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Keeping family relationships strong

Maintaining strong family relationships can require some new skills or perspectives over time. Learn some relationship skills that are relevant for many families, but especially for the military lifestyle.

More than likely you’ve learned some great and helpful relationship skills through the years to keep your relationships strong. It can often be helpful to add some more to your tool belt to keep things going well (or to get them back on track). Check out HPRC’s “Keeping Strong Family Relationships for Military Life” for some strategies.

Care for the caregiver

Caregivers of wounded service members experience stress too. Learn some strategies that may help.

The wounds of war also affect the family members of injured or ill Warfighters. The job of caregiving often falls to a family member, and while it can be a rewarding job, it can also be stressful. Taking time for yourself is important. You run the risk of burnout when your attention is directed solely towards others without time to recharge. Below are tips to help you find balance in taking care of both your loved one and yourself.

  • View caregiving as if it were a team sport, not a solo one. Get other people to share the responsibilities.
  • Encourage independence by supporting your loved one to do as much as possible for him/herself.
  • Take a pro-active and positive perspective.
  • Have a take-charge attitude for problems, and then reframe those problems into challenges.
  • Avoid tunnel vision; find a balance between taking care of your injured loved one and taking care of yourself and others in the family.
  • Create a care plan for yourself that includes fun time, down time, and relaxation methods. For some ideas, check out the Mind-Body Skills section of HPRC’s website.
  • Seek professional help when needed.

For more information, read this handout on “Coping with Caregiver Challenges,“ which addresses common caregiver challenges such as stress and symptoms such as headaches and then suggests ideas for coping. Other strategies include keeping yourself healthy with exercise, rest, and eating well. For more ideas, check out the Traumatic Brain Injury website’s “Stress Busters” section. Building your stress-management skills can be a big help. Finally, assess yourself regularly to check on your well-being (to prevent burnout) can also be helpful. You can find assessments for caregiver stress at Afterdeployment.org (online) and Traumatic Brain Injury (for download).

Test your relationship’s “thinking traps”

Are you drawing false conclusions in your relationship? Learn how to question yourself to find out.

How we interpret events or interactions has a big impact on how we react to them. We all fall victim to “thinking traps” from time to time, and HPRC’s recent article identifies common traps and suggests strategies for dealing with them. Your personal relationships are particularly 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 and recently find yourself thinking your partner doesn’t love you any more because she/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. Some examples are:

  • What specifically makes you think that he/she doesn’t love you any more?
  • What did he/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/she loved you? Was it something (s)he said? Or what (s)he did?
  • Has your behavior toward him/her changed recently?

Such questions can get you to start thinking logically by taking a close look at what’s behind what you’re thinking—the real evidence and surroundings of the situation. Sometimes it can help you gain perspective to write down the answers to these questions. Once you’ve gone through this self-questioning process, it’s possible you’ll find a different interpretation of your partner’s behavior. Maybe you were just caught up in a thinking trap.

For more ideas on strengthening your relationship, check out HPRC’s Relationship Enhancement section. And for specific strategies on changing your relationship dynamic, check out HPRC’s Performance Strategy on Couples Communication.

Taking a deeper look at love this Valentine’s Day

Filed under: Love, Relationships
Many people think more than usual about love on Valentine’s Day. This year, learn about a hormone that is linked to feelings of closeness and bonding.

Think about your feelings of connection in an intimate relationship, or the last time you were physically intimate with your loved one, and how you felt afterwards. Did you feel a flood of happiness, a feeling of closeness, or a sense of bonding? There is actually a physical reason behind some of these sensations: the hormone oxytocin.

Your body releases oxytocin into your blood and brain in response to sex, breastfeeding, and childbirth, as well as everyday behaviors such as touching and stroking—usually in trusting relationships. Oxytocin promotes social bonds; that is, it makes you feel “close” (emotionally) to another person, and it makes you feel good. Specifically, it increases eye contact, your ability to remember faces, and feelings of trust, generosity, and empathy. Other benefits of oxytocin include reduced aggression and stress and increased bonding, especially maternal bonding after birth. In fact, oxytocin is so effective at making you feel good and loving that it’s often called the “love hormone” or the “cuddle drug.”

With Valentine’s Day approaching this week, many of you have love on your brains. So now you can think about it from a deeper perspective: how oxytocin plays a role in your love life.

Adjusting to work relationships after deployment

Deployment stress can sometimes hang around and impact work relationships after you are back home. Learn more about common issues and tips to deal with them.

The stress of deployment can linger when you return home and resume (or start new) work responsibilities and relationships. Sometimes it can be difficult to know how much to share about recent deployment experiences in the work environment, particularly if your coworkers are not or have not been in the military. Some may ask a lot of questions and others may steer clear of the subject entirely. This can create an interesting dynamic in your work relationships. Afterdeployment.org emphasizes that discussing your experience is a decision that’s completely up to you. So think ahead of time about how much (if any) you want to share, and be cautious about whom you choose to share with initially.

Afterdeployment.org also describes some common problems that can affect performance in the workplace. For example, combat experiences sometimes can impact your sleep quality, making it difficult to be at your peak at work. Other possible issues include inappropriate anger in response to people or situations and feeling uneasy and unable to let one’s guard down in a crowded office or worksite.  This Work Adjustment factsheet provides more information and tips that can help with common issues, and another on Informal Relationships at work for more information.

Keep the happy in holidays: Wrapping up

Wrapping up our series on keeping the happy in holidays, mix and match the tips we’ve presented each week during the upcoming new year, as well.

Over the last 7 weeks, HPRC has run a series on tips for keeping the happy in the holidays this season for you and your family. We highlighted many strategies like being a gratitude hunter, how to be more optimistic, and how to accept things you can’t control. We also highlighted tips for your relationships, such as setting appropriate expectations, identifying possible friction points ahead of time, and celebrating your family and friends. Look back over the last 7 weeks to read more.

In wrapping up, our last tip is to remember that you know yourself best. Try a combination of the tips we highlighted each week to see which ones work for you, the ones that fit your strengths and where you are right now in life. Ups and downs are common during the holiday season, but if you keep your perspective, stay realistic, make time for fitness, and foster new memories with your loved ones, this just might be your best new year yet!

Keep the happy in the holidays: Relationship resolutions

Happy New Year! As you begin 2014, consider having a relationship-oriented resolution.

Happy New Year! HPRC wishes you and your loved ones a happy and healthy 2014.

The New Year is a perfect time to reflect on where you are in your life and where you want to be in the coming months. When you set your resolutions, think about setting one around your primary relationships. Is there something that you could focus on this year that would make your relationships stronger? For example, what about taking a romantic getaway with just your partner at least once this year? Or how about staying in closer contact with your parents or best friend? Also, think about incorporating other areas of Total Force Fitness in your resolutions, such as physical fitness, nutrition, mental resilience, and your environment.

Keep the happy in holidays: Practice acceptance

Accepting the things that invade your thoughts when you can’t avoid them or control them can help you keep happy this holiday season.

Last time we highlighted being aware of possible depression in those around you. This week, as we continue our series on keeping happy in the holidays, try practicing acceptance of the things you can’t control or avoid.

Problems can arise when you try to avoid thoughts or feelings rather than noticing them as they come and go. Instead of avoiding them, try to note your thoughts or feelings, accept them, and keep moving forward rather than dwelling on them. If you need or want to think about something further, pick a good time and place to think it through later. But if it’s outside your control, practicing acceptance can help separate the things you can control from those you can’t—and help you find some peace this holiday season.

Intimacy after an injury

Combat injuries such as PTSD and TBI can impact your ability and interest to be sexual with your partner. Two fact sheets provide more information and suggestions.

Being able to be close and sexual are key aspects of intimate relationships. Warfighters struggling with PTSD, TBI, or other combat injuries may be surprised to find that injuries can impact their ability to have sex, derive pleasure from sex, or be intimate by connecting emotionally with their partner. Or conversely there might be too much emphasis on sex (engaging in or talking about it inappropriately).

To learn more, check out these two fact sheets from the Uniformed Services University: “Reintegration and Intimacy: The Impact of PTSD and Other Invisible Injuries“ and “Physical Injury and Intimacy: Managing Relationship Challenges and Changes.” Both include suggestions for how to improve intimacy.

To learn more about other specific mental-health conditions, check out HPRC’s Mental Health & Suicide Prevention section. Also check out HPRC’s section on Relationship Enhancement.

Having the same conversation over and over?

Going over the same things again and again in your relationship—with no new results? Learn how to break that cycle.

Do you ever feel that you and your partner talk about the same issues over and over again? You’re not alone: Only 30% or so of the problems couples struggle with can actually be solved, leading to discussions that keep coming up about the other 70%. Solving the issues that can be solved is great, but learning how to interact in a positive manner about the “perpetual problems” is a good skill in any relationship.

One way to do this is to go through a structured problem-solving strategy such as this:

  1. Specifically state the issue.
  2. Briefly state why the issue is important.
  3. Brainstorm and discuss possible solutions to the issue.
  4. Have everyone involved agree on a realistic “solution”—even if it’s just a game plan for how each person is going to respond about the topic.
  5. Pick a specific amount of time to try the solution.
  6. Then give the solution a try.

Remember, the “solution” doesn’t have to mean a resolution to the problem; it can just be about new ways to approach the issue. For example, if you fight over one of you being late frequently, discuss ahead of time how you each would like the other person to respond. Maybe the latecomer needs to call or text if running late, or the punctual person calls ahead to find out if the other will be on time. And maybe you need to set a window of time rather than something exact.

For more tips on communication between two people, check out “Basic Training for Couples—Communication” and more in HPRC’s Relationship Enhancement section.

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