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Couples communication 101

It’s easy to get off track in communicating with your partner. To stay on course, be aware of these common pitfalls and actively work on communicating well.

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.



Trust and be trusted

Trust is core to good relationships. It often doesn’t happen instantly, but here are some strategies to help you start to believe in others whom you want to trust.

Trust is an important part of relationships. It allows you to feel secure, depend on others, and take important risks with co-workers, family, and other important people. Whether as a team member or a partner, trust positively impacts commitment. Trust also tends to happen in two directions: You trust others and they trust you. You can’t force trust, but there are some concrete steps you can take to foster trust—to help you feel more trusting of others and to help others trust you more. It’s especially helpful to focus on what’s in your control, that is, on what you can do. Read more here

Tips for caregivers

Caregivers play an essential role in the recovery of an injured, ill, or wounded service member. The emotional, physical, and psychological health of the caregiver is also important in this process.

When a wounded, ill or injured service member returns home, his or her life has significantly changed, and so have the lives of the caregivers and family. DoD recognizes the importance of the caregiver and family in the recovery process. However, caregiving can be stressful, and you run the risk of burnout when you focus solely on others without time to recharge. So it’s important to take time for yourself too. Read on to learn HPRC’s top tips for caregivers and families.

Stress can zap your relationships

Stress can make you impatient, disagreeable, and less able to solve problems. Learn some tips for how to reduce its effects on your relationships.

When stress threatens to overload you, be careful it doesn’t spill over into your relationships. Stress can make you less patient with your loved ones, less able to solve problems well, and more disagreeable.

When you’re under a lot of stress, you’re also more likely to feel negative about your relationships. This generally leads to more fighting, which can be especially tough for military families if one of you deploys or leaves for training before you’re able to rebalance your relationship and de-stress. While you’re apart, negative feelings can fester and further damage your relationship.

But just knowing about how stress can impact your relationships is the first step. Next time you feel stressed out, don’t let it fester. Instead, do something about it. To ease your stress, you can try:

  • Deep breathing or another mind-body skill that can switch you from your body’s stress response to its relaxation response.
  • Exercise, which can make you feel better and lower your stress.
  • Something just for fun, which can take your mind off your stress.
  • Connecting with a loved one. Feeling loved and supported can also reduce stress.

Finally, if you’re apart from your loved one, set aside time regularly to connect to him or her, regardless of the last fight you had. Try to give each other benefit of the doubt and move past the argument. You can always finish discussing it when he or she returns. 

Dealing with frequent separations

Separations are a way of life for many military families. Learn some tips for how to navigate them better.

Deployment and other military-related separations can be tough on families, but many families can (and do) learn how to adapt to them. The regular rounds of separations that come with military life require constant adaptation. Naturally, when a partner is away from the family for a certain period of time (such as during deployment or training), those at home have to shift their roles and responsibilities to cover for the person who’s away, especially with regard to childcare. When the service member returns home, then the family must shift roles again. These “accordion families” continuously contract and expand as members of the family are physically present or absent. Some families handle this smoothly, but others find it to be one additional hurdle to overcome again and again.

There are two important things you can do to help manage these repeat transitions:

  • Work on everyone in the family communicating well.
  • Try to stay as emotionally connected as you can while apart.

Of course, these tips are easier said than done. Think about how you usually handle separations: Do you emotionally distance yourself from your partner? Do you become more “needy”? How does your partner respond? Do you both do the same things, or do you have opposing emotional needs when apart? If you have children, how do your children respond?

If you have different emotional needs, this can create instant conflict and feelings of distance. One way around this is to talk about what you each need, figure out where there’s common ground, and make a game plan that can fulfill each person’s needs as much as possible while at home and when apart.

You can use the strategy on HPRC's card on communication skills to help better navigate these kinds of conversations. Plus, remember to not fall prey to these common thinking traps that create misunderstandings in relationships. 

Be assertive

Assertive communication is often the best way to communicate. Aim for a mix of “directive” and “cooperative.”

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.

Trapped by your thoughts?

The way we think often impacts what we do. This is particularly true in relationships.

How we interpret experiences has a big impact on how we react to them. Your personal relationships are especially 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. But recently you find yourself thinking your partner doesn’t love you any more because she or 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:

  • What specifically makes you think your spouse doesn’t love you any more?
  • What did he or 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 or she loved you? Was it something said? Or done?
  • Has your behavior toward your spouse changed recently?

Questions such as these can help you gain perspective. Once you’ve gone through this self-questioning process, it’s possible you’ll interpret your partner’s behavior in a different way. Maybe you were just caught up in a thinking trap.

Are you dependable?

Filed under: Relationships, Trust
Being dependable is key for teamwork and group performance. Learn how to be someone others can depend on.

One key ingredient of trust is dependability—being able to depend on those around you. And trust is essential in all your close relationships, whether with your commanding officer, your spouse, or your coworker. You can strengthen your own dependability through the following:

  • Be there for others consistently. This can be as simple as returning calls or emails in a timely manner. Or it can be, for example, having your buddy’s back in a training exercise, “saving” his life.
  • Always act out of concern for another. For example, if a coworker is being badmouthed would you speak up to clear his or her name?
  • Share common interests or missions. If someone feels that you have similar goals and values, he or she is more likely to rely on you. For example, are you more likely to accept your supervisor’s influence if you know he or she values the same mission you do? The same goes at home: If your spouse feels that you both put the needs of your family over your individual interests, he or she is more likely to listen to you and trust you.

When you build trust by being dependable, you may find that those around you become more trustworthy and dependable too.” 

FAQs about relationships

Have questions about relationships? Visit the new FAQs section in HPRC’s Family & Relationships domain to find answers.

Visit the newest section of HPRC’s website—“Frequently Asked Questions About Relationships.” It includes strategies for communicating and managing conflict, building and maintaining strong relationships, and fostering parent-child relationships.

Here are some kinds of questions you can find answers to:

  • Is there such a thing as a healthy argument?
  • How can I be a better listener?
  • Why do I get so angry that I can’t think clearly?
  • Can I win more arguments than I lose and still have a good relationship?
  • How can I change my attitude and focus less on the negative?
  • How can I help my children get through challenging situations?

You can use these strategies in all your relationships—friends, coworkers, bosses, leaders, etc.—not just your intimate and family relationships.

You can find more questions and answers in “Frequently Asked Questions About Relationships.”

For better relationships, cool it!

Want a healthy romantic relationship? Warm it up with ICED...

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.

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