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HPRC Fitness Arena: Family & Relationships

Ladies: Set limits on drinking

The holidays are filled with celebrations, which sometimes means temptation to engage in heavy drinking. Learn how to cope with holiday stress and avoid drinking too much.

The holiday season is here, and it’s time for parties and gatherings with family and friends. Through these good times, try to steer clear of risky drinking and manage stress well, so you can enjoy the festivities. 

Those who consume 4 or more alcoholic drinks in one sitting—or within 2 hours—are binge drinkers. Binge drinking is dangerous, and alcohol can be especially harmful to women. It can impact your speech, memory, coordination, and balance, and sometimes result in alcohol poisoning. Women are more likely to develop liver and heart problems from drinking. And drinking during pregnancy can severely impact fetal development.

Alcohol use can affect your marriage too. It can have a negative impact on other family members as well. Alcohol also is commonly used as a sleep aid for Warfighters and their spouses, but it’s ineffective. While drinking might make you sleepy, it disrupts your ability to get the deep sleep your body needs.

Military wives might be more likely to binge drink than civilians too. They might drink because of stress related to deployment, or they’re exposed to alcohol more frequently at “post-deployment” parties. Some younger wives are more willing to experiment with drinking as well. Some might binge drink to let off stress, but other, healthier coping skills can help you go the distance. Military wives report that what really helps them keep stress at bay is staying busy, exercising, journaling, spending time with family and friends, and focusing on spiritual activities.

It’s fine to enjoy a drink or two at a holiday party, but it’s important to know your limits and drinking patterns. If you’re concerned you or someone you know has a problem with alcohol, understand the signs and symptoms and get help.

Bounce back after a breakup

Everyone experiences a breakup differently. Some people are able to rebound quickly, while others struggle with intense emotions and insecurity. If you’re having a hard time moving on, keep reading.

The loss of a romantic relationship—whether through divorce, separation, or breakup—is a distressing event. It sometimes can be challenging to move on, especially for those who might question their self-worth.

Be aware of your anxiety. Highly anxious people tend to be more emotional after a breakup. They might become preoccupied with what happened and sometimes turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to self-soothe. Effectively managing your anxiety means you’ll be better able to leverage the breakup and improve yourself.

Focus on personal growth: Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this experience?” Maybe this breakup will help you clarify future expectations of your romantic partners. Perhaps you can reframe being “alone” as now having more time to be with friends and family. Write out what led to the breakup to help lessen negative thoughts about your split too.

When your relationship ends, it doesn’t have to mean you lose sight of your own goals. If your ex didn’t help you meet your goals or wasn’t supportive of your pursuits, then breaking up can help you shift your focus to what you want to achieve on your own. Concentrate on finding new, more effective sources of support as you move towards reaching your goals.

Expect other relationships to change too. Particularly after a divorce, it’s likely that you’ll lose contact with some people, including your in-laws or your ex-partner’s friends. Yet, you’re also likely to meet new people and expand your social network. You might find comfort in new friendships with others going through similar situations as well. And soon enough, you’ll be ready to date again.

Treat your partner right

New Year’s Day brings an increased risk of mistreating loved ones. Instead, commit to taking care of each other through healthy communication and respectful conflict resolution.

Partner maltreatment—also known as intimate partner violence (IPV) or domestic violence—tends to peak on holidays and weekends, and one date is quickly approaching: New Year’s Day. Commit to respecting and taking care of each other in the new year and beyond.

IPV can include physical violence, emotional or psychological abuse, or sexual harm within a relationship. By some estimates, partner maltreatment rates are nearly 3 times higher among military veterans and active-duty service members than civilians.

Weekends and holidays often mean more time with significant others. For some, time away from work also can coincide with increased use of drugs or alcohol. There’s some evidence that IPV spikes in military households on weekends, New Year’s Day, 4th of July, and Super Bowl Sunday. In addition, drug and alcohol use tends to increase alongside more reports of IPV.

Depression, antisocial traits, and marital problems also are linked to increased instances of domestic abuse. Combat exposure and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are associated with partner maltreatment as well. Women might be just as likely to maltreat their partners. Yet when females become victims, they tend to sustain more serious injuries than males. In some relationships, both partners can be violent towards each other too.

IPV can lead to physical, emotional, and psychological injuries. If you have children, they’re at increased risk of abuse as well. If you’re concerned about your own alcohol or drug use, take the Alcohol and Drugs Assessment at AfterDeployment.com to better understand how it can affect your relationships. Domestic violence resources and reporting options also are available for military families. So, start the new year by practicing healthy communication and conflict resolution skills with your partner.

