Keeping family relationships strong often takes work. But what kind and how much work depend on each relationship. Here are some general strategies that many families find helpful but that are especially appropriate for military families.
To learn other strategies that specifically help with communication between partners, check out HPRC’s Performance Strategies: Basic Training for Couples—Communication.
Feel like your life is going from putting out one fire after another?
Strategy #1: Seize the moment. It is easy to get caught up in the daily grind and go from tackling one problem to the next. But it’s important for all relationships to seize the opportunities that come along on a daily basis—sometimes called “ordinary magic”—to show appreciation and caring for each other. This could be as simple as telling your partner “thank you” when he or she makes dinner or giving him/her a hug at the end of the day or valuing the time you spend helping your child with homework.
Feel like you are in it alone?
Strategy #2: Be a “we.” Viewing both the military lifestyle and your relationships as a “we”—that is, as teammates—can make a huge difference in how much stress you experience. Try not to get caught up in the “you” or “me” push-and-pull that can easily happen in relationships. For example, rather than being angry at your partner for being deployed, switch your thinking so you focus instead on missing your partner and sharing those feelings while apart; deployment is something outside your partner’s control. As a team you and your family members can help one another get through tough experiences, because you are united against the challenges rather than each other. But remember to access support outside of your immediate family; this could be your parents, your partner’s parents, the local family readiness group, other spouses, or unit buddies.
Just when you get it all figured out, do things change again?
Strategy #3: Learn to love change. Life (especially military life) is about constantly adapting, so it’s important to learn how to control the things you can control and let go of the things you can’t control. One way you can do this is to be aware of changes in your role(s) and your environment. When you find yourself in a new environment (whether it is deployment, relocation, becoming new parents, starting a new relationship), it’s common for your role(s) to shift. If you think ahead of time about what your new role may entail, it could help ease the stress of finding yourself there unprepared.
Do you deal with the same challenges over and over again but still have a hard time adapting each time?
Strategy #4: Plan ahead and keep track of lessons learned. Life will throw you many unexpected challenges, as well as the ones you learn to expect (such as relocation or deployment). After each challenge met, think about what helped you succeed and what got in your way and made things more difficult. Take mental notes or even write down your lessons learned and try to apply them to the next challenge. You can even do this as a couple or family, and it can help you and your family plan ahead next time for common challenges or family problems.
Are you in a rut in your relationship, defaulting to negative patterns more often than positive ones?
Strategy #5: Not all habits are good. It’s common—and normal—for relationships to develop negative patterns or cycles. But these also can become habits over time—that is, things you do automatically without conscious thought—that make relationships stagnant or even unhappy. One way to deal with these negative relationship habits is to take on the responsibility yourself (rather than waiting for the other person) to try to stop the cycle. For example, when your partner gets mad at you for being late, rather than getting mad back (as you might habitually), respond in a different way that could enhance your relationship (or at least stop the negative cycle).
Have your family's usual routines and celebrations gone by the wayside due to constant change or stress?
Strategy #6: Continuity is king. Despite the ups and downs of life, keeping some things consistent can be important for family resilience. For example, continue important routines and traditions such as family meals, events, and annual gatherings such as holidays and birthdays – even if all the usual players are not there or some adjustments need to be made. If you don’t have any routines, or if the ones you have aren’t working for your family any more, brainstorm with your family to establish some new ones and start putting them in place.
Feel as though you can't get your head above water after your Warfighter's injury?
Strategy #7: Reallocate roles when injuries happen. With combat exposure, injuries can occur, visible and invisible. When combat injuries happen, family roles, routines, and functions may have to be reallocated; sometimes they happen automatically, but they may require conscious decision-making and planning. Do make use of available resources, but also try to focus on your strengths and what you can control as your family adapts to new circumstances. And don’t forget to take care of yourself!