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A stepmother can significantly impact her stepchildren’s lives. Understanding her role in the family is an important first step.

It can be challenging to explain and understand a stepmother’s responsibilities when a new stepfamily is formed, but there are ways to support her “new” parenting role. Stepfamilies form when a child’s mother or father marries someone after his or her relationship with the child’s other parent has ended.

It’s important for stepmothers to build strong relationships with their stepchildren, but this sometimes can be tricky. A stepmother often has to strike a balance between bonding with her stepchildren while also respecting the limitations of not being a biological parent, especially when her stepchildren’s other parent remains active in their lives. Stepmothers sometimes can feel confused about what their roles should be, and this can lead to insecurity. Stepmoms also might feel they’re expected to do many household and childcare tasks even though they’re not considered parents. It can be hard for a stepmother to see her spouse’s involvement with the children—playing a role she’s unable to play—and continued contact with the children’s other parent too. And stepchildren can feel unsure about how their stepmother will fit into their lives.

Still, when stepfamilies live together at least half-time, stepmothers tend to be happier in their marriages and closer to their stepchildren. Successful stepmothers develop a parental mindset and work to define their roles in their new families. In addition, communication that focuses on strong listening skills and avoids criticism or contempt can help a stepmother and her spouse agree on her role and how they’ll support each other as parents and partners.

Adult-sibling relationships

Sibling relationships are bound to change over time, especially during adulthood. A supportive relationship with your brother or sister is good for your emotional health. Learn more.

Siblings provide companionship throughout your life if you maintain a connection, especially during your deployment. If you have a brother or sister, your relationship with your sibling(s) can be supportive and satisfying as you age.

Sibling connections are unique in that they often are your longest, enduring relationships. Sibling ties also are involuntary: You don’t get to choose your brothers or sisters. And as a child, whether or not you realized it, your siblings influenced how you socialized with others, your vocabulary, and how you managed conflict.

As you grow older, sibling relationships can change along with the life events you experience. Particularly between the ages of 18 and 25, when siblings often move away from home, the involuntary nature of the relationship shifts to one that might be worthwhile. Older siblings who move away might leave their younger siblings feeling a sense of loss in their absence, perhaps as they head off to boot camp or basic training. It’s normal for these close-knit connections to dip in early adulthood as you live on your own, start a career, and form new relationships.

Yet most sibling relationships stabilize into adulthood—and that’s good for your health! A supportive, affectionate relationship with your sibling can boost happiness and self-esteem and decrease loneliness. It can protect you from developing depression during stressful life events too.

No matter how far apart you live from your sisters or brothers, a strong sibling relationship is still possible. So, stay in touch with your siblings during your deployment and otherwise.

World Suicide Prevention Day

World Suicide Prevention Day is on September 10. Know what to say and how to help a suicidal family member, friend, or colleague.

Suicide is preventable if you know the warning signs, what to say, and who to contact for help. This is why this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day theme is “Connect, Communicate, Care.” Over 800,000 people die by suicide worldwide each year. Someone you know might be in crisis if he or she:

  • Directly expresses wanting to die.
  • Talks about feeling hopeless or trapped, having no reason to live, or being a burden to others.
  • Isolates himself or herself and withdraws from relationships.
  • Experiences sleep problems, mood and behavior swings, anxiety, frustration, or recklessness.

If you suspect someone is suicidal, take action by addressing your concerns directly, while also staying calm and empathetic. Try saying:

  • “I noticed you’ve mentioned a few times how hopeless you feel. Let’s talk more about that.”
  • “You don’t seem as happy or engaged as you used to be. And you spend most of your time alone in your room. This has me concerned.”
  • “Are you thinking of ending your life?”
  • “Do you have thoughts of hurting yourself?”
  • “I’m worried because I care so much about you and want you to know help is available. Let’s figure this out together.”

While someone’s pain might not always be obvious, knowing the signs and feeling confident you can find the words to address your concerns is essential. If you’re a parent worried about your child’s or teen’s suicidal thoughts or behaviors, know what to look for. And if your children were exposed to a family member’s suicide attempt, talk with them about it.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) website offers good information and helpful resources. Also, Military OneSource offers support and services to improve your friend, colleague, or loved one’s mental health and well-being. If you feel someone is experiencing a potentially life-threatening problem, contact the Military Crisis Line online or call 800-273-8255 and press “1,” or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline online or by phone at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Defense Centers of Excellence (DCoE) also has a 24/7 Outreach Center featuring a hotline, email, chat, and phone number. And visit HPRC’s Suicide Prevention page. In an emergency, please dial 911.

