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HPRC Fitness Arena: Family & Relationships
The military celebrates the Friday before Mother’s Day every year as Military Spouse Appreciation Day. In 1984, former president Ronald Reagan initiated this event to acknowledge and honor the commitment, courage, and sacrifice of the wives and husbands of our nation’s service members. Military spouses are the backbone of their families and are key to the success of the Warfighter’s military performance. President Barack Obama reflected in his 2010 Military Spouse Appreciation Day speech, “At the heart of our Armed Forces, service members’ spouses keep our military families on track.”
The Military Family Resource Center reports these statistics about military spouses and/or families:
- Almost 60% the active-duty force has family responsibilities of a spouse and/or children.
- 93% of the spouses of active-duty members are female.
- 54% of the spouses are 30 years of age or younger; 72% are under age 36.
- 56% of active-duty spouses are employed. 14% of active-duty spouses are Armed Forces members themselves.
- 43% of active-duty members have children; the average number of children for active-duty members who have children is two.
- Among active-duty members who have dependents, the average number of dependents is almost 2.5.
- More than 50% of the children of active-duty members are seven years of age or younger.
(Source: 2008 Demographics: Profile of the Military Community, published by the Military Family Resource Center.)
For more information about President Obama’s speech, see:
Last week, we started a four-week schedule of discussing strategies for processing emotions. Each week we highlight one positive strategy (called “savoring”) and one negative strategy (called “dampening”). Although research has focused on the impact of these strategies on individual outcomes such as positive emotions and happiness, they seem to be strategies that could also be used with families, friends, and unit relationships to promote positive and happy individuals and interactions.
Savoring (Positive) Strategy #3: “Be Present”
“Being present” is a strategy whereby individuals deliberately direct their attention to focus on pleasant experiences happening in the present. For example, when something positive happens, rather than immediately thinking about the next event or what went wrong, take some time to stay in the moment and experience the happy feelings. In relationships, taking some time to focus on happy events can foster positive emotions in the entire family or unit.
Dampening (Negative) Strategy #4: “Distraction”
When individuals engage in positive events but let other thoughts intrude (like worries), then they experience “distraction.” Being distracted decreases the positive impact of the happy event. Distraction is associated with poorer well-being over time. Individuals who are less distracted tend to be happier in their relationships, as well.
Taken together, next time something positive happens, stay present, don’t let yourself be distracted, and see if the positive feelings linger longer than usual. Try this within your family, couple, or unit.
Come back next week for strategies five and six.
A recent study examined eight different strategies for processing emotions and how they are linked to positive emotions and life satisfaction. The HPRC will describe two of these a week for the next four weeks. Although research has focused on the impact of these strategies on individual outcomes such as positive emotions and happiness, they also seem to be strategies that could be used with family relationships, friends, and comrades to promote positive and happy individuals and interactions. Additionally, parents as well as leaders could help foster positive strategies (called “savoring”) to help their children or their units decrease their use of negative (or “dampening”) strategies.
Savoring (Positive) Strategy #1: “Behavioral Display”
A “behavioral display” is a savoring strategy when an individual expresses positive emotions through non-verbal behavior. For example, when a child gets an “A” on a test, he or she has a huge smile, exhibits overall happy body language, and in essence seems to exude happiness. This expression of positive emotion appears to be contagious (in a good way) in relationships.
Dampening (Negative) Strategy # 2: “Suppression”
“Suppression” is a strategy whereby individuals hide their positive emotions for a variety of reasons (possibly shyness, modesty, or fear). Individuals who push down their positive emotions tend to report less life satisfaction and lower psychological well-being.
So the next time something positive happens to you, allow yourself a behavioral display of emotion and see if it makes others around you happier too. Likewise, next time something positive happens and you don’t show a positive reaction, compare and see how it impacts your emotions, well-being, and overall happiness.
Next week, we’ll discuss two more strategies—one positive and one negative—that you can try out.
Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and other dyes are artificial colorings allowed in foods in the U.S., yet there is a long-standing debate over whether food dyes contribute to hyperactivity in children. The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Advisory Committee met the last week of March and determined that there is not enough evidence to support the link between food dyes and hyperactivity in children. For now, there will be no warning labels on food products containing dyes.
In a study of military youth, risk-taking behavior was compared to national and state averages. The researchers found that risk-taking behaviors among military youth—specifically, sexual activity and substance abuse—were much lower than national and state averages. However, there were still reports of risk-taking behaviors among military youth, so the authors caution not to misinterpret this information—even military children still need guidance. For more information on risk-taking behaviors, visit the HPRC's Mind Tactics "Performance Degraders" section.
Research shows that particular styles of fighting often lead to divorce. In successful marriages, both partners are willing to work out problems by talking to each other. If one partner withdraws, the other may perceive that as lack of interest in the relationship, and the likelihood of divorce is high. Successful couples empathize with each other and handle conflict constructively. For more information on how to better communicate with your partner, please visit our Family Skills page.
All successful athletes have routines: bouncing the ball three times and pausing before shooting a free throw, having a warm-up routine before every game, or chanting together in a group to get pumped before a game starts. As elite athletes, Warfighters also engage in routine activities to get into a mindset for success: cleaning their weapon the exact same way every time, having a pre-combat check prior to engagement, or putting their gear on in a certain order every day. Likewise, all successful families have routines. Spending time doing fun family activities, chores, or other quality time (like mealtime) together creates stability within the family and opportunities to connect. In fact, these findings have prompted researchers to assert, “Families who play together stay together.” Research has shown that couples who spend their leisure time together are less likely to divorce or separate. For military families, being apart (for deployment or training) can make it more difficult to maintain family routines, but it makes it even more important. Research has found that it is important for children to maintain a consistent routine while a parent is deployed. Some families mark a calendar, have special bedtime routines, or write in a diary while their family member is deployed. It’s equally important that deployed spouses and/or parents develop routines that keep them connected to their families at home. All of these strategies build family strength and closeness, both on the home front and during the heightened stress of separation.
For more strategies to help build family resilience, see the Family & Relationships section of HPRC's website.
Patient Centered Medical Homes (PCMH) is a medical model being instituted in the military medical community that will impact how military families access and receive medical care. In this new model, every patient will be assigned a Primary Care Manager (a physician or other medical professional) who will ensure continuity of care and services 24/7. Other benefits include having a consistent relationship with one care provider as well as team-based medical care. Patients who use PCMHs have been found to have better outcomes than those who use a traditional medical model.
PCMHs will be used by 100% of all services by 2016, and patients will be encouraged to seek all care through their Primary Care Manager (called PCMs). Additionally, each service is now using PCMHs with different names: Family Health Operations (AF), Medical Home Port (Navy), and Army Medical Home (Army).
Couple dynamics can be a significant resource for individuals when positive and emotionally supportive. For example, in a study of civilian families under economic distress, a key buffering factor to feeling distress was spouses who were emotionally supportive to each other. In contrast, couples with similar external financial stressors who had relationships low in emotional support reported greater feelings of distress (Conger & Conger, 2002). Therefore, how the couple interacts with each other is an important factor that can either buffer or enhance feelings of distress.
Conger, R., & Conger, K. (2002). Resilience in midwestern families: Selected findings from the first decade of a prospective, longitudinal study. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64, 361-373.
Communicating well is extremely important for family well-being. Being able to speak clearly, listen well, show a range of emotional expression while being respectful and showing regard for family members’ are all aspects of good communication. You can help foster positive family communication by appreciating your loved ones verbally on a daily basis.
Walsh, F. (2006). Strengthening family resilience. NewYork, NY: Guilford.
Walsh, F. (2003). Family resilience: A framework for clinical practice. Family Process, 42(1),1-18.
Walsh, F. (2007). Traumatic loss and major disasters: Strengthening family and community resilience. Family Process, 46(2).