On the second Saturday in June, Keith stood next to his wife Nicky in front of a room of 13 other military couples at the Cape Codder Resort in Hyannis.
“I think this is our fourth retreat and the first one I was behind that post hiding. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I didn’t want to be here, but I knew my marriage was worth it so I jumped out of my comfort zone and I found HIT,” he said as he kicked off our Spring Couples Retreat last month. “I tell you, it’s been amazing. John and Kristen and everybody involved with HIT, I’ve met some great people.”
Keith, an Iraq War veteran, and his wife spoke about the importance of our retreats in strengthening their relationship and connecting them with other couples who have experienced the challenges that come with military life.
“One of the things I say is, ‘The only way out is through.’ I don’t want out of my marriage. I want to get through my marriage. I want to be together to the end,” Keith said. “The only way is to go through it. There is nothing worth fighting for more than your spouse.”
Organized by Heroes In Transition’s Couples Coordinators Kristen and John Alexander, the retreat has been held annually – except for last year due to the pandemic – since 2017.
“We’re all born into tribes,” said John, who served nine years in the Army and Army National Guard which included a deployment to the Persian Gulf shortly after he started dating Kristen. “Some of you aren’t from this area or maybe you don’t have family here, but you understand the unit mentality in war. This is now your tribe or this is another tribe: a safe, comfortable place where you have other friends you can go to.”
The Alexanders have committed themselves to helping other military couples through their difficulties because they have experienced similar ones in their marriage. “A call came and it was the VA asking how he was transitioning. I said it was awful. I didn’t know if I knew him or liked him anymore,” Kristen admitted. “We started going to therapy and we learned a lot about each other. We both had to be humble.
“Just know if you’re in a tough space, it is okay,” Kristen stressed to the other couples. “You can make it. You just have to communicate. …Do what you can. Dig deep and remember where you came from, why your relationship started, and why you’re still here.”
Over the course of two days, the couples learned about the power of the Grace Trail from its creator and author Anne Jolles of Plymouth. They supported one another as they tested themselves at the COPE (Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience) Challenge Course at Camp Greenough in Yarmouth. And they bonded with each other during a fun, intimate dinner at the Cape Codder.
The intention of the retreat was to help participants make connections and build community with the other couples in attendance. On the final day, several spoke about how the two days helped them.
Ingrid, who serves in the Coast Guard and is newly married, acknowledged that military life has led to some difficulties. “Hearing from other couples helps us feel like our madness is normal madness,” she said.
Nicky acknowledged that the retreats have strengthened her relationship with her husband Keith. “Every year when we come to this, we realize we need this. We get into these funks,” she said. “This retreat gives us that boost that it doesn’t matter what happens. We can get through it. We can talk through it all. …This has helped us communicate more to understand what he’s going through and what I’m going through.”
Several couples spoke about medical issues, including cancer, that their spouses are facing. Others spoke about PTSD and the emotional struggles that come with life in the military.
“I did feel very alone. I thought that is how it was — that you’re alone in the absences and the hardships. I didn’t really know better,” said Ellen, who was attending her second retreat with her husband David, a retired military chaplain who served in the Air National Guard. “When we first came and met so many of you, it wasn’t about one branch of the military or one age or one style. I felt very comfortable. …You have carried me through some challenging times. When I gather with you, I am at the top of the roller coaster and I thank you for being so accepting of us.”
If you’re a military couple interested in attending a future Heroes In Transition Couples Retreat or outing, contact us at email@example.com.