Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
There was something for every couple to learn, whether they were newlyweds or married for decades, at the first of four Vertical Marriage sessions Feb. 12.
The session, which was offered both in-person at Frontier Chapel and virtually via videoteleconference, was sponsored by the Fort Leavenworth Chapels and CruMilitary.
“Vertical Marriage is a five-session Bible study for couples written by Dave and Ann Wilson,” said Jodi Billquist, Protestant Women of the Chapel president and CruMilitary affiliate staff. “In each session, Dave and Ann share from their own personal experiences, offering biblical principles and strategies to building a healthy and vibrant horizontal marriage relationship as well as a vertical spiritual relationship with God.”
Chaplain (Maj.) Jeff Smith, Command and General Staff College chaplain, said offering the study was a way the chapel could help with the effects of the pandemic.
“The current pandemic has affected all in many ways to include placing a strain on family relationships,” Smith said. “We simply want to invest in our Fort Leavenworth marriages and families and help them to not just survive the pandemic but thrive.
“The Garrison chaplain’s office regularly offers marital enrichment opportunities for service members and their spouses, but certainly COVID-19 has impacted how we (offer) it,” he said. “We knew there had to be a virtual component … and believed this to be the perfect fit for the operational environment we are currently in, especially considering the number of geographically-separated service members on post. Simply put, couples could attend together although miles apart.”
In the two-hour kickoff, the three in-person couples and six virtual couples viewed and discussed the first two sessions of the study.
The first session was “The Elusive Secret,” which focused on the vertical relationship with God.
“When we go vertical first, God quenches our thirst,” Dave Wilson said in the video session.
When couples focus on going vertical first in their marriage, he said, it includes daily prayer, weekly date night and attendance in church, and annual vacations or marriage retreats to keep focus on the relationship.
The second lesson was “Fight Like a Man,” which focused on communication. In it, the Wilsons said there are four types of people when it comes to conflict — the winner, the yielder, the withdrawer and the resolver. No matter which a person is, there are four steps that are important to follow: shut up and listen, give a soft answer, seek and/or grant forgiveness and surrender to Jesus.
After each video, Smith led a short discussion with the couples before sending them off for a short couple connection time.
When the lesson ended, couples agreed that there were already things they learned from the lessons.
“I thought some of the points they made, like how we will default to selfish was pretty powerful because I’ve seen that in myself. I’ve defaulted into selfish because she’s so giving and caring and wonderful that she’s willing to make those dinners and clean up after me and let me focus on school,” said Capt. Stephen Nitkowski, Command and General Staff Officer Course student. “Without really focusing back on God, our marriage won’t be strong, and I won’t be put back into that servant mindset.”
Nitkowski’s wife, Emika Okada, said the session made her realize how hard forgiveness is for both spouses.
“I’ve been thinking that him asking forgiveness of me was the easiest thing he can do because it’s like, ‘Will you forgive me? It’s all up to you now,’” Okada said. “But now I think it’s really hard for him just as it’s also a hard thing for me to forgive.
“If there’s any conflict, I need to listen and be willing to forgive,” she said. “That’s what I want to work on.”
Nitkowski and Okada will celebrate their first anniversary March 22, and Nitkowski said they wanted to find a date night activity involving God.
“He’s the foundation of our life; he’s the giver of life,” Nitkowski said. “As two broken people, we’re going to fail unless he is involved.”
Maj. Dan Ables, CGSOC student, and Tonya Ables, who have been married for 26 years, said they’ve always put more of a focus on what was best for their family as a whole and rarely put focus on their relationship as a couple.
“We are always doing for other people, but sometimes we have to do for ourselves and put our marriage first,” Tonya Ables said. “You do get in a rut; you get in the daily grind. He’s in school and he has a lot on his plate so I thought this is the one time that we can connect.
“I’m proud that we have been married 26 years. That’s a big deal … but sometimes you forget that you still have to work on it, and that’s why we came here,” she said. “You never stop working on it. It’s a job. You go to work every day, so you have to work on the marriage every day.”
Maj. Ables said the “shut up and listen” portion of the lessons really stood out to him.
“We both try to win arguments,” he said. “I think that two people that are trying to win the same argument, it completely draws a huge wedge between the individuals, so we’re going to try to work on that as well as shutting up and listening to the other individual.”
The Ables agreed that God was an important part of their relationship, too.
“We both grew up in church so that was always a foundation and what we wanted to pursue when we got married,” Tonya Ables said. “I don’t see how people make it without God.”
“God provides that road map, that moral road map to follow and that northward compass that you can draw strength from,” Maj. Ables added. “I think that’s the biggest thing is if you don’t have God in your life, your moral compass is somewhat skewed. All you have to do is read the Bible to understand and so many questions are answered in the Bible.”
The next three vertical marriage sessions are 6:30-7:30 p.m. March 5, April 9 and May 7. To sign up, e-mail Billquist at email@example.com.