Filed under: Families
Recently, the White House announced new initiatives to support military families in four key areas: overall well-being, education and development of military children, career advancement opportunities for military spouses, and improved availability of quality childcare. Multiple agencies have partnered to support these efforts with the following goals:
- Focus on suicide trends to offer targeted preventive training and counseling to meet the mental health needs of military families;
- Offer child care resources;
- Combat homelessness;
- Expand communication across rural communities;
- Expand career opportunities for military spouses;
- Expand access to financial aid and needs of military students; and
- Expand facilities to help military families recover, integrate, and support their youth during and after deployment cycles.
When reuniting with your family, the “Soldier and Family Guide to Redeploying” offers tips for maintaining successful family relationships. A few of their suggestions:
- Take time to re-establish communication with each of your loved ones.
- Use romantic communication to help transition into love relations easier.
- Reinforce the good things your family has done.
- Move slowly in making adjustments.
- Discuss division of the family chores.
- Spend time alone with your spouse.
- Focus on successes and limit criticisms.
- Expect some changes in your child(ren).
- Spend relaxed time with your child.
The American Psychological Association offers communication tips for parents:
- Make yourself available to your children to talk, listen or do things together.
- Let your children know you are listening.
- Express your opinion in a way that your child can hear your message.
- Remember that children often learn how to deal with emotions, solve problems, and work through stressful situations from their parents.
If you have children from a previous relationship and are building a new one, consider discussing these issues to reduce conflict:
- Decide together where you should live and how you will manage your money.
- Close the door on your last relationship; resolve feelings and issues from your past relationship.
- Determine step parenting roles and responsibilities.
- Establish rules and boundaries for the blended family.
The American Psychological Association suggests that you make each other a priority by having regular dates and taking trips without the children.
In all relationships, conflict management is often a key ingredient for success. However, the old belief that the best relationships are those without conflict is being replaced with the new understanding that conflict is normal in intimate relationships. The happiest couples, come to find out, are those who manage conflict without being destructive to each other.
Interestingly, research of couples problems over time shows that 31 percent of the problems couples deal with are solvable, and 69 percent are perpetual problems - so being able to manage differences over time is key to marital happiness!
Dr. John Gottman, having studied couples for over 20 years, found that there are key ingredients for relationship happiness:
- Having a strong friendship with your spouse.
- Being able to manage conflict in the relationship (and knowing which problems are solvable).
- Avoiding destructive behavior like criticism, contempt, defensiveness or ignoring your spouse.
- Building dreams and shared meaning with each other.
For military couples in particular, the ability to problem-solve and manage conflict is key to relationship happiness. Fortunately, problem-solving and conflict management are essential ingredients for Warfighter success. Through pre-deployment training, deployment, and reset, Warfighters within each branch learn key strategies for how to manage their emotions, identify problems, develop friendships, share memories together and map strategies for optimal outcomes - all of which are skills that can help foster great family relationships.
However, while deployed, each partner can change in ways that their spouse might not be aware of (both in theater and at home). That’s why making the effort to get to know each other again (even if you've been together for 50 years) is an important part of relationship happiness over time.
Take some time to ask your partner questions like:
- What attracted you to me when we first met?
- Who are your best friends at this point?
- What would you like to see happen for us in the next five years?
- What about yourself are you most proud of?
Questions like these can help foster friendship and positive feelings between you, and keep building dreams for a happy relationship and future together.
Source: These strategies were discussed at the recent American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists conference in September. Specific ideas from Dr. John Gottman's keynote speech, as well as Dr. Robert O'Brien's workshop on "Research-based Conflict Management After Combat Trauma," were used.
The American Psychological Association offers strategies to make blended families work:
- Have your own identity separate from your spouse and children.
- Maintain some autonomy in relationships while building togetherness through intimacy and identity.
- Maintain time for a rich sexual relationship that is safe from work and family intrusions.
- Be flexible in dealing with issues - life is unpredictable.
- Use humor to keep perspective.
- Remember how you felt falling in love and keep those images and feelings alive.
See the American Psychological Association site for more information.
Eating with your family around the table is an effective way to bond, communicate, and even eat healthier! So, turn off the television and put all cell phones away during dinner time to improve family dynamics and health.
Hooah 4 Health describes the "7 Emotional Cycles of Deployment" for couples - that both the deployed partner and one at home experience. At first, there is anticipation of departure, then detachment and withdrawal. This can lead to feelings of emotional disorganization. Over time, each partner copes with the deployment so that recovery and stabilization occur. Then, anticipation of the partner's return can start the countdown to deployment’s end. Once back home, partners adjust and renegotiate their roles and can be completely reintegrated and stabilized within a few months. These stages are discussed in detail at the Hooah4Health website.
Living in high-stress environments while deployed often affects life when Warfighters return home. Families become an important source of reintegration support. However, finding the balance between taking care of others and taking care of yourself is important. The Real Warriors program suggests that time should be set aside for each individual to reset – which could include hanging out with friends and family outside the home, relaxing with a book, through an activity like yoga, or helping out in the community.
Research from the Harvard School of Public Health showed many years ago that individuals who exercise regularly die less from all causes. Although vigorous exercise, like running, produces greater gains, all that’s needed for good health is regular exercise. Regular physical activity has a positive effect on all of your body systems – it improves your mood and decreases anxiety, improves cognitive function, makes you stronger, and reduces your risk for many diseases like stroke, cardiovascular disease, many types of cancer, and adult onset diabetes. Even so, public health data from the Centers for Disease Control still shows that obesity and physical inactivity among adults in our country is high.
We at the Human Performance Resource Center are not only concerned with the total fitness of our Warfighters, but of all Americans. And like in many offices across the country, we work at desks, and fitness is something we have to carve out time for. But still, we do, as one of our staff members reports.
A few weeks ago, I went running with my super-tough Airborne Army son, a jumpmaster and SSG who’s been deployed many months over the last four years. When we last ran several years ago prior to his initial boot camp experience, I could outdistance him. Fortunately, that didn’t last long – six years and many runs later, this is no longer the case. The stories abound, and are hilarious. Like when he returned from his first 15-month deployment to Iraq: I had been running a lot and wanted to impress him with what good shape I was in. We hadn’t even made it out of my neighborhood, or hit the hills yet, and I was sucking wind. At that point he looked over and said, “Hey, Ma…we walkin’ or runnin’ today?” Fast forward to our five-mile run a few weeks ago in the midday July heat. I straggled back, having taken only a couple of one-minute walk breaks to catch my breath. Of course, he beat me back, and his greeting was, “Ma, you can do better than that!” But I know that underneath the teasing, he’s proud that his 50-year old mother is out that running with him, eating his dust. My response is, “Why aren’t there more mothers, sisters, brothers, fathers, sons, and daughters out here running with their Warfighter?”
So I challenge you: if we expect our Warfighters to be in optimal condition because their role, protecting our country, demands it – don’t we also have a responsibility to ourselves, our loved ones, and our country, to improve our health and reduce our healthcare costs? It doesn’t matter what you do to stay fit, only that you do something. Walk the dog, play outside with the kids, join an adult sports league, or go for a run – the possibilities are endless.