Military life can be difficult for couples. Deployments, temporary duty assignments, PCS moves, and transitioning to civilian life can be challenging times. The stress, separation and danger that come with uniformed service can take a toll on any personal relationship. Yet, through it all, service members must stay mission-ready. Worries at home can distract a service member during important missions or training. For this reason, relationship resilience is critical not just to the well-being of service members and their spouses, but to unit readiness. The following tips will help military couples build strong relationships now so they can:
- Weather the demands of military life
- Stay mission-ready
- Have a fulfilling home life
Effective communication is critical to the health of any relationship. No matter how well you know your partner, you can’t read your partner’s mind. Talk often and be honest with each other about your feelings. This helps avoid misunderstandings that cause hurt, anger or resentment. Also, listening is an often over-looked part of good communication. Ask yourself if you’re really hearing your partner, or just waiting to talk. Maintain eye contact and listen to your partner’s perspective—even show you understand by rephrasing your partner’s views in a reassuring way—before sharing yours. Pay attention to nonverbal cues like tone and body language. This will make each partner feel valued and understood.
2. Strengthen problem-solving skills
Strengthening good problem-solving skills now can help you make it through rocky times. Practice compromise during small conflicts, like deciding where to eat, so you can tackle larger issues in the future. Also, focus on solutions that work well for both of you. Think of it as coming up with a winning strategy for your team, instead of competing against your partner. Finally, pick your battles. Know which issues are important and which ones to let go.
3. Tap into your social networks
Good partnerships encourage growth as a couple and as individuals. In fact, having a variety of social relationships outside your partnership can reduce stress and improve your well-being. It is good to lean on your partner, but all your needs might not be met. Family, friends, other service members or military spouses can also give valuable support. Getting involved with activities you care about is a great way to build a social support network.
4. Offer encouragement and support
Life challenges can pull couples apart or bring them together. Partners who support and encourage each other during hard times will build resilient relationships. Show you have your partner’s back when they are overwhelmed, stressed or need a break. Simple gestures to ease their burden are one way to show you care. For example:
- Watch the kids while your spouse relaxes
- Take on extra chores
- Cook their favorite meal
5. Reach out for support
Relationships take effort. Sometimes that means reaching out for support. Couples can help build a resilient relationship by participating in relationship-enrichment programs, reaching out to health care professionals about any psychological health concerns, or talking with a chaplain. However, you don’t need to wait until you are facing challenges to seek support. Be proactive. Many resources and programs can help keep your relationship strong and prevent difficulties.
If you or your partner are feeling distress as the result of military service or other life stress, know that reaching out is a sign of strength. Contact the Psychological Health Resource Center 24/7 to confidentially speak with trained health resource consultants. Call 866-966-1020 or use the Real Warriors Live Chat. You can also see a list of key psychological health resources here.
- Allen, E. S., Post, K. M., Markman, H. J., Rhoades, G. K., & Stanley, S. M. (2017). Associations between participant ratings of PREP for strong bonds and marital outcomes 1 year postintervention . Military Psychology, 29(4), 283–293. doi:10.1037/mil0000155
- Bakhurst, M. G., Loew, B., McGuire, A. C. L., Halford, W. K., & Markman, H. J. (2016). Relationship education for military couples: Recommendations for best practice. Family Process, n/a. doi:10.1111/famp.12211
- Beardslee, W.R., Klosinski, L.E., Saltzman, W., Mogil, C., Pangelinan, S., McKnight, C.P. & Lester, P. (2013). Dissemination of family-centered prevention for military and veteran families: Adaptations and adoption within community and military systems of care. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 16(4):394–409. doi:10.1007/s10567-013-0154-y.
- Dehle, C., Larsen, D., Landers, J.E. (2010). Social support in marriage . The American Journal of Family Therapy. 29(4), 307-324. doi: 10.1080/01926180126500
- Heyman, R. E., Smith Slep, A. M., Sabathne, C., Eckardt Erlanger, A. C., Hsu, T. T., Snyder, D. K., . . . Sonnek, S. M. (2015). Development of a multilevel prevention program for improved relationship functioning in active duty military members.Military Medicine, 180(6), 690.
- O'Neal, C. W., Lucier-Greer, M., Mancini, J. A., Ferraro, A. J., & Ross, D. B. (2016). Family relational health, psychological resources, and health behaviors: A dyadic study of military couples. Military Medicine, 181(2), 152–160. doi:10.7205/MILMED-D-14-00740
- Taft, C. T., Creech, S. K., Gallagher, M. W., Macdonald, A., Murphy, C. M., & Monson, C. M. (2016). Strength at home couples program to prevent military partner violence: A randomized controlled trial . Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 84(11), 935–945. doi:10.1037/ccp0000129