Filed under: Relationships
Being in combat is physically, emotionally, and mentally stressful. Part of the body's natural stress response is to remain on high alert in order to have a better chance of staying alive. This can lower your tolerance for relationship disagreements and can cause irritability and conflict. The following are some tips to help you overcome the effects of combat on your interactions with loved ones:
- Practice emotion management strategies prior to and after communicating with your loved ones to help you calm down first.
- If you are upset, wait to communicate with your loved ones rather than writing or saying something in the heat of the moment.
- Describe your feelings and thoughts starting with "I.” I-statements are more personal and reduce feelings of blame.
- Focus on the communication interaction between you and your partner, not just on the way that one or the other of you communicates.
- Compliment each other!
Several weeks ago we started a series on strategies for processing emotions. We have described four "savoring" strategies and four "dampening" strategies. Using more of the savoring strategies and fewer of the dampening strategies can help positive feelings linger from positive experiences. But you must also make sure you use strategies that match your personality and lifestyle. In this research study, those who used multiple savoring strategies (and avoided more of the dampening strategies) were the happiest. The authors also suggest staying in the moment when something positive happens to you and once the moment has passed, stepping back and savoring the experience. Take a moment now to review the tips from weeks one, two, three, and four.
Three weeks ago we started a four-week series on strategies for processing emotion. This week we highlight one last pair of positive (“savoring”) and negative (“dampening”) strategies. Although the research study being featured focused on the positive impact these strategies can have on individual outcomes, it seems they also could be used within families and units to promote positive and happy individuals and interactions.
Savoring (Positive) Strategy #7: “Positive Mental Time Travel”
“Positive mental time travel” is what happens when an individual vividly remembers a positive event (or vividly anticipates a future positive event), such as a wedding or a reunion after deployment. Individuals who are able to remember past positive events (or look forward to future ones) and savor those happy moments are more likely to be happy in general.
Dampening (Negative) Strategy #8: “Negative Mental Time Travel”
“Negative mental time travel” takes place when an individual reminisces about a positive event but with an emphasis on negative explanations. For example, if an individual finishes a 1.5-mile run in the lead but thinks that they finished first because everyone else in their group was slow, then they individual is engaging in negative mental time travel. It can happen, too, when a person thinks their happy feelings from an event won’t last because they aren’t that lucky. Negative mental time traveling is associated with lower self-esteem and more depressive symptoms.
So take a moment to remember a positive event from the past and savor those moments (without negative mental time traveling). Does it make your current mood better to remember the positive event? Additionally, you can savor those moments with your parents, your children, your spouse, or your friends and colleagues. See if savoring enhances the mood of the person you are talking to, as well.
Check back next week, when we’ll take one last look at all eight strategies for well-being and examine how they all work together.
Two weeks ago, we started a four-week series on strategies for processing emotion. This week we’re again featuring one positive strategy (called “savoring”) and one negative strategy (called “dampening”). Although research has focused on how these strategies impact individual outcomes such as positive emotions and happiness, they could also be used with families, friends, and units to promote positive and happy individuals and interactions.
Savoring (Positive) Strategy #5: “Capitalizing”
“Capitalizing” comes about when individuals communicate and celebrate positive events. Within families and other groups, telling others about the positive event and marking it with a celebration (used in moderation) can increase daily positive feelings and actually increase your immune responses. You may be able to experience this capitalizing effect by posting positive news on your Facebook page, as well.
Dampening (Negative) Strategy #6: “Fault Finding”
“Fault finding” occurs when individuals pay attention to the negative aspects of events or interactions that are predominantly positive by trying to figure out what could have been better. Thinking through what could be better next time is an important skill for parents, Warfighters, and relationships—in moderation. Consistently finding fault within positive events is associated with lower levels of happiness, self-esteem, and life satisfaction.
So next time a positive event happens, try communicating the event with those around you and see if it helps foster positive feelings within the family (or unit). Additionally, catch yourself the next time you find fault within something positive.
Next week we’ll look at the last pair of strategies in this series.
The military celebrates the Friday before Mother’s Day every year as Military Spouse Appreciation Day. In 1984, former president Ronald Reagan initiated this event to acknowledge and honor the commitment, courage, and sacrifice of the wives and husbands of our nation’s service members. Military spouses are the backbone of their families and are key to the success of the Warfighter’s military performance. President Barack Obama reflected in his 2010 Military Spouse Appreciation Day speech, “At the heart of our Armed Forces, service members’ spouses keep our military families on track.”
The Military Family Resource Center reports these statistics about military spouses and/or families:
- Almost 60% the active-duty force has family responsibilities of a spouse and/or children.
- 93% of the spouses of active-duty members are female.
- 54% of the spouses are 30 years of age or younger; 72% are under age 36.
- 56% of active-duty spouses are employed. 14% of active-duty spouses are Armed Forces members themselves.
- 43% of active-duty members have children; the average number of children for active-duty members who have children is two.
