Filed under: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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!
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.
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.