Filed under: Relationships
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.
Social relationships are good for your physical health! According to a recent Science Daily article, relationships improve your chances of living by up to 50 percent. Recent research found that increased interaction with others is similar to avoiding behavioral health risks such as smoking, alcohol abuse, physical inactivity, and being obese. Staying connected in meaningful relationships can pay off not only for your social life, but also for your health.
Military families have created unique ways to maintain close communication through deployments and long duty times. Merolla (2010) studied military spouse communication during deployment and found that while deployed, families deal with the stress of being separated well through balancing talk of everyday things (such as routines and everyday information) with deeper more meaningful conversations. Additionally, another key finding was that though there were individual differences – with creativity among couples an asset – couples seemed to benefit from keeping deployment communication similar to nondeployment communication in both planned and spontaneous discussions (Merolla, 2010).
Merolla, A. (2010). Relational maintenance during military deployment: Perspectives of wives of deployed US Soldiers. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 38(1), 4-26.
Being in stressful situations activates the body’s physiologic stress response, which is what allows Warfighters the ability to respond to any threat at any time. In the sports world, the stress response is associated with the adrenaline rush that pumps athletes up during competitions, and gives them the edge to win.
Unlike athletes, however, Warfighters are a select group who operate in stressful situations day in and day out. Prolonged exposure to stressful situations has been found to be harmful both physically and psychologically, unless one learns how to successfully manage one’s internal response. To that end, there are programs throughout the uniformed services that teach Warfighters combat stress management techniques. Many use a stoplight system—utlizing the colors green, yellow, and red—to teach Warfighters how to calm the stress response and bring the body back into balance, in order to give it a reprieve. Successful warfighters learn these skills and apply them in theater.
These same skills, which allow one to calm the body’s physiologic response to stress, can also be applied to other areas—most notably, in one’s relationships. The stress response triggered by external threats is the same stress response that is activated during emotionally-charged conflicts with someone you care about (although the degree of stress is different). Conflict between two people creates the same internal stress, coupled with a flood of negative emotions. The techniques learned to manage combat stress are techniques that can also help Warfighters in their personal relationships.
A recent study examined 149 couples in a 15-minute discussion about a marital conflict found that positive emotions helped couples regulate, or calm, their physiologic responses after the conversation. Interestingly, how happy the individual was with their relationship did not impact this finding. This indicates that positive emotions seem to have the ability to “undo” the physiologic arousal of conflict.
The next time you get in a fight with someone you care about, try this: stop, take yourself out of the situation, and start thinking positive thoughts—either about yourself, something else, or your partner. Notice whether you feel calmer, if your body temperature decreased, if your heart rate slowed down, and if your body moved less (we tend to move more when we are upset). You might find this to be an excellent addition not only to your combat stress strategies, but also to your positive relationship strategies.
Source: Yuan, J., McCarthy, M., Holley, S. & Levenson, R. (2010). Physiologic down-regulation and positive emotion in marital interaction. Emotion, 10(4), 467-474.
When reuniting with your family, the “Soldier and Family Guide to Redeploying” offers tips for maintaining successful family relationships. A few of their suggestions:
- Take time to re-establish communication with each of your loved ones.
- Use romantic communication to help transition into love relations easier.
- Reinforce the good things your family has done.
- Move slowly in making adjustments.
- Discuss division of the family chores.
- Spend time alone with your spouse.
- Focus on successes and limit criticisms.
- Expect some changes in your child(ren).
- Spend relaxed time with your child.