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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Jamie Eads returned from war with a heavy burden.
"There were situations in Iraq I had to get out of. I did whatever it took to get back home to my family," he said.
His wife, Jenny, wanted desperately to help. First she had to know what was wrong, and her husband wasn't talking.
"The Army gave me back a different husband," she said.
The trouble with the Eadses, who live in Martinez, Ga., was that their communications skills had eroded. It's a common-enough problem among returning troops that the Department of Veterans Affairs office here has launched a marriage retreat designed to repair relationships.
"When we started getting all the positive feedback, we knew we were on to something," said the Rev. Ron Craddock, the chief of chaplain services at Augusta's VA hospitals.
Before they attended November's retreat, the Eadses' seven-year marriage limped along well enough that they never discussed divorce, but it was looming. At the retreat, both acknowledged that it was a "make or break" moment, so they exposed their innermost feelings, the thoughts that secretly troubled them, the fears they never revealed.
"I started hearing from her point of view what she put up with," Jamie Eads said. "They were things I never considered."
The 36-year-old, then a sergeant stationed in Camp Taji on the outskirts of Baghdad, turned to alcohol and his comrades in the 125th Forward Support Battalion as a source of solace soon after his return home in January 2006.
He struggled with the perception that people would think less of him for his actions in Iraq. When he cut back on his drinking, he would stay awake until exhaustion put him into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Months of day-to-day survival made him act impulsively. His wife struggled to keep pace with his erratic behavior.
"You can't say you understand, because you don't," said Jenny Eads, 28. "You can't have that level of communication."
His wife had to walk a fine line between letting Eads unwind and keeping him from destroying their family. She treated her husband like a fourth child after a year on her own caring for three children.
"I wanted to be a support for him, but at the same time, I couldn't let him get hurt," she said.
Since their return from the retreat, the Eadses have learned to be friends again. Jamie Eads still struggles to control his impulsive behavior, but even in the moments he slips, his wife knows a better way to start that discussion.
"It taught us how to respect each other again," Jamie Eads said. "I can't speak highly enough of this program."