Transgender service members and veterans

Filed under: Sexuality, Transgender
DoD policy changes now enable transgender service members to openly serve. Training for commanders and other personnel in this policy’s implementation is underway. Learn more.

As of June 2016, DoD policy states that qualified service members can no longer be involuntarily separated, discharged, or denied reenlistment or continuation of service solely for being transgender. Transgender describes someone whose gender identity, gender expression, or behavior doesn’t conform to what’s typically associated with the sex he or she was assigned at birth. This policy enables transgender persons to serve the military without fear of dismissal or harassment. It also ensures transgender service members and veterans have access to medical care and a structure is in place for those to transition gender when medically necessary. In addition, DoD has produced the following policy-related guides for military personnel:

The Services will use these guides and other materials to conduct policy training for commanders, medical personnel, operating forces, and recruiters through June 2017. The handbook reinforces that harassment of any service member is inappropriate and shouldn’t be tolerated. It also states that discrimination based on gender identity is considered sex discrimination, and any concerns should be addressed through DoD’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) program.

In recent years, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) also has updated its approach to working with transgendered veterans. VHA Directive 2013-003 summarizes its healthcare services for transgendered veterans. This shift at the Veterans Administration (VA) helps lessen barriers to care for transgender vets. Transgender males and females can now change their gender identifications and names in the VHA system. In addition, VHA sometimes will provide transgendered veterans with sexualizing hormones such as testosterone and estrogen. However, VHA won’t provide surgeries for those considering sexual reassignment.

Visit the National Center for Transgender Equality website for additional resources for transgender service members and veterans.

Deployment injuries, sex, and intimacy

How does a couple keep their relationship strong through separations and deployments? How can deployment-related injuries affect their sex life? Learn how spouses and partners can help.

Service members returning from deployment often have a difficult time being intimate with their partners. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), amputations, Agent Orange exposure (Vietnam era), and chronic pain all can affect sexual functioning and relationships. Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) veterans and service members with PTSD likely have at least one sexual problem. In addition, changes in sex hormones (such as thyroid-stimulating hormone, testosterone, and estrogen) might appear after a TBI, which can negatively influence sexual functioning. There also is continued encouragement for DoD and VA to communicate about sexual concerns with wounded service members and veterans. Read more...

‘Tis the season: Connect with family

Use these HPRC-approved tips to help keep the “happy” in your holidays and take care of your family and yourself, even when you can’t be together.

While the holidays often are times of joy and celebration, it can be especially hard for those serving away from home. And if you’re unable to be with your loved ones during the holidays, this time of year sometimes can leave you with mixed emotions. Still, take time and enjoy the special family members who bring goodness to your life.

HPRC offers these tips to help you take care of your loved ones and yourself this holiday season—whether you’re at home or abroad. Read more...

E-cigarette “smoke” and your partner

E-cigarettes can harm the health of users and those who breathe in the secondhand emissions. Read up on tips for addressing concerns about secondhand “smoking” with your partner.

If your partner “vapes” with nicotine or uses e-cigarettes, you might be at risk for inhaling harmful secondhand “smoke.” E-cigarettes don’t produce actual smoke, but they do produce emissions with aerosol particles that contain nicotine, glycerin, artificial flavorings, and preservatives. We don’t yet know how harmful these emissions might be. On the flip side, there also isn’t clear evidence that breathing these emissions is safe.

E-cigarettes are electronic devices that vaporize liquid nicotine and other substances to be inhaled. Still underexplored, the impact of e-cigarettes on health has gained recent attention. Since e-cigarettes were not initially regulated by FDA, the ingredients in the devices were originally unlabeled. Studies suggest that in addition to nicotine, e-cigarettes sometimes include harmful chemicals that are carcinogens. Beginning in 2018, all e-cigarette packages will contain a warning label that indicates they contain nicotine, an addictive chemical.

Your partner’s e-cigarette habits can potentially impact the health of both of you. If you’re concerned about the unknown impact of e-cigarettes, have an open conversation about the topic. Consider the following tips:

  • Become knowledgeable about what’s known and unknown about e-cigarettes and nicotine before bringing up the conversation.
  • Gently bring up the topic. Start with something such as “I was wondering if we could talk about the use of e-cigarettes in the house?”
  • Mention that you’ve been reading about the health implications of e-cigarette vaping. You’ve grown concerned about how much is unknown and the potential harm.
  • Ask your partner what he or she knows about how e-cigarettes might impact one’s health.
  • Suggest coming up with a plan to minimize vaping indoors and especially around those who prefer to avoid inhaling the secondhand emissions.
  • Offer to support your partner through trying to cut back on or quit using e-cigarettes.
  • Express appreciation for supporting one another’s health.

