Filed under: Communication
To have a healthy, long-term romantic relationship, you might find that you need to cool it with old patterns. Use these ICED tips to make sure your relationship holds up over time.
Identity: It’s easy to lose yourself in relationships. You may feel subtle (or not-so-subtle) pressure to be more like the other person and enjoy the same activities or share the same goals. But if you give in to these pressures, you can lose track of your own identity. While it’s good to adapt some over time, you also want to keep a clear sense of your own identity. Solid relationships consist of two people with solid identities.
Calm: It can feel difficult to remain calm when fear of losing your partner pops up. While it's normal to experience some concern, the key to a relationship without harmful pressure is learning to calm yourself. If you look to your partner instead to make you feel better, perhaps acting a bit “clingy,” your efforts could backfire. The pressure that your partner feels can lead him or her to feel withdrawn rather than closer. If your partner’s presence feels like a “bonus” instead of a “need,” you’re on the right track.
Engage: When you see your partner upset, slow down and engage with him or her in a way that empowers both of you. Engage with empathy andboundaries. For example, “I know you feel anxious about me going out with the boys. I feel a bit guilty, and I think I need to deal with that guilt, but do you think you can cope with your own feelings too? It’s important for me to keep these other friendships."
Deal: Whether you or your partner (or both) feel uncomfortable, it’s best to cope with how you feel rather than looking for quick fixes. Dealing with discomfort is key to growing individually and together. And it’s crucial to hang on to your own identity, learn how to self-calm, and engage with your partner in a way that makes sense.
Anger can be helpful in combat situations, and it can help individuals engage in quick, decisive action. It also can help keep emotions such as guilt and sadness at bay so you can accomplish things you need to do. Anger has its place. In relationships, anger is bound to make its way into interactions sometimes. When regulated, it can help you solve problems or motivate you to talk about important things, including hurt feelings. When unregulated, however, it can damage your relationship and increase your unhappiness with your loved one. Increased levels of anger can even increase your risk for physical health problems, especially coronary heart disease. It isn’t possible to avoid anger completley, but you can learn how to manage it well. Read more in HPRC’s “Performance Strategies: Five Steps to Managing Anger.”
There are three core relationship skills that can help strengthen all relationships. HPRC has created downloadable cards about each of them.
First, brush up on your communication skills with your loved ones using our card on effective communication.
Second, you should be able to make decisions and solve problems well. Use the step-by-step process on our card on making decisions to guide you from problems to solutions.
Finally, avoid doing four specific behaviors that can tank even the best of relationships. Check out “How not to destroy yours” and apply the tips today.
You often hear it said you should just walk away from a fight. But when it comes to your personal relationships, it’s better to learn the communication skills you need to work through your differences, with both of you coming out as the victor. Happy couples fall into three types depending on the way they handle conflicts: validators, volatiles, and avoiders.
Validators are couples who are great at communicating their feelings and opinions and talking through their problems. There is often a lot of mutual respect and compromise for these couples.
Volatile couples tend to be explosive and heated when dealing with conflict, expressing both negative and positive emotions passionately. The key to success in such relationships is that the positive has to greatly outweigh (by five times) the negative in these exchanges.
Avoiders are couples who play down their problems and avoid disagreements. They focus on the positive aspects of their relationship and can ignore any negative parts or agree to disagree.
One style isn’t better than the other, but your conflict style needs to work for both of you. This is easiest when each person’s individual conflict style matches the other’s. But sometimes they don’t. Watch for our upcoming article about what do when this happens.
Whether you know it or not, you’ve probably engaged in “triangulation,” and not just as a kid when you ran to Mom because Dad just said “no” (or vice versa). Similar triangles can also happen with leadership or any work group, committee, or organization (including military) where two people talk about a third.
On the surface, triangulation can look pretty harmless. You vent out of frustration because someone is not acting the way you’d like. Depending on where you are in the triangle, you either receive sympathy or provide it, possibly exerting any power you have to fix the situation. These triangles tend to consist of a “victim,” a “villain,” and a “rescuer.”
Because people are often uncomfortable with conflict, they figure out ways to maintain the status quo, even if it’s a bad one, instead of addressing what the core issue is. Triangulation is one way to avoid facing things, and it can feel like a fix, but it’s temporary at best. The rescuer provides a sympathetic ear so that the victim doesn’t feel a need to take action, or tries to take charge of the situation, but inevitably, the same problems pop up between the original two people.
Next time you feel like a victim and consider going to another person with your conflict, first be clear about your goals. Do you want to be rescued, or do you want to be coached? Before reaching out, ask yourself if you can possibly self-coach your way through whatever is popping up. Prepare yourself for whatever criticism might come your way if the “villain’s” defenses get triggered. And “preparing” does not mean bracing yourself or getting ammunition ready to fire back at that person. It means getting ready to really listen and validate how the other person feels, even if you don’t agree with the content of what that person says. If that person feels listened to, he/she will become more receptive to your position.
