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Marriage Retreat for 'Blind' US Veterans
In August 2011, the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Ga., held its very first marriage retreat for blind and visually impaired Veterans and their spouses. One of the instructors at that groundbreaking event was Deborah Lovell, a counselor at the medical center’s Blind Rehabilitation Center who is blind herself.
Eleven couples attended the retreat.
“Blindness is something they’ve had to deal with as a couple,” Lovell said. “In most cases, these Veterans weren’t blind when they got married. They were blinded in Iraq or Afghanistan, earlier conflicts, or through eye-related conditions. A lot of them are very angry or frustrated. You can imagine what that will do to a relationship. ”
Lovell said some of the communication skills she teaches at the marriage retreats have actually been useful in her own relationship.
“My husband and I communicate pretty well, but there’s always room for improvement,” she laughed. “For example, there’s a technique we teach called ‘The Daily Temperature Reading,’ or DTR for short. It’s where a couple sets aside a few minutes each day to talk to each other, face to face, about whatever’s on their mind. They share their thoughts and feelings about something. They listen to each other.
“So, during the course of our DTR sessions, my husband and I discovered something important,” she explained. “We discovered that it takes me a while to process information. I have to think about stuff for awhile. Sometimes he would tell me something, and I wouldn’t respond right away, and he’d get frustrated. Now we both realize I just need to mull things over before I get back to him. So now he doesn’t get upset anymore…he knows I just process information differently than he does.”
The VA currently has marriage retreat programs for all Veterans up and running at two locations: the VA San Diego Healthcare System and the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Ga.
Retreats have also been held at VA sites in Indianapolis, Ind., Hampton, Va., Atlanta, Ga., Columbia, S.C., Manchester, N.H., and Loma Linda, Calif.