Filed under: Couples
Post-deployment life presents challenges on many fronts, including, or particularly, reestablishing relationships. The relationship between children and the returned parent often takes time to rebuild—possibly several months. This amount of time is normal, and an effort should be made to not take it personally. Rather, build positive family bonding through activities like going to the park or playing games, and allow time for the relationship to redevelop.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.