one morale call a month; that was the only time we could talk to our parents.”

It was challenges like these, however, that helped the couple grow up fast.

“We had to learn how to be together and be a family without any help or support,” she says. “I think that experience, although very hard, gave us the foundation and strength we needed to make it through many tough challenges over the years.”

That strong foundation came in handy when her husband deployed for Desert Shield and Desert Storm and there wasn’t much chance to communicate. There were no computers and no email in those days. The only way they could communicate was via fax.

“In the end, I was able to figure out how to call back to the states,” says Lawrence Stephens. “So I would call and the only thing I would say was ‘I love you’ and hang up. It costs $11 to tell her that. I racked up a telephone bill of little over $2,000. It was not that easy.”

Later, they were stationed in England for seven years and three back-to-back deployments kept Stephens away for most of that time. The family only spent two of those seven Christmases together, he says.

“It was more of a challenge for her during that time because she had the kids, then she had a job, then she had school,” Stephens recalls. “She was by herself, she didn’t know anybody. … I think when military person deploys there is a lot of stress for the family members that stay behind.”

Mellissa Sotorosado, 49, at Camp Humphreys, Korea can relate. When her husband of 27 years, Command Sgt. Maj. Estevan Sotorosado, deployed to South America, Iraq, Afghanistan and Jordan she felt the stress.

“The most challenging thing was to be in charge of everything at the household, when the children got sick and you are by yourself and not having family close by to help, I’ve learned to take it one day at the time,” says Sotorosado. It’s that patience along with a healthy dose of resolve, she adds, that helped pull her through those tough times.

“As a mom I decided to stay home and take care, educate and nurture them knowing that in the long run it will pay off, and it has,” Sotorosado says. “As a military family, it is not been easy especially on TDY’s and deployments but is a job that my husband chose and we have to support him 100 percent.”

That determination is one of the virtues that her husband lauds about his wife.

“What I like about Melissa is her strength, personal courage, integrity, and her passion to be the best lady in the world,” Estevan Sotorosado says. He also credits the couple’s faith for seeing them through the tough times. “Our strengths were and are, No. 1: We know each other very well because our lives are based on the foundation of the Bible. … The way we balance our lives is God, Family, Church and Army life.”

The willingness to take on the sacrifices that military life can demand of a military spouse, as well as weather it with poise and grace, is a quality that Lawrence Stephens also praises in his wife – albeit with a tongue-in-cheek nod to what he says is her best talent.

“She will do almost anything for anybody and not think about herself,” he says. “Very caring, loving and giving – but man, can she cook!

In fact, that willingness – along with the deployment-honed ability – to do it all can take some getting used to for a young airman returning from deployment, Stephens says.

“I think she did very well because when I left for Desert Shield I was the one who took care of everything,” he says, adding things had definitely changed when he got back. “She took care of everything. So, I didn’t have somebody depending on me. So, I was like, ‘oh crap.’”

But Stephens did adjust, just in time for a new set of challenges. He retired from the Air Force as master sergeant in 2012. Then Julie Stephens landed her job as a Defense Department civilian employee and the couple moved to Japan where they now live with their 8-year-old son.

“This was my first sponsor job. At first, you are learning everything, so it was difficult process for civilian because everyplace you go is different. Civilian you have to decide where are we living and what are the options,” Julie Stephens says. But it’s a give and take. ”

It’s the kind of give and take that the couple says has helped them grow together. Now looking forward to true retirement in the future on the road in a Wineebago, past challenges make today’s trifles seem laughable, she says, as long as they have each other.

“The best part of marriage is that you have somebody to listen to you, somebody to be there, somebody to count on. Or somebody to put up with you,” says Julie Stephen. “My favorite place in the world is when he gives me a hug, when I am in his arms. That can make everything go away.”

Marine chaplain on tying the knot

Lt. Cmdr. David Alexander, Director, MCIPAC CREDO

Q: What should someone in the military who is considering marriage take into account?
A: Marriage is harder than you think.  Even if you’re deeply in love, and think you know all of a person’s tendencies, bringing someone across the world to a place they don’t know, surrounded by people they don’t know, and in a culture they don’t know, can tend to bring changes in your relationship you can’t easily anticipate.  Add in some deployments, and a couple can become very disoriented very quickly.  Do you have any doubts about your relationship?  Are you in a vulnerable place right now, feeling lonely? Is there anything you are still learning about each other?  It’s best to take all of the time you need to before getting into marriage.