Set and attain team goals

Warfighters know it’s important that their units/groups stick together. Find out how cooperating with others and setting team goals help achieve team success.

Team goals matter—whether you’re serving your unit, making decisions as a family, or coaching sports. There are a lot of factors that can lead to your group’s success or failure too. Your group’s cohesiveness—or ability to remain united while pursuing your objectives—can make all the difference as your team works to achieve its goals.

Cohesiveness has other advantages too: Those who get along socially or work well together benefit from improved job satisfaction and overall well-being. Here are some tips to help build and maintain team/unit cohesion.

  • When you’re in charge, be sure to set clear, achievable goals for the whole group. And encourage teammates to set their own goals too.
  • Communicate clearly: Give clear expectations for roles, performance, and deadlines—and offer praise.
  • Minimize conflict and build trust by showing interest and concern for each other.
  • Value connections within the team as well as between units and organizations.
  • Focus on your group’s strengths, not just its problems and challenges.
  • Build resilience at individual and group levels.

Sometimes personal goals interfere with the group’s success, causing its performance to suffer. When individuals set goals that contribute to the group’s overall purpose, bigger successes follow. Make sure your personal goals fit into the “bigger picture” of your team’s success.

Setting team goals is even more important for leaders. Teammates often take cues from their leader, whether he or she is a commanding officer, parent, or coach. Effective leaders—especially those who focus on the group’s mission—help their groups define clear aims and set important personal goals as well.

Set your own goals to help your team succeed. And when you’re in charge, share your “big picture” goals with the group! 

Sex, sexuality, and intimacy resources

HPRC has a new section about sex, sexuality, and intimacy. Read up on articles, FAQs, and other resources to help maintain intimacy in your relationship.

Sex and other intimate behaviors are natural parts of life and important to maintaining a healthy relationship with your partner. Learn about the health benefits of sex and how to build intimacy—in and out of the bedroom—and much more in HPRC’s new Sex, Sexuality & Intimacy section. And find answers to frequently asked questions about common sexual problems, how to spice up your sex life, and other sex and intimacy issues affecting service members. You’ll find links to other helpful resources about sexual health and intimacy too.

Be sure to check out the Sex, Sexuality & Intimacy section. And if you have other questions or suggestions about content, contact us using our Ask the Expert feature.

Premarital education helps marriages last

What helps an “I do” last forever? Find out what couples can gain from a premarital education program.

Premarital education programs can help couples maintain the satisfaction they feel early on in their relationship—and thrive in the long run. In the bliss of an engagement, couples often don’t think about future challenges they might face.

Premarital counseling offers a neutral place where engaged couples and newlyweds can learn about communication, conflict resolution, commitment, and ways to manage expectations. Couples learn to convey the importance of their relationship and focus on what’s necessary to create a loving and lasting marriage. Programs are adapted into various formats: Couples can attend a group workshop or meet privately with a counselor or religious leader.

After completing the program, many couples are more open to resolving conflict. Premarital counseling tends to lower a married couple’s risk of divorce. Or it can help unmarried couples decide whether to move forward with their marriage plans.

Don’t rule out premarital education, even if it’s your second marriage. Most divorced people eventually remarry. However, second marriages are even more likely to end in divorce than first ones.

Explore various marriage education programs to find one that’s right for you. Make sure to check with your installation office too. Another option is to ask your chaplain or religious leader about enrolling in a faith-based program. Or search for a local marriage and family therapist who specializes in premarital counseling. 

What makes an effective apology?

You messed up and now you’re trying to “make it right.” Learn how to apologize.

Owning up to your mistakes is important to all relationships, especially close ones. Mistakes often violate trust. But you can apologize and restore that trust, helping others feel secure.

Admitting fault helps you too. Those who actively seek forgiveness tend to be more agreeable and open to forgiving others. And make sure to maintain eye contact when you start the conversation. This lets the other person know you’re fully engaged. The tone of your voice is important too. Be sincere.

Successful apologies contain 6 elements. Be ready to right the wrong and rebuild trust in your relationship. Read more...

Considering divorce?

Contemplating divorce can be stressful and confusing. We offer answers to some questions that might be on your mind.

