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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.

Noise pollution and hearing loss

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
Helicopter propellers, jet engines, explosions, moving vehicles, gunfire and more—all sources of noise pollution that troops may experience in the line of duty—can affect one’s health, especially hearing.

Being able to hear well is crucial for a Warfighter, not only for effective communication but also for survival. Noise-related hearing loss, including tinnitus, can be a tactical risk for individual and unit effectiveness. Blast injuries from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), RPGs, and mortar rounds are the largest cause of hearing loss for forces in Iraq. Unfortunately, it has become an "invisible" injury and an accepted outcome of military service. Compensation payments for hearing loss as the primary disability increased 319% between 2001 and 2006. While the military has done extensive research and established standards regarding noise and noise exposure, here are a few things you can do to help minimize the effects of this occupational hazard.

  • Wear hearing protectors when firing weapons or traveling in noisy vehicles or aircraft.
  • Make sure that earplugs such as combat arms earplugs (CAE) fit properly to protect your hearing and 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 heart rate and blood pressure, cause sleep difficulties, and lead other negative health consequences.
  • Report any signs of hearing loss as soon as possible.

While there is currently no cure for tinnitus, there are treatments available. 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.

The DoD Hearing Center of Excellence is committed to preventing, treating, and rehabilitating hearing loss and auditory injury for service members and veterans. The HCE offers evidence-based clinical care in collaboration with other organizations and Centers of Excellence to improve quality of life and raise awareness about noise pollution and occupational safety.

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.

Don’t just listen – show you are listening.

Some tips for "active" and "constructive" listening will improve your communication skills.

Being able to communicate effectively with those around us is a great way not only to enhance our relationships but also to ward off unnecessary stress. When having a conversation with a partner, friend, or coworker, most of us forget to communicate that we’re listening and that we understand what the other person is saying, which, can lead to arguments and/or misunderstandings. Show the other person that you’re genuinely interested in what they have to say— asking questions and showing supportive reactions will help the other person feel understood. The Kansas National Guard has a video that demonstrates four ways of responding, including one that is both active and constructive (the best way!).

How are you at handling criticism?

Maybe you can dish it out, but can you take it?

You’ve heard the expression about being able to dish it out, but not being able to take it. Is there some truth to that? Being on the receiving end of criticism can be difficult, especially in a close relationship, and can provoke anger. If you think that avoiding, denying, making excuses, or fighting back are the best ways to handle criticism, take note of how many times those tactics have made it worse instead. The next time you feel criticized, try this: Listen to what is being said, ask for details, agree with your critic’s right to his or her opinion, and use the criticism as a learning opportunity. If you need time to think about what they are saying or to calm down, saying “Let me think about it” might be a good way to get some space.

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