Q: What should a civilian who is considering becoming a military spouse take into account?
A: Military life is harder than you think.  The bond of your best friendship will be stressed, because your spouse will be deployed, and will often work in an intense, stress-filled environment.  Frequent moves are a regular challenge, and distance from family and friends can seem like a big disadvantage when you need people you love to lean on.  Take time to talk to a military couple or two about the realities of life in the military.  There are many beautiful elements of a military marriage, but it is best to know as much as you can about its realities as possible, so you can make plans to flourish together.

Q: What should a civilian who is considering becoming a military spouse take into account?
A: We stay close to the people we love by talking all of the time about what we we are doing together, and whether or not is working for us.  Emotional stamina is a good way to measure how close we are - can we talk about hard things without one of us running?  When we get onto hard topics, do our conversations get wild, and do we try to scare each other?  The more you sense that one or both of you can’t bear the hard conversations, the more you know it’s time to go see someone.  A counselor or chaplain isn’t going to tell you how to change, but he or she can help provide some temporary stability and containment to get into the hard conversations again without fraying.

Navy chaplainon tying the knot

Cmdr. Jon Wallace Conroe, Command Chaplain, Destroyer Squadron FIFTEEN

Q: What should someone in the military who is considering marriage take into account?
A: Talk to other Sailors or couples who have successfully navigated a military marriage about the challenges, such as the long periods away, moving frequently and how that affects the career and life goals of your future spouse. Encourage them to be upfront and honest. These conversations will better equip you and your future spouse to think through and mitigate some of the challenges, reducing misunderstanding and hardship. Such challenges face all relationships. Resilient ones face them and work through them with honest and open communication. One statement I have heard Sailors and Marines make is that they want to marry their boyfriend or girlfriend sooner rather than later for increased BAH or because getting married before a deployment will ensure he/she is there when you get back. Marriage should be entered into deliberately and with great preparedness. Marriage doesn’t change the dynamics of relationships. Strong relationships, with or without a marriage license, will endure. Stressed ones will remain stressed or falter, irrespective of their legal status. Love, commitment, fidelity, and commitment are key pillars upon which to begin and build any lasting relationship. Utilize your chaplains, Fleet and Family Service Centers (FFSC), and married mentors as you make your decision on whether to take the next step.

Q: What should a civilian who is considering becoming a military spouse take into account?
A: Military life is great, filled with great opportunities. These include the chance to travel and live in various parts of the globe. There are opportunities for personal growth through many of the programs offered covering education, exercise, and the chance to partake in community service. With opportunity come challenges, the challenge of frequent short-term and some long-term periods of separation from your spouse, often in locations far away from home and the support you might be used to having. You will have a lot of support around you such as Command Family Readiness Groups where you will meet other spouses who have worked through these challenges before and they can support you by providing great social outlets as well as lending a listening ear. There are strong chapel communities where you can find similar support. The bottom line is that while you might feel alone, you are not. Yet you must be ready to expand your boundaries so that can reach out to new people, new experiences, and embrace what is around you. Self-care is not done by oneself; it includes the company of others.

Q: What advice would you offer a service member who is considering marrying another service member?
A: Dual military marriages face unique circumstances. Co-location is not guaranteed and can include being stationed several miles apart. Typically one spouse is on sea duty while the other is on shore duty, so separation due to deployments is likely doubled when compared to non-dual military couples. I have met several people who have made this work, with great patience and fidelity. I encourage some long, honest conversations with your future spouse about how you plan to work through such circumstances. Try to see where each of you are in regards to career and family plans.  If you are not on the same page, wait. That can be the most loving thing to do.

Q: What should a civilian who is considering becoming a military spouse take into account?
A: Keep the long-term in mind. When you see a couple who has been married for a couple of decades or more and they seem genuinely happy and natural around each other, that they are friends as well as lovers, understand that they have been through some tough times and got to where they are because they worked through them.  Strong and loving marriages are forged through such times, where compromise, humility, and understanding are realized and lovingly maintained. Do what preparatory work you can, like pre-marital workshops, counseling, and retreats.  Your chaplains and FFSCs are there for you, utilize them! The more you do before the wedding the less you work through afterward. Remember this one saying: The wedding is but a day – Marriage is a lifetime.

Air Force chaplain on tying the knot

Maj. Hyral Walker, 36th Wing Chaplain, Andersen AFB

Q: What should an airman who has not yet decided to marry someone but is considering it take into account?
: My 3 C’s are:  Don’t marry for convenience, cash or conception.  Some couples will get married so that he or she could get on the military member’s orders rapidly or to rescue them from a bad situation and some spouses will even admit they married their Airman to finally escape hometown X.   That’s marrying for convenience. 