Deciding to end your marriage isn’t easy. Yet divorce is a reality for many couples. There are many issues to consider because it can have a lasting effect on your family, home, health, and job—but especially your well-being.

  • Which couples divorce? There’s no “typical couple” destined to divorce. However, those who frequently argue and rarely spend positive time together are more likely to divorce. The same couples also risk violence and instability in their relationships. Frequent disagreements over money also are linked to higher divorce rates. Still, couples with fewer challenges divorce too.
  • Can therapy help? Counseling offers a neutral place to talk through your thoughts and feelings. Therapists offer an unbiased view with the intent of finding what’s best for the couple. Counselors also encourage them to consider the impact of their actions and help them explore different ways to think and behave. But counseling is only useful when you’re motivated and committed to work towards change. Don’t wait until things become too desperate before seeking help from a therapist or religious leader.
  • What else is there to consider? If you have children, you’re likely to be concerned about what might change for them and how you’ll help them cope. Give some thought to how you’ll maintain your financial security too. And start now to strengthen your social support—your relationships with friends and family—to help you through the process.
  • Why stay? You might choose to remain in the relationship if your spouse is making efforts to change. Still, it’s important to work together to create your optimal relationship. Some aren’t sure if their marriage will last. But they also want to see signs that reaffirm their love, which sometimes helps them decide to stay.

If your relationship is on rocky ground, consider reframing your thoughts about your spouse. And visit HPRC’s Conflict and Communication FAQs section.

“Bromances” and stress

What does the behavior of rats suggest about how “bromances” might help men under stress?

Close relationships provide social support that can help relieve stress. One type we don’t know much about is “bromances”—close friendships between two men—but how these help or hurt stress levels isn’t clear.

It’s hard to do scientific research on this topic with humans because it would involve intentionally stressing people out to see how they respond. Who would volunteer for that?! So instead, scientists who study human social behavior use rats, which have social behavior very similar to that of humans. To learn more about the impact of bromances on stress, they observed male rat “friendships” under stressful situations. Here’s what they found.

Under mildly stressful situations, male rats became more social and cooperative with other male rats, compared to when they weren’t stressed. The rats’ oxytocin levels increased. They touched and snuggled other male rats more. Under severely stressful situations though, the male rats’ behavior changed. They were no longer cooperative and became withdrawn, isolated, and aggressive.

Of course, people aren’t rats, and one research study is never a good foundation for reliable conclusions, often raising more questions than it answers. However, it can give us “food for thought.” One idea from this study is that bromances seem beneficial, depending on stress level. Your friendships with other guys might help keep mild stress at bay. So spending time with your fellow men just might help you feel calmer.

Yet in severely stressful situations, bromances didn’t serve the same purpose. The rats became disconnected and hostile. Could the same be true for male humans? We can’t say for sure, but men exposed to severely stressful situations that result in PTSD sometimes have similar reactions.

Looking for ways to beef up your own stress-management skills? Check out HPRC’s Stress Management Strategies section. Concerned about your friend’s or spouse’s reaction to stress? Our Post-Deployment section has some resources to help.  

The “I” in team

What strengthens teams? What breaks them down? Find out how your mood and drive to dominate impacts your team’s stability and performance.

Your team wins when you have a good attitude, manage your emotions, and care about your teammates. But your team can break down, especially when members let their talents or controlling ways interfere with reaching team goals.

What individual traits make a team stronger? Managing your emotions can make you a better teammate, unite your group, and help your team thrive. People who deal with their emotions well are often good “team players” because they tend to listen openly to other points of view. And they’re less likely to feel threatened when wrong.

With emotions in check, you’re more likely to be cooperative and open to resolving conflict, instead of avoiding it. Just one team member with a negative outlook can affect the whole team, while those with a “can do” attitude can improve atmosphere and team performance.

What individual traits break down a team? Teammates rely on each other for the team’s overall success, but those with too much talent can break down a team. Teams don’t function well when talent—from one or a select few—dominates the group.

That’s why cohesiveness is essential to solid teamwork. If individuals try to dominate, unity breaks down and can cause arguments over authority. Teams become weaker when members are more concerned with advancing themselves and undermining their teammates, interfering with reaching the common goal.

How do your traits impact your unit? How do they affect your family? Check out HPRC’s Mental Resilience and Family Resilience sections and learn how to become a more effective team member—at work and home. 

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