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Communicate better by listening better

Amp up your communication skills. Improve the other half of the conversation with “active listening.”

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.

Tips for staying in touch during deployment

Deploying soon? Think about a game plan for communicating with your loved one. HPRC offers some tips.

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.

Keeping family relationships strong

Maintaining strong family relationships can require some new skills or perspectives over time. Learn some relationship skills that are relevant for many families, but especially for the military lifestyle.

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.

Test your relationship’s “thinking traps”

Are you drawing false conclusions in your relationship? Learn how to question yourself to find out.

How we interpret events or interactions has a big impact on how we react to them. We all fall victim to “thinking traps” from time to time, and HPRC’s recent article identifies common traps and suggests strategies for dealing with them. Your personal relationships are particularly prone to thinking traps that can lead you to draw false conclusions. For example, let’s say you’ve been married for some time now and recently find yourself thinking your partner doesn’t love you any more because she/he no longer says so.

One way to address this kind of thinking trap is to ask yourself—or have a friend ask you—questions that make you think about the reasoning or evidence behind what you’re thinking. Some examples are:

  • What specifically makes you think that he/she doesn’t love you any more?
  • What did he/she do in the past that made you feel loved?
  • Are there any other possible explanations that might explain your partner’s behavior, such as job stress, an ailing parent, children acting out, or recent return from deployment?
  • When you think back to the beginning of your relationship, how could you tell he/she loved you? Was it something (s)he said? Or what (s)he did?
  • Has your behavior toward him/her changed recently?

Such questions can get you to start thinking logically by taking a close look at what’s behind what you’re thinking—the real evidence and surroundings of the situation. Sometimes it can help you gain perspective to write down the answers to these questions. Once you’ve gone through this self-questioning process, it’s possible you’ll find a different interpretation of your partner’s behavior. Maybe you were just caught up in a thinking trap.

For more ideas on strengthening your relationship, check out HPRC’s Relationship Enhancement section. And for specific strategies on changing your relationship dynamic, check out HPRC’s Performance Strategy on Couples Communication.

Having the same conversation over and over?

Going over the same things again and again in your relationship—with no new results? Learn how to break that cycle.

Do you ever feel that you and your partner talk about the same issues over and over again? You’re not alone: Only 30% or so of the problems couples struggle with can actually be solved, leading to discussions that keep coming up about the other 70%. Solving the issues that can be solved is great, but learning how to interact in a positive manner about the “perpetual problems” is a good skill in any relationship.

One way to do this is to go through a structured problem-solving strategy such as this:

  1. Specifically state the issue.
  2. Briefly state why the issue is important.
  3. Brainstorm and discuss possible solutions to the issue.
  4. Have everyone involved agree on a realistic “solution”—even if it’s just a game plan for how each person is going to respond about the topic.
  5. Pick a specific amount of time to try the solution.
  6. Then give the solution a try.

Remember, the “solution” doesn’t have to mean a resolution to the problem; it can just be about new ways to approach the issue. For example, if you fight over one of you being late frequently, discuss ahead of time how you each would like the other person to respond. Maybe the latecomer needs to call or text if running late, or the punctual person calls ahead to find out if the other will be on time. And maybe you need to set a window of time rather than something exact.

For more tips on communication between two people, check out “Basic Training for Couples—Communication” and more in HPRC’s Relationship Enhancement section.

In the middle of a fight, change your focus

If fights with your loved ones last longer than the argument itself, then check out this strategy for refocusing your mind and calming your body.

When you find yourself in an argument with a loved one, it’s important to be able to move on afterwards without being burdened by negative feelings. But sometimes the negativity can hang on after the argument itself is over, and can make interacting with the other person difficult. It’s important to work out those negative feelings so that they don’t fester and wreak more havoc in your relationships.

Here’s how: When you find yourself in the middle of an argument, take a time-out before you become too worked up. It’s easier to shake off negativity at this stage. Stay levelheaded enough to stop the argument, walk away, focus on something else, and make yourself focus on positive thoughts about yourself, something else, or your loved one. While you are doing this, also engage in some stress-management techniques such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation; you can learn about them in the Mind-Body Skills section of HPRC’s website. By refocusing your thoughts and letting go of stress in your body, you’re more likely to feel calmer, slow your heart rate, and be less reactive to the other person. Once you’re calmer, you’ll probably find it easier to interact more positively with the other person and do or say things that can enhance your relationship.

For more ideas on strengthening your relationships, check out HPRC’s Relationship Enhancement section or this article on “Basic Training for Couples Communication.” And for more information on handling stress, check out HPRC’s Stress Management section.

Do you like your significant other?

Liking the person you love makes a solid foundation for a secure and supportive relationship that will last.

We all know that falling in love with your significant other is a key feature of a romantic relationship—but did you know liking goes hand in hand with loving? The results of numerous studies found that those who both love and like their significant other are more likely to be happier and have more stable long-term relationships. Without both, couples are more likely to be dissatisfied or dissolve the relationship. Couples who both like and love each other are also more likely to assure each other of their feelings, be open with each other, and share tasks together—all behaviors that maintain happy relationships. Liking as well as loving your partner is the most fundamental characteristic of a good relationship.

For more information on how to enhance your relationship, check out HPRC’s Family and Relationships domain.

ACE being a good wingman!

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Be a good wingman and deploy ACE for someone in need!

Caring enough to really listen when someone needs it—also known as being someone’s “wingman”—can make a big difference in a Warfighter’s life. Being a wingman means showing care and concern for a buddy consistently—if you’re separated, for example, it means staying in touch and checking in regularly to make sure you’re both okay. When a buddy is thinking of hurting himself or herself, a great wingman skill to use is ACE—the acronym for “Ask, Care, Escort.”

Ask. If you are concerned, ask directly, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?”

Care. Next, as wingman, care for your buddy by staying with him or her, actively listening, staying calm, and removing anything he or she could use to hurt him/herself.

Escort. Finally, take your buddy to someone who is trained to help, such as a primary care provider, chaplain, or health professional, and call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or 911 for additional support.

To learn more about ACE, check out the Wingman Project website. For more information about suicide prevention, check out this Mind Tactics section on the HPRC.

Reward your loved one!

These two simple acts will last longer than flowers or a box of chocolates—give them a try.

Reward your loved one this Valentine’s Day. In studies that looked at relationship satisfaction, it’s clear that we’re happiest when we feel rewarded. Think back to when you were a kid and when you did something good – did you get a reward? Studies with more than 12,000 people revealed something you probably already know: As adults, we feel rewarded when we have positive interactions with our significant others and when we hear from them that they value being in a relationship with us. So this year, in addition to the usual flowers or chocolates or whatever you do for each other, try two simple acts: Do or say something loving to your partner, and in your own words tell them you’re happy to be in a relationship with them.

For more information on enhancing your relationship check out HPRC’s Family & Relationships domain.

Are you friends with your significant other?

Couples who are also friends with one another are usually happier and healthier, making friendship with your significant other an important part of a Warfighter’s fitness.

Love may be the most important part of choosing a partner—but do you also think about friendship? Couples who both love AND cultivate a friendship with each other have happier and more stable relationships over the long run—and people in happier relationships tend to be healthier. That makes friendship with your significant other one more factor in a Warfighter’s total fitness package.

If you’re wondering how to cultivate a friendship with your partner, try starting up a conversation around topics like these that will bring you closer:

  • What is it about yourself that you’re most proud of?
  • What would you like to see happen for us in the next five years?
  • Who are your best friends at this point in your life?
  • What attracted you to me when we first met?

In other words, you can build a friendship together by talking about your experiences, wants, and dreams. For more tips on building or maintaining a strong relationship, check out HPRC's Answer on how to optimize your relationships.

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