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Tips for couples during deployment

Two studies provide tips for surviving separation by communicating with your loved one during deployment.

Family separations in the military have the added stress of uncertainty. For that reason, couples may need to make additional effort in order to communicate well while separated. Two studies offer tips for how to handle communication during deployment.

One recent study examined communication between military husbands and their wives during deployment. Interviews with wives of deployed Warfighters revealed that couples can deal better with the stress of being separated by balancing talk of everyday things with more meaningful conversations. Couples generally seemed to benefit from keeping deployment communication similar to non-deployment communication in both planned and spontaneous discussions.

Another study examined communication during deployment, as well as PTSD after deployment, and found that the positive impact of emails, care packages, and letters depended on how happy participants were with their relationships. More emails, packages, or letters during deployment sent between happier couples was associated with lower PTSD symptoms post-deployment.

Both of these findings suggest that strong, happy relationships play an important role before, during, and after deployment. For more ideas and tips for optimizing your communication and/or relationships, visit HPRC’s Family & Relationships domain.

Assess your relationship

Self-assessment questions can help you keep your relationship on the right track.

It’s normal for relationships to go through ups and downs, and at times it can be difficult to know whether to work through things alone or seek help from a professional. The Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center's website has a list of questions to help you assess your relationship. Given your responses, they suggest whether you should see a counselor or doctor or try self-help strategies. Common issues that couples face include communication difficulties, power struggles, money conflicts, and differences in parenting styles. You'll find self-help tips in the following areas:

  • Communication. Learn how to communicate more effectively with “I”-statements, perspective taking, timing, omitting distractions, and sharing issues.
  • Jealousy. Learn how to handle jealousy, with tips such as focusing on the importance of the relationship, expressing your emotions, communicating, being supportive, and helping to solve problems together.
  • Sex. Talk to one another about your needs so you can work together on areas where your desires are compatible.
  • Money. More tips help you handle money matters such as budgeting, credit history, and credit card advice.

For additional information, you can also visit the Relationship Skills section of HPRC’s website.

Survival tips for couples during the holidays #4: Friendship

A marital friendship is an important part of long-term marital satisfaction.

In this final entry in our holiday season series, we remind you to foster a good friendship with your loved ones. Try these ideas:

  • Discuss each other's goals and dreams for the future.
  • Listen to the your partner talk about the daily things that interest him or her, and share what interests you.
  • Do things together that you both enjoy.

Friendship with your partner is an important part of long-term marital satisfaction.

Survival tips for couples during the holidays #3: Repair

When tensions arise between you and a loved one or friend, here are some tips to help you defuse and repair the situation.

When having a disagreement with your spouse or partner, defusing the situation helps calm things down and helps you and the other person reconnect and repair your relationship. You can defuse most situations by:

  • agreeing to disagree;
  • bringing humor into the conversation;
  • using gentle statements; or
  • being intimate.

Sometimes what works in one conflict doesn’t work in another. Be flexible and see what works—make the effort to use one or more of these techniques in every disagreement.

Survival tips for couples during the holidays #2: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

The “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” are characteristics that when present in communicating can destroy relationship satisfaction over time.

Last week we started a series on survival tips for couples during the holiday season and discussed how many positive interactions couples need to do to make up for one negative interaction. This week, we're focusing on the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”—a term coined by researchers for four features of communication that can destroy a relationship over time. Try to avoid these when communicating with your loved one:

  • Criticism: Don’t made global negative statements about each other.
  • Contempt: Don’t be sarcastic (in a mean way) or mocking towards your loved one.
  • Defensiveness: Don’t respond to defend your behavior without first listening.
  • Stonewalling: Don’t withdraw or ignore your loved one.

Too much of these characteristics has been linked to unhappy relationships over the long term. As stress and tensions rise throughout this holiday season, remember to be vigilant about avoiding these four kinds of behavior.

Survival tips for couples during the holidays #1: Positive versus negative

Learn how many positive behaviors you need to make up for one negative behavior in your relationship with your partner.

The holidays can sometimes be a difficult time for relationships. Through this holiday season, remember to compliment your loved ones and show them on a daily basis that you care for them. are thinking of them, and love them. Couples who do five positive actions for every negative one are more likely to have long, happy, successful marriages. Contrastingly, unhappy couples are more likely to have one positive interaction—or even less—for every negative interaction.

The effect of combat on communication

Combat is stressful. Here are some tips that can help you overcome the impact of combat on your relationships.

Being in combat is physically, emotionally, and mentally stressful. Part of the body's natural stress response is to remain on high alert in order to have a better chance of staying alive. This can lower your tolerance for relationship disagreements and can cause irritability and conflict. The following are some tips to help you overcome the effects of combat on your interactions with loved ones:

  • Practice emotion management strategies prior to and after communicating with your loved ones to help you calm down first.
  • If you are upset, wait to communicate with your loved ones rather than writing or saying something in the heat of the moment.
  • Describe your feelings and thoughts starting with "I.” I-statements are more personal and reduce feelings of blame.
  • Focus on the communication interaction between you and your partner, not just on the way that one or the other of you communicates.
  • Compliment each other!
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Be constructive and communicate

HPRC Fitness Arena:
In successful marriages, partners work out problems by talking to each other.

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.

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Family Matters: Couple dynamics: Good or bad?

HPRC Fitness Arena:

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.

Source:
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.

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Family Matters: Deployment communication

HPRC Fitness Arena:
Military families have created unique ways to maintain close communication through deployments and long duty times.

Military families have created unique ways to maintain close communication through deployments and long duty times. Merolla (2010) studied military spouse communication during deployment and found that while deployed, families deal with the stress of being separated well through balancing talk of everyday things (such as routines and everyday information) with deeper more meaningful conversations. Additionally, another key finding was that though there were individual differences – with creativity among couples an asset – couples seemed to benefit from keeping deployment communication similar to nondeployment communication in both planned and spontaneous discussions (Merolla, 2010).

Source:
Merolla, A. (2010). Relational maintenance during military deployment: Perspectives of wives of deployed US Soldiers. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 38(1), 4-26.

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