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Filed under: Relationships

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.

In the middle of a fight, change your focus

If fights with your loved ones last longer than the argument itself, then check out this strategy for refocusing your mind and calming your body.

When you find yourself in an argument with a loved one, it’s important to be able to move on afterwards without being burdened by negative feelings. But sometimes the negativity can hang on after the argument itself is over, and can make interacting with the other person difficult. It’s important to work out those negative feelings so that they don’t fester and wreak more havoc in your relationships.

Here’s how: When you find yourself in the middle of an argument, take a time-out before you become too worked up. It’s easier to shake off negativity at this stage. Stay levelheaded enough to stop the argument, walk away, focus on something else, and make yourself focus on positive thoughts about yourself, something else, or your loved one. While you are doing this, also engage in some stress-management techniques such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation; you can learn about them in the Mind-Body Skills section of HPRC’s website. By refocusing your thoughts and letting go of stress in your body, you’re more likely to feel calmer, slow your heart rate, and be less reactive to the other person. Once you’re calmer, you’ll probably find it easier to interact more positively with the other person and do or say things that can enhance your relationship.

For more ideas on strengthening your relationships, check out HPRC’s Relationship Enhancement section or this article on “Basic Training for Couples Communication.” And for more information on handling stress, check out HPRC’s Stress Management section.

Be a “Joy Multiplier,” not a “Joy Thief”

Filed under: Mind, Mood, Relationships
The way you respond to someone when they share good news can either enhance or detract from your relationship. Learn how to strengthen others with “Active Constructive Responding.”

At the Warrior Resilience Conference V in August 2013, representatives of the Comprehensive Soldier & Family Fitness (CSF2) program discussed one of the resilience-promoting skills that they teach for strengthening relationships: Active Constructive Responding.

Active Constructive Responding shows “authentic interest” where sharing creates a deeper experience for both individuals. For example, when someone shares a positive event with you, the best response is to show interest or excitement about what he or she is telling you, followed by a positive conversation about it. By doing this you can be a “Joy Multiplier.” By comparison, it’s important not to do any of these:

  • Kill the joy by focusing on possible negatives about the event (being a “Joy Thief”).
  • Bring up something that happened to you, turning the attention away from the other person, or completely ignore what you were told (being a “Conversation Hijacker”).
  • Respond to the other person as if distracted and/or with limited interest (being a “Conversation Killer”).

To learn more about this technique (and the ones to avoid), check out this presentation from CSF2. And for more about CSF2, check out this section on HPRC’s website.

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