LGB service members and unit cohesion

Filed under: LGBT, Sexuality, Teams
What impact do lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members have on unit cohesion?

When it was first announced that lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) service members could openly serve in the military, some suggested unit cohesion—how teammates unite, stick together, and remain close—would suffer. Others wondered whether missions would be successful and if straight service members would be comfortable sharing bathrooms and showers with their LGB peers.

Since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) in 2011, there’s been little evidence to suggest negative effects on unit cohesion or the military’s ability to carry out missions. Similarly, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has observed no changes in military performance or unit cohesion since it began allowing gays and lesbians to openly serve in 1993. Shared dedication to a mission enhances performance and builds unit cohesion.

Since the repeal of DADT, LGB service members can serve without fear of being harassed or discharged. This enables them to fully devote their attention to their jobs. It’s possible the repeal also will help reduce rates of substance abuse and mental health struggles among LGB service members because they might no longer endure the stigma and stress from hiding their sexual orientation. In addition, straight service members report feeling comfortable working alongside their LGB teammates.

Read more about the DoD policies on sexual orientation and gender identity in HPRC’s Sex, Sexuality, & Intimacy FAQs section and about sex and the military on our Sex, Sexuality, & Intimacy Resources page.

Group aggression and hazing

Filed under: Aggression, Hazing, Teams
Some think group aggression and hazing are ways to improve team commitment, but these acts can be dangerous. Hazing also is punishable in the military. Learn more.

While initiation activities have long been a part of military culture, group aggression and hazing contradict the values of dignity and respect championed by the Armed Forces. Group aggression and hazing can put service members at risk of injury and impact team unity.

Aggression is behavior—including any action taken or situation created—that intends to cause harm to someone who doesn’t want to be harmed. Group aggression is the active use of violence by one group against another group. Hazing is an example of group aggression: It’s the act of forcing new team members to endure unsafe, painful, or embarrassing rituals as part of their initiation into a group. Victims experience physical and emotional abuse that goes beyond military-sanctioned ceremonies that build team commitment.

Group aggression is more common than individual aggression. It’s possible that when people feel they’re less identifiable, they’re more likely to be aggressive. For example, you blend in with your teammates and your group might collectively take the blame for any one act—which can feel less punitive then being punished on your own. In addition, aggression often provokes even more bad behavior within groups. Hazing might go unnoticed in the military partly due to its internal hierarchy that can make it hard to identify such hostile acts.

Hazing and group aggression don’t always improve cohesion, bonding, or commitment among teammates. And some victims are at risk of physical trauma, psychological abuse, and even death.

Strong teams are based on respect and dignity, where members feel supported and empowered. Team building should lead to pride in your group and integrity among its members.

Learn more about the different branch policies:

Stepmothers

A stepmother can significantly impact her stepchildren’s lives. Understanding her role in the family is an important first step.

It can be challenging to explain and understand a stepmother’s responsibilities when a new stepfamily is formed, but there are ways to support her “new” parenting role. Stepfamilies form when a child’s mother or father marries someone after his or her relationship with the child’s other parent has ended.

It’s important for stepmothers to build strong relationships with their stepchildren, but this sometimes can be tricky. A stepmother often has to strike a balance between bonding with her stepchildren while also respecting the limitations of not being a biological parent, especially when her stepchildren’s other parent remains active in their lives. Stepmothers sometimes can feel confused about what their roles should be, and this can lead to insecurity. Stepmoms also might feel they’re expected to do many household and childcare tasks even though they’re not considered parents. It can be hard for a stepmother to see her spouse’s involvement with the children—playing a role she’s unable to play—and continued contact with the children’s other parent too. And stepchildren can feel unsure about how their stepmother will fit into their lives.

Still, when stepfamilies live together at least half-time, stepmothers tend to be happier in their marriages and closer to their stepchildren. Successful stepmothers develop a parental mindset and work to define their roles in their new families. In addition, communication that focuses on strong listening skills and avoids criticism or contempt can help a stepmother and her spouse agree on her role and how they’ll support each other as parents and partners.

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