By Dr. Kate McGraw, DCoE clinical psychologist
If you could have the ideal loving relationship, what would that look like? For some couples, it would involve lots of time together and shared interests, and for others, it may include more space and time spent separately. There are many ways to be a loving partner, and the key is discovering what your partner needs from you, rather than what they aren’t giving to you. Often, loving your partner means putting yourself in their place and imagining what would bring them happiness.
Military couples face incredibly challenging stressors together. Those couples who remain resilient often find themselves with stronger relationships when the dust settles. However, many of the unique stressors imposed on military couples may chip away at the fabric of safety and peace within the relationship. What can you and your partner do to help protect your relationship from the stress of military life?
Here are some ideas to enrich your relationship so it serves as a vessel of comfort for you both:
■Ask your partner what they need. Also, you should both be able to identify what you need and how your needs can be met. If you both develop empathy for each other’s needs, than you will both be very satisfied with what you can