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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 its 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 The pressure that your partner feels can lead him or her to feel withdrawn rather than closer.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 and boundaries. For example, “I know you feel anxious about me going out with the boys. You make me feel a bit guilty, and I think I need to deal with that guilt, but you should cope with your 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.

Do you believe in love?

Ever wonder whether you can sustain romantic love in your relationship over the long term? Research suggests you can.

Relationships are important to total fitness—especially intimate relationships. Think back to the beginning of your relationship—was it filled with lots of passion and intensity? Does it still have those aspects?

There’s been a lot written about the different types of romantic love, and how they change over time. One theory describes two main types of love: passionate and companionate. Passionate love involves an intense feeling of longing for one another. Companionate love happens when you feel affection, tenderness, intimacy, and commitment to your partner. Couples with companionate love often also feel a deep mutual friendship, an ease of companionship and a sharing of common interests. Companionate love does not have to include being attracted to each other or sexual desire.

It’s generally thought that couples begin in passionate love and later morph into companionate love. However, research suggests that romantic love that has intensity, interest, and passion can grow and flourish in relationships over the long run. As with diet and physical fitness, moderation is key. Focus (but don’t fixate) on your partner and foster affection, intimacy (both physical and emotional), and a deep bond. It is possible to be with your partner for a long time—and still experience passion and emotional intimacy with him or her! So set the bar high and strive for it. It is not a myth!

Messed up? Own it.

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Mind, Relationships
Facing your mistakes can improve your interpersonal relationships and enhance performance. Learn more.

You probably realize that learning from your mistakes can enhance your performance. But do you know it can also enhance your relationships? Acknowledging mistakes can be easier said than done. Before you can learn from your mistakes, you have to admit to them.

Admitting mistakes can be powerful. When you own up to your mistakes in relationships with other people, it makes it easier for the other person to really forgive you, allowing both of you to move forward. Whether in your interactions with others or in learning skills such as SOPs for handling a weapon, fully acknowledging your mistakes enables you to learn from them.

But sometimes you may have difficulty admitting that you screwed up. If you’re a perfectionist, for example, your identity can get wrapped up in being the person who always does things right. Admitting you screwed up can open the door to intense feelings such as shame and doubt. However, hiding from those feelings won’t work; they’ll eat at you in some way. Instead of hiding from them, try facing them.

Here are some tips for owning up to your mistakes and moving forward:

  • Face shame and doubt by simply being mindful of those feelings, letting them come and go.
  • Recognize when you’re falling into a thinking trap such as “I must be perfect,” and experiment with more helpful thoughts such as “I strive for excellence.”
  • Forgive yourself and others when mistakes happen, trusting that people really do learn from their mistakes.

Mistakes happen. Give yourself (and others) permission to label mistakes as changeable behaviors rather than reflections of who you are.

Enjoying the ordinary this holiday season

“Count your blessings” isn’t just a saying—it’s a good way to reduce stress and take your mind off the negatives in life. Take a look around for the things in your everyday life that you can be thankful for and take a moment to appreciate them.

Many of us have the habit of focusing on the negatives in life and expecting the worst outcome. This tendency can be compounded by military training that teaches you how to assess risks and plan for the worst outcome. If you tend to focus on the negatives in life, you’re shortchanging yourself. Try to appreciate the little things in your day that you may take for granted. Focus on appreciation and gratitude. Try breaking your habit of focusing on the negative for just one day; instead spend it acknowledging and appreciating the ordinary good things in your life.

  • When you wake up in the morning, stop and take a moment to say good morning to your day.
  • If you are in a relationship, take a few minutes to really look at and appreciate your significant other.
  • If you are deployed with your unit, pause to think about how your buddies support and help one another to get through a rough day.
  • Before you eat lunch, reflect for a moment and think about something that keeps you going everyday—maybe it’s as simple as the first cup of coffee in the morning, an easy commute, or your buddy’s positive attitude. Take a moment to be grateful for that.
  • At dinner, spend a moment thinking about your loved ones. Have you told them lately something you appreciate about them?
  • Finally, before you go to sleep, acknowledge something about yourself you’re proud of.

Start again tomorrow, reflecting back to today—did acknowledging the magic of the “everyday” help you have a better day?

For more information on mental strategies, visit HPRC’s Mind Tactics domain.

Build a better team

Group “cohesiveness” can contribute to Warfighter success. Learn how groups can establish and foster it.

There are so many parts to being successful in theater that it can be tough to pinpoint what contributes to success. But research has established one part—cohesiveness—that does help Warfighter performance. In fact, cohesiveness—a group’s ability to remain united while pursuing its goals and objectives—is an important piece of the puzzle for any successful group, whether we’re talking about sports teams, squads, platoons, or other kinds.

Cohesiveness can be social (among people who like each other) or task-focused (among people who work well together) or both. In groups such as athletic teams, connecting with a task focus is far more important for performance than connecting socially. Connecting through a task focus is clearly important for Warfighters too, but the stakes are higher: Warfighters often put their lives—not the outcome of a game—in each other’s hands. And cohesiveness has other benefits, such as helping with job satisfaction and overall well-being.