- Among active-duty members who have dependents, the average number of dependents is almost 2.5.
- More than 50% of the children of active-duty members are seven years of age or younger.
(Source: 2008 Demographics: Profile of the Military Community, published by the Military Family Resource Center.)
For more information about President Obama’s speech, see:
Last week, we started a four-week schedule of discussing strategies for processing emotions. Each week we highlight one positive strategy (called “savoring”) and one negative strategy (called “dampening”). Although research has focused on the impact of these strategies on individual outcomes such as positive emotions and happiness, they seem to be strategies that could also be used with families, friends, and unit relationships to promote positive and happy individuals and interactions.
Savoring (Positive) Strategy #3: “Be Present”
“Being present” is a strategy whereby individuals deliberately direct their attention to focus on pleasant experiences happening in the present. For example, when something positive happens, rather than immediately thinking about the next event or what went wrong, take some time to stay in the moment and experience the happy feelings. In relationships, taking some time to focus on happy events can foster positive emotions in the entire family or unit.
Dampening (Negative) Strategy #4: “Distraction”
When individuals engage in positive events but let other thoughts intrude (like worries), then they experience “distraction.” Being distracted decreases the positive impact of the happy event. Distraction is associated with poorer well-being over time. Individuals who are less distracted tend to be happier in their relationships, as well.
Taken together, next time something positive happens, stay present, don’t let yourself be distracted, and see if the positive feelings linger longer than usual. Try this within your family, couple, or unit.
Come back next week for strategies five and six.
A recent study examined eight different strategies for processing emotions and how they are linked to positive emotions and life satisfaction. The HPRC will describe two of these a week for the next four weeks. Although research has focused on the impact of these strategies on individual outcomes such as positive emotions and happiness, they also seem to be strategies that could be used with family relationships, friends, and comrades to promote positive and happy individuals and interactions. Additionally, parents as well as leaders could help foster positive strategies (called “savoring”) to help their children or their units decrease their use of negative (or “dampening”) strategies.
Savoring (Positive) Strategy #1: “Behavioral Display”
A “behavioral display” is a savoring strategy when an individual expresses positive emotions through non-verbal behavior. For example, when a child gets an “A” on a test, he or she has a huge smile, exhibits overall happy body language, and in essence seems to exude happiness. This expression of positive emotion appears to be contagious (in a good way) in relationships.
Dampening (Negative) Strategy # 2: “Suppression”
“Suppression” is a strategy whereby individuals hide their positive emotions for a variety of reasons (possibly shyness, modesty, or fear). Individuals who push down their positive emotions tend to report less life satisfaction and lower psychological well-being.
So the next time something positive happens to you, allow yourself a behavioral display of emotion and see if it makes others around you happier too. Likewise, next time something positive happens and you don’t show a positive reaction, compare and see how it impacts your emotions, well-being, and overall happiness.
Next week, we’ll discuss two more strategies—one positive and one negative—that you can try out.
Research shows that particular styles of fighting often lead to divorce. In successful marriages, both partners are willing to work out problems by talking to each other. If one partner withdraws, the other may perceive that as lack of interest in the relationship, and the likelihood of divorce is high. Successful couples empathize with each other and handle conflict constructively. For more information on how to better communicate with your partner, please visit our Family Skills page.
All successful athletes have routines: bouncing the ball three times and pausing before shooting a free throw, having a warm-up routine before every game, or chanting together in a group to get pumped before a game starts. As elite athletes, Warfighters also engage in routine activities to get into a mindset for success: cleaning their weapon the exact same way every time, having a pre-combat check prior to engagement, or putting their gear on in a certain order every day. Likewise, all successful families have routines. Spending time doing fun family activities, chores, or other quality time (like mealtime) together creates stability within the family and opportunities to connect. In fact, these findings have prompted researchers to assert, “Families who play together stay together.” Research has shown that couples who spend their leisure time together are less likely to divorce or separate. For military families, being apart (for deployment or training) can make it more difficult to maintain family routines, but it makes it even more important. Research has found that it is important for children to maintain a consistent routine while a parent is deployed. Some families mark a calendar, have special bedtime routines, or write in a diary while their family member is deployed. It’s equally important that deployed spouses and/or parents develop routines that keep them connected to their families at home. All of these strategies build family strength and closeness, both on the home front and during the heightened stress of separation.
For more strategies to help build family resilience, see the Family & Relationships section of HPRC's website.
Couple dynamics can be a significant resource for individuals when positive and emotionally supportive. For example, in a study of civilian families under economic distress, a key buffering factor to feeling distress was spouses who were emotionally supportive to each other. In contrast, couples with similar external financial stressors who had relationships low in emotional support reported greater feelings of distress (Conger & Conger, 2002). Therefore, how the couple interacts with each other is an important factor that can either buffer or enhance feelings of distress.
Conger, R., & Conger, K. (2002). Resilience in midwestern families: Selected findings from the first decade of a prospective, longitudinal study. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64, 361-373.