Army Teaches Troops How to Pick a Spouse

The Army is training soldiers on how to avoid marrying a jerk.

They are the Pentagon’s new “rules of engagement” — the diamond ring kind. U.S. Army chaplains are trying to teach troops how to pick the right spouse, through a program called “How To Avoid Marrying a Jerk.”

The matchmaking advice comes as military family life is being stressed by two tough wars. Defense Department records show more than 56,000 in the Army — active, National Guard and Reserve — have divorced since the campaign in Afghanistan started in 2001. Officials partly blame long and repeated deployments which started after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and stretched the service thin. Troops also are coming home with life-altering injuries. Many come back better people, others worse-off — but either way, very changed from who they were when they wed. “Being in the military certainly raises the stakes when you choose a mate,” said Lt. Col. Peter Frederich, head of family issues in the Pentagon’s chaplain office.

The “no jerks” program is also called “P.I.C.K. a Partner,” for Premarital Interpersonal Choices and Knowledge. It advises the marriage-bound to study a partner’s F.A.C.E.S. — family background, attitudes, compatibility, experiences in previous relationships and skills they’d bring to the union. It teaches the lovestruck to pace themselves with a R.A.M. chart — the Relationship Attachment Model — which basically says don’t let your sexual involvement exceed your level of commitment or level of knowledge about the other person. Maj. John Kegley, a chaplain who teaches the program in Monterey, Calif., throws in the “no jerk salute” for fun. One hand at the heart, two-fingers at the brow mean use your heart and brain when choosing.

Though the acronyms and salute make it sound like something the Pentagon would come up with, the program was created by former minister John Van Epp of Ohio, who has a doctorate in psychology and a private counseling practice. He teaches it to Army chaplains, who in turn teach it to troops. It also is used by social service agencies, prisons, churches and other civilian groups.

Commanders once discouraged troops from starting a family while serving. Thus the old saying: “If the Army wanted you to have a wife, it would have issued you one.” Today, the military supports families more than any other employer, Frederich said.

While the program–and especially its cheesy acronyms–sounds silly, it is a very good idea.

Most of my young soldiers who got married made incredibly poor selections. They either married the girl they were dating in high school quicker than they would have because they were joining the Army or married the first girl who would go on a second date with them because they were overseas and lonely. The women were immature, incapable of managing a household, and had unrealistic lifestyle expectations.

This pattern is probably not much different from their non-military peers who entered the work force right out of high school. But the stakes were much higher, as we were overseas, isolated from parents and other social support networks, and frequently away from home for several days at a time. Several of the marriages fell apart upon our return from Desert Storm, as five months alone was too much for many of the spouses to bear.

Even aside from the high operations tempo the Army has sustained since the early 1990s, the military lifestyle and marriage are very difficult to balance. A generation ago, spouses, almost always women, simply expected to follow their soldier husbands wherever their careers took them. Nowadays, with both spouses expecting to have careers of their own, being reassigned every three to four years is more than most women are willing to put up with.

Classes on picking a spouse is a good start. But the Army needs to continue down the path of rethinking its personnel policies to make them more family-friendly.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. ken says:

    I am sure that once the Army becomes family friendly it will be burdened with even more useless goldbrickers than it is now, and expodentially more expensive to boot.

    Besides do we really want a military full of people so concerned about their own families that they are unwilling to die to protect our entitlement to middle eastern oil? As taxpayers, just think how unfair that would be.