When a triangle does occur, the best scenario for the third person (the potential rescuer) is to be a good coach. Coaches don’t play the game for their players; they help them become more self-sufficient. Similarly, good leaders ask challenging questions of the people under their command, helping them to think through situations and become better equipped to face conflict directly. If you’re the potential rescuer, resist your own impulses to fix things and instead work on enabling the victim to fix the situation directly. Know that if you dive into this triangle, any other solution is probably temporary at best.
These strategies may seem simple, but they take practice. Try letting go of triangles and use some of the same kinds of communication strategies that work for couples.
Reconnecting with your family when you return from deployment presents unique challenges, especially with young children. Depending on how long you were deployed—a few months to a year or more—a lot could have happened in your child’s life while you were away. If you’re finding it hard to reconnect with your child, you’re not alone. Military Parenting’s website has tip sheets that describe typical behaviors for different stages: infant, toddler, preschooler, school-aged, and teen. Just knowing what’s typical for you child’s age can help you reestablish your relationship.
Reconnection can occur in small, everyday moments when you respond to your children’s needs and provide them with support and nurturing, such as holding them when they cry, playing games or sports together, being silly and laughing, taking a walk together, or eating dinner together and talking about your day.
For more tips on reconnecting, check out “Reestablishing Your Parental Role,” also from Military Parenting, a website devoted to parenting resources for Warfighters. For more tips on returning home, check out “Building Family Resilience...During and Following Deployment.”
Listening is half of communication. The other half is what you say and how you say it. The best way to express yourself is to be assertive. Assertive communication feels neither aggressive nor passive. It’s a balance between issuing a directive and being overly cooperative.
Communication between siblings can provide some good examples. Here’s the super directive approach: “You need to call me too. Don’t make me do all the work to keep up our relationship.” That may make sense, but the other person may not take it in because it triggers defensiveness. And here’s the overly cooperative approach: When your sibling says, “I hope you don’t mind that I never call,” you reply, “No, it’s okay, whatever you want is fine” (even if it isn’t). An assertive approach would be: “I’d really like to talk with you on the phone more, and I know you’re busy. What can we do to stay in better contact?”
The approach is basically a combination of “This is what I need” and “Can you join my team in figuring out a solution?” It’s straightforward and mutually empowering, opening the door for real communication. And for the other half of the communication equation, read last week’s article about how to be a good listener.
If you find yourself at odds with those around you more than you’d like, think about bolstering your communication skills. Communication is a key skill in all relationships, and half of this skill is knowing how to listen. “Active listening” lets your loved one, friends, and associates know that you heard them and understand their perspective. Active listening happens when the listener—you—takes part in the conversation, not just listens. Here’s how you do it:
- Repeat back to the other person the gist of what he or she just said.
- Reflect the other person’s feelings; that is, recognize out loud that you understand how he or she feels
- If you need clarification, ask for it in a gentle way.
- Show interest and curiosity in what the other person is saying.
To see what this might look like, watch this video from the Kansas National Guard about active and constructive communication. FOCUS has a handout on “Effective Communication Skills” that further describes this skill.
Deployment can be a challenge for couples, but it can also be a time of potential growth for a relationship. Questions invariably arise such as, “How much should I share with my partner? How often can we talk?” Some couples easily develop a dynamic that works for them; for others, the feeling of closeness is hard to hold on to when one partner is far away. Whether it’s your first deployment or you’re a seasoned veteran, here are some tips you can add to your deployment arsenal:
- Balance talk of "everyday" things with more-intimate conversations about deeper feelings and meaning.
- When there’s a lull in communication, whether it’s a day or a few weeks (due to mission requirements), think about creative ways to stay feeling connected such as journaling, burning video-diary messages on a DVD, or writing cards or letters.
- Communicate marriage-related emotions that come up during deployment; don’t put them off for later.
- If you’ve been through deployments before, think and talk about what worked for each of you and what you would like to do next time. Sometimes couples want the same things, but more often each person has different or even opposing wants. When this happens, it’s a good time to practice problem solving to find compromises that address each person’s desires as much as possible.
- Take good care of yourself and use your favorite stress-management techniques. Stress can increase the likelihood of getting into fights with your loved ones!
- Finally, don’t forget to weave appreciation for your partner into your conversations; read "Thankful for you?" to learn why appreciation is important for couples.
But most important: Figure out what works best for you. For more ideas on strengthening relationships check out HPRC’s Relationship Enhancement section.
More than likely you’ve learned some great and helpful relationship skills through the years to keep your relationships strong. It can often be helpful to add some more to your tool belt to keep things going well (or to get them back on track). Check out HPRC’s “Keeping Strong Family Relationships for Military Life” for some strategies.