In order to build and maintain team/unit cohesion, experts suggest the following:

  • Use influence effectively—for collective gain, not individual gain.
  • Communicate clearly—give clear expectations for roles, performance, and deadlines, and offer praise.
  • Minimize conflict between unit members.
  • Build trust within the unit and with leadership by showing interest and concern for one another.
  • Establish a positive command climate that supports teamwork yet allows for each member’s independence.
  • Have a shared sense of responsibility for the overall welfare of everyone in the unit and the team as a whole.
  • Value connections within the team as well as between units and organizations.
  • Focus on the strengths of the group, not just its problems and challenges.
  • Build resilience at the individual and group level.

Warfighters and leaders can shape norms—both formally through policy and informally through practice—so that units/groups stick together on multiple levels. For more information on building relationships visit HPRC’s Family & Relationships domain, and for more information about Total Force Fitness check out HPRC’s Total Force Fitness domain.

Quality of sex matters

Ever wonder how much of a fulfilling intimate relationship sex accounts for? Learn about how much and the health benefits of sex.

Sex experts say that "good sex"—a key ingredient in most intimate relationships—adds only about 15–20% to an already good relationship. On the other hand, "bad sex" (such as one or both partners not being fulfilled) can take away 75% from relationship happiness. That is, when sex is going well, it helps to improve your relationship a little bit, but when it isn't, it can be destructive to your relationship and overall quality of life. Keep in mind there’s no common definition of “good” or “bad” sex. These definitions rely on each person’s perception of sex and a fulfilling sexual relationship, plus how well both partners’ perceptions match.

Not only can sex affect satisfaction in relationships, it can also improve your health! Warm affection, such as hugging and kissing, can improve happiness and well-being, as well as reduce stress. Sex is also associated with greater overall health and satisfaction. As we pointed out in a previous article, sex releases a hormone that helps you feel closer to the other person and makes you feel good.

Being sexually active, having a good-quality sex life, and a healthy interest in sex are related to improved health through middle age and beyond. In fact, research has found that regular sexual activity among older individuals is more normal than previously thought. However, it isn’t clear whether healthier people have more-active sex lives or whether active sex lives improve health. At this point, all we know is that they are positively related to each other. 

Money issues: Bad for you and your family

Money issues can be stressful for you and your family. Learn some strategies for strengthening your financial fitness as a family.

Money issues tend to be a major source of stress for Americans, and military families are no exception. Financial stress can increase your risk for poor health and have a negative impact on productivity and mood. Stress over money can reverberate through your relationships too. For example, couples who are under financial stress are more likely to be hostile and aggressive with each other and less secure and happy in their relationships. So what can you do to reduce your stress over money?

Here are some tips from Building Resilience in the Military Family:

  1. Have each family member discuss his/her financial dreams, how to make money decisions, and who will manage the money. (If there are differences, try the tips on HPRC’s “Making Decisions” card)
  2. Save at least $1,000 for unexpected expenses and, ideally, six months of your total monthly expenses.
  3. Work on paying off debt. Figure out a plan to pay off your debts, no matter how long it will take to get rid of them.
  4. Create and use a budget. This planning tool from Military OneSource can help you make a financial management plan.
  5. Save for retirement. A good rule is to save 10–15% of your gross income in retirement accounts annually.
  6. Check your credit. Knowing your credit history and credit number can help you spot identity theft and/or motivate you to stay (or become) responsible.
  7. Create a will. Setting up a will is important no matter your age.

Think about whether you have the insurance your family needs. Do you have health insurance, auto insurance, home/renters insurance, and life insurance?

Unchecked anger – take a few tips from HPRC

Anger’s a normal emotion, but unchecked anger can wreak havoc. Here are some tips for how to manage your anger effectively.

Anger can be helpful in combat situations, and it can help individuals engage in quick, decisive action. It also can help keep emotions such as guilt and sadness at bay so you can accomplish things you need to do. Anger has its place. In relationships, anger is bound to make its way into interactions sometimes. When regulated, it can help you solve problems or motivate you to talk about important things, including hurt feelings. When unregulated, however, it can damage your relationship and increase your unhappiness with your loved one. Increased levels of anger can even increase your risk for physical health problems, especially coronary heart disease. It isn’t possible to avoid anger completley, but you can learn how to manage it well. Read more in HPRC’s “Performance Strategies: Five Steps to Managing Anger.”

Brush up on your relationship skills

Learn three key relationship skills highlighted in HPRC’s downloadable cards.

There are three core relationship skills that can help strengthen all relationships. HPRC has created downloadable cards about each of them.

First, brush up on your communication skills with your loved ones using our card on effective communication.

Second, you should be able to make decisions and solve problems well. Use the step-by-step process on our card on making decisions to guide you from problems to solutions.

Finally, avoid doing four specific behaviors that can tank even the best of relationships. Check out “How not to destroy yours” and apply the tips today.

Make some new “friends with benefits”

Heard the term “friends with benefits”? There’s more than one kind!

Having good social support is beneficial in many ways and can come in a furry package! Pets are wonderful companions, and you benefit by having one (or more) in so many ways: They get you out exercising, increase your self-esteem, decrease a sense of isolation, and help you through tough times. If that’s not enough, there’s a growing amount of research on the use of dogs providing therapeutic benefits to individuals coping with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Dog owners are also more likely than those who don’t have dogs to meet physical activity guidelines. So if you have a furry creature at home, remember to give them  a big pat for enhancing your life. Indeed, one researcher described these relationships as truly “friends with benefits.”

For Warfighters about to be deployed, pets also can come with the added stress of needing to find a temporary home. To get some tips about what to do with your pet while you’re on deployment, check out this article from HPRC and/or this Department of Defense blog.

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