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By Jay Morse & Heidi Radunovich, PhD

Military personnel engaged in classroom trainingMilitary leaders have expressed a need for training Reserve and National Guard families in life skills – managing money, legal challenges, social support, and community resources.  University educators familiar with military culture and the challenges specific to the reserve component (RC) of the armed forces developed a program that integrated training in life skills into relationship and marriage education.  The initial evaluation of the “Essential Life Skills for Military Families Program” [1] shows promise.

The Essential Life Skills for Military Families Program (ELSMF) was developed to promote relationship skills at interpersonal and community levels, improve financial skills, and promote legal preparedness. The curriculum includes four modules delivered as a workshop series.  The workshops can be taught as weekend, evening or full-day events.  The first module centers covers issues associated with deployment, particularly related to the couple relationship and life skills.  The second module focuses on managing personal finances, and managing money as a couple.  Module three discusses the legal aspects of military life, with an emphasis on estate planning.  The fourth module, focuses on building the couple relationship and seeking community support.

A qualitative program evaluation has been conducted to gather feedback on the ELSMF program. A total of 1,003 participants responded to surveys after completing the course, and 333 participants also responded to an open-ended question, “What was the most helpful skill you learned in this class?” Thematic analysis using 2 independent coders yielded the following themes:

  • Better understanding of how military stress impacts the couple’s relationship, and an appreciation for the role of communication in strengthening the relationship.
  • Appreciation for the integration of life skills into relationship-strengthening programs.
  • Participants commented positively on the course content and feeling better prepared for deployment after the course, as well as appreciating the techniques used, such as active participation and feedback, self-assessment, worksheets, and handouts.

Offering this type of family life education to military families through Cooperative Extension proved to be more challenging than anticipated. It was necessary to provide additional training to county agents related to military life, and to offer programming in a different way than is normally done. It was found that offering the program as part of readiness-related training, such as drill weekends or family weekend events, led to better participation and program engagement. Both single and married couples found the program to be helpful. Overall, this program appears to provide positive benefits for military couples.


[1] Carroll, E. B., Orthner, D. K., Behnke, A., Smith, C. M., Day, S., & Raburn, M. (2013). Integrating life skills into relationship and marriage education: The Essential Life Skills for Military Families program. Family Relations62(4), 559-570. doi:10.1111/fare.12027

This post was written by Jay Morse & Heidi Radunovich, PhD, members of the OneOp Family Development (FD) team which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about OneOp on our Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

Blog Image: Photo from Flickr [Making $ense of Finances by Pennsylvania National Guard, July 14, 2014, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] Retrieved on June 11, 2015