Believe it or not, there are still gold diggers out there today and it’s an invitation to a toxic home life if money, TriCare benefits, on base privileges, free housing and other active duty perks are the reason for the ring on the finger.  That’s marrying for cash.

Bringing a child into a relationship is a serious choice and a separate one from becoming a wedded couple.  In no way am I condemning or criticizing couples who find out they are pregnant and decide to marry one another after that; on the contrary, some of the greatest people on the planet were surprises.  I stand by my conviction based on experience that pregnancy should never be the reason a couple gets married.  The old fashioned notion of doing the right thing doesn’t always outweigh the other factors that go into a successful marriage.   A divided household in hatred that “did it for the kids,” lays a lot of negativity on a child’s conscience.  I realize there are folks who will take offense at this and say, “but chaplain, sometimes the situation calls for…” and I get that.

With all the short suspenses we face today, the most important decision of two people’s lives should never, ever be rushed, pushed or compelled by anything other than the best reason for getting hitched:  you’ve gone as far as friendship will carry you, past feelings and emotions to natural regard, mutual respect, full understanding of who the other is, with full permission to praise and chastise but always, always, always cherish, all the way until you can pledge eternal devotion to one another…and can share a bathroom.  That’s love.

Q: What should a civilian who has not yet decided to marry a airman but is considering it take into account – about military life?
A: Sacrifice & Connection.  I think of so many Early Return of Dependents (ERDs) I’ve worked with leadership at overseas assignments and the common thread is:

(1) We did not do that spouse a service by not informing them of all that he/she and their military members would be required to give up for serving their country:  birthdays, anniversaries, vacations, quality time, better living conditions each year and each move, frequent absences for months to years at a time and even, if necessary, their very life.  Understanding the notion of shared sacrifice, as a member of the Armed Services extended family, demands loyalty to the same cause in the household.   Before you marry a military member, be sure you want to marry the military.  Just being honest up front can avoid a lot of trouble later.

(2) Connection is a major consideration and works both ways.  Staying connected to your military member means you have to try and keep matters more in house.  This age has sold the notion that everybody on your list of friends and family should have 24-hour access to every smell coming from your kitchen.  In-laws and internet friends aren’t always the best sounding board for grievances after a spousal argument.  Lots of unhappy spouses go back to hometown X because the strongest emotional connection was made all day and all night on the internet with folks back home, instead of with the uniform wearing spouse working 12-hour shifts.  Who are you connecting with and why so much outside your marriage?  Exploring stronger connections than normal is crucial to military marriage success, especially with enduring long term temporary duty assignments and our war operations tempo.  Think long distance relationship as the norm, and you won’t be as disappointed. You’ll only be surprised when you get to keep him or her around longer than expected!

Q: What advice would you offer an airman who is considering marrying another service member?
A: Have the talk about your priorities immediately, if not sooner!  Where does this special thing we have together measure up with my career goals?  Promotion pursuit?  School?  Longevity of service?  And get a hold on what cheating looks like!  Our women and men in uniform spend more time together in and out of the shop, in uniform or sports gear, working together and playing together.  It’s how we function as an Armed Forces cohesive family with often times very tight relationships in very stressful conditions.  Jealousy and perceived infidelity have led many to my office for counseling.  Usually, it’s a matter of setting boundaries and definitions that will work for your marriage.  Are you comfortable with me celebrating a promotion until 0200 with the shop if you aren’t there?  Does it bother you that my partner on shift is Staff Sgt. X and really good looking?  Does our playful behavior on flight and after the squadron softball game look like flirting to you?  Do you worry about my friendships at my shop looking like an emotional affair?  Talk.  Set boundaries.  Understand.  Be reasonable but respectful.  Compromise and most of all, practice trust- building the old fashioned way:  be trustworthy!

Army chaplain on tying the knot

CH(MAJ) Sang Joon “Tim” Won
Religious Retreat Center Director and Family Life Center Director, USAG Yongsan

Q: What should a soldier who has not yet decided to marry someone but is considering it take into account?
A: Marriage is a big commitment that no one should take it lightly or do it for personal gains/selfish reasons.  That’s why it’s called “holy matrimony”.

Many of the young soldiers who visit my center for premarital counseling often confess their naivety toward marriage.  Because they are “in love”, they believe that everything will be okay.  As a result, they fail to communicate important issues such as communication style, conflict resolution, personality and habits, financial management, leisure activities, sexuality and affection, family and friends, parenting, and spiritual beliefs (Sharing Strength and Growth areas from  Talking about such topics assists couples to discover areas that they need to improve on before and during marriage.  I highly recommend premarital counseling to all people who are considering marriage.

It is proven that people who had gone through premarital counseling live happier married life and less likely to divorce.

Q: What should a civilian who has not yet decided to marry a soldier but is considering it take into account - about military life?
A Marrying a military personnel has both advantages and disadvantages.

Marrying a Soldier comes with added stress factors and challenges.  First, one must learn the military culture.  One good example is the rank system.

Due to its hierarchical structure of the military, some spouses may feel intimidated or out of place.  Next one is the frequent move. Military families move every two to five years.  That’s hard on the whole family because they have to reestablish support system every time they move.

Lastly, temporary separations due to deployments and oversea tours put significant strain on marriages. Long separations puts every family through series of tests.  

On the other hand, marrying a military personnel has many advantages.

Military is serious about taking care of families.  Therefore, there are so many agencies, programs and support system that spouses can take advantage of.  Next, they get to literally travel the world with their military spouses, from Asia to Europe.  Many find such life style very exciting and satisfying.

Lastly, through hardships such as deployments and separations, many marriage relationships get stronger.  Every precious metal has to go through the refinery in order to become pure.  In the same way, hardships and challenges of military life can provide marriage relationships to improve.

Q: What advice would you offer a service member who is considering marrying another service member?
A: “Dual Military” brings great challenges when it comes to marriage relationship.  First, making a mental shift from being a military personnel to husband or wife can be a daunting task.  Through my counseling, I realize that such shift maybe more difficult during the weekdays than on weekends.

They really need to understand this dynamic and be gracious to each other.

Secondly, dual military service members need to learn how to separate work life and home life.  The way they communicate and relate with other military men and women at work should not be applied the same way at home.  They must value and protect the sanctity and integrity of marriage.

Q: Is there anything else you would advise a soldier and his or her potential spouse about marriage?
A: As a family life chaplain I have provided thousands of couple counseling sessions to military personnel.  One thing I would like to emphasize over and over is that a successful marriage relationship maintains all aspects of love.  In Greek, there are three different kinds of love, Agape (unconditional) love, Fileo (friendship) love, and Eros (romantic) love.  Couples who show unconditional love to each other as husbands and wives, who continue to be best friends to one another and who maintain romantic love will never fail in their marriage Relationships.  And one more thing - As the book “Scream Free Relationship” points out husbands and wives should never be responsible for Each other but responsible to each other as husbands and wives.  That way they don’t have to struggle with power and control Issues.

– Takahiro Takiguchi, Stripes Okinawa

CREDO Japan holds couples' retreat in Guam

By James A. Nilo, Program Support Contractor

Naval Base Guam, Japan; January 27, 2015:  Chaplain’s Religious Enrichment Development Operation, Commander, Navy Region Japan (CREDO Japan) based in Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Japan recently conducted a Marriage Enrichment Retreat (MER) in the island.

The event was attended by 10 couples coming from various commands in Naval Base Guam and Andersen Air Force Base.  It was held at Pacific Star Resort & Spa on January 21-23, 2015 and in active partnership with Naval Base Guam Chapel. Another retreat is slated for March.

CDR Myung (Dan) Kim, Senior Chaplain and Director of CREDO Japan, was the lead facilitator and convenor at the retreat.  “This is our second time being here in the island and our third retreat in Guam since CREDO Japan’s establishment over a year ago” said Kim.  “We are always excited to bring our valuable programs to our service members stationed here and help improve resiliency and overall morale,” he added.

The participants were treated to a 2-night resort lodging, all the meals and refreshments, and important tools to help improve communication, partnership, and understanding of personalities.  Some of these tools include DISC Personality Assessment, Five Love Languages, a candlelight Romantic Dinner, and an Amazing Race Team Building course designed to help spouses work on their team work.  All of these are free of charge with funding coming from Commander, Naval Installations Command (CNIC).
This year, CREDO Japan hopes to reach out to all the Sea Services personnel and their dependents in naval installations all over Japan to include Korea, Singapore, Diego Garcia, and Guam by offering over 50 Marriage Enrichment, Personal Resiliency, Family Enrichment retreats, and suicide intervention (ASIST) workshops.

Kim and his team will return to Guam for a Personal Resiliency Retreat (PRR) geared towards young, single service members E-5 and below.  It will be held at the same resort on March 10-12, 2015.

To learn more about the programs and services offered by CREDO Japan, call DSN (315) 243-8865, send an e-mail to, or visit

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