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Published on 11/11/21

UGA Extension helps military couples thrive through relationship education

By Cal Powell for CAES News
With the help of UGA Extension's Elevate program, the Gutierrezes' marriage has thrived despite the unique challenges faced by most military relationships.

Lindsay and Anthony Gutierrez met on an Air Force base in England.

“He came in to register his vehicle at a time I worked in the registration section for Security Forces,” said Lindsay Gutierrez, a senior airman at the time.

A process that normally takes five minutes ended up in a 45-minute conversation. The two dated for two years before getting married, the relationship surviving multiple deployments.

“After being apart for so long, that solidified that, OK, if we can do that and come out unscathed, I definitely want to spend the rest of my life with this person,” said Anthony Gutierrez, a staff sergeant at Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta.

The couple’s marriage has thrived despite the unique challenges facing most military relationships — lengthy deployments and uncertainty about the future being chief among them.

A University of Georgia-led project is providing military-connected couples access to relationship education programming to help them manage the stress associated with military life.

With the support of a five-year, $6.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the project leverages the vast UGA Cooperative Extension network and several community partners to deliver the evidence-based healthy couples and relationship education programming virtually and in-person to couples across Georgia.

Since programming was launched in May, 141 couples have enrolled, including 36 couples with at least one partner connected to the military or working as civilian employees with the U.S. Department of Defense, said project director Ted Futris.

“That level of uncertainty is one of the highest levels of stress military couples experience,” said Futris, UGA Extension family life specialist and professor in the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences. “Our program leads with helping couples understand how our body responds to stress and then developing strategies for managing stress. Becoming aware of that connection is an important first step in elevating your relationship.”

Lindsay and Anthony Gutierrez completed the virtual workshop in June. The curriculum, called Elevate, is a 12-hour program presented in eight modules.

Couples engage in fun activities and spend quality time together learning skills they can use to understand each other better, strengthen their connection, deal with challenges and “take their relationship to the next level,” Futris said.

“It gave us new tools and new ways of viewing things and promoted increased communication,” Lindsay Gutierrez said. “We were already familiar with communicating and working issues out, but it gave us a new way of viewing it and all the ways you can have a more successful marriage.”

Elevate workshops are delivered by trained facilitators to couples in committed relationships, whether married or unmarried. In-person workshops are available in 12 counties, most of them located near military bases across the state.

Couples also can participate virtually, which makes it possible for military couples who might be physically apart due to deployment to share in the learning experience together, Futris said.

“It’s a great opportunity to really support those who give so much of themselves,” he said. “Military couples are often under regular stress in their lives and this is a way we can give back and help strengthen those relationships.”

Cal Powell is the director of communications for the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences.