Filed under: Communication
Members of the military community know how hard it can be to be separated during deployments for months at a time, but even with miles between your loved ones, there are ways to communicate and connect. October 26th marks the Day of the Deployed, a day set aside to recognize the devotion and sacrifice of our military personnel who serve and their families who live outside our nation. The National Day of the Deployed pays tribute to those whose military service has sent them outside the United States to ensure its safety and security.
Lengths and frequency of deployments are always changing. Most service members have been deployed at least once and often for stretches of 3.5–12 months. One way service members can communicate with people back home is through letters. In fact, writing letters can help improve relationship satisfaction more than other forms of communication. It’s easier to ensure privacy with a letter than with email or phone. More importantly, letters provide the writer opportunities to reread their work and take the time to express what they really mean.
There is no best formula for what to write in your letter. Couples can agree on rules for communication by talking through and finding agreement on what works well for both partners, such as staying away from certain topics. It’s sometimes best to keep the focus positive, saving tense topics for later. Some may prefer to keep open communication to help maintain a sense of intimacy. Keep the guesswork out of what to write by talking about it, and then enjoy the connection you experience through letter writing.
It’s a good idea to have a choice of coping strategies to meet the specific needs of each situation you face—some “problem-focused” and some “emotion-focused.” During severe stress, you might find that your old ways of dealing with problems aren’t doing enough to help. For example, your preferred way of coping in the past might have been venting to a friend about something you couldn’t control. But now you may be overlooking direct actions you can take to fix the problem. Or perhaps you’ve always been an action-oriented problem-solver but now, even though it’s unfamiliar to talk with others about what’s bothering you, you might simply need someone to be a good listener. Take stock of your current coping strategies. We offer some suggestions here for how you can expand your arsenal. Consider which ones might be most useful for you personally in various situations.
Disagreements aren’t necessarily bad. Good relationships hinge on being able to communicate different viewpoints effectively, express yourself well, and really hear your partner. Here are some communication tips:
- Start gently. Being direct is good, but you don’t need to dive in so hard and fast that you trigger defensiveness.
- Own how you feel. You can be direct about how you feel without blaming anyone. And when you’re drawn into a fruitless argument over who’s to blame, it’s difficult to argue about how you feel. Consider saying, “I felt totally unimportant” rather than “You totally ignored me.”
- Really listen. Summarize what you heard without defensiveness. Really tune into how your partner feels and communicate that in your summary, even if you don’t agree with why he or she feels that way.
- Criticize behaviors, NOT character. It’s important to talk about specific actions that upset you. Rather than categorizing your partner as “the kind of person who…,” stay focused on a specific and recent behavior.
- Always be respectful. Resist destructive temptations such as insults or name-calling; staying respectful is crucial for long-term communication success.
- Hang in there. Problems often can’t be solved right away, but when talking together, persevere rather than escape: Don’t “zone out,” and don’t storm away.
Chances are that neither you nor your partner is a mean person. Nonetheless, because you’re human, your worst behaviors can come out during a difficult conversation. You might be aggressive, blame the other person, stop caring what the other person has to say, or you might work to avoid arguments altogether. But it doesn’t have to happen this way. Following the tips above will help you communicate constructively. For more on these kinds of strategies check out Basic Training for Couples Communication.
Noise-related hearing loss is a tactical risk for individual warriors and unit effectiveness. Being able to hear well is crucial for effective communication and—perhaps more important—for survival. While the military has done extensive research and established standards regarding noise and noise exposure, there are a few things you can do to help minimize your risk of this occupational hazard.
- Wear hearing protectors when firing weapons or traveling in noisy vehicles or aircraft.
- Make sure that earplugs such combat arms earplugs (CAE) fit properly to protect your hearing but still communicate effectively.
- Replace lost or damaged hearing protectors as soon as possible.
- Limit exposure to “annoying noise” during normal daily activities. Trying to ignore noise can increase your heart rate and blood pressure and cause sleep problems and other negative health effects.
- Report any signs of hearing loss as soon as possible.
Hearing loss, including tinnitus, has become an "invisible" injury and an accepted outcome of military service. Blast injuries from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), RPGs, and mortar rounds are the largest cause of hearing loss for forces in Iraq. Compensation payments for hearing loss as the primary disability increased 319% between 2001 and 2006. While there is currently no cure for tinnitus, there are treatments available.
The DoD Hearing Center of Excellence is committed to preventing, treating, and rehabilitating hearing loss and auditory injury for service members and veterans. HCE offers evidence-based clinical care in collaboration with other organizations and Centers of Excellence to improve quality of life for hearing-impaired service members and raise awareness about noise pollution and occupational safety.
Noise pollution may be an inevitable part of serving in the military, but it doesn’t have to leave you with a permanent reminder. Do what you can to help hold on to your hearing.
One of the best ways to express yourself is to be assertive. Assertive communication is 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 a too 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 to you, but the other person may not take it the way you want 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).
The best approach would sound something like this: “I’d really like to talk with you, but I know you’re busy. What can we do to stay more in touch?” This approach is basically a combination of “This is what I need” and “Can you join my team to figure out a solution?” It’s straightforward and mutually empowering, opening the door for real communication. Try it and see how it works for you. But once you’ve delivered your message, don’t forget to listen: Read HPRC’s Conflict and Communication FAQ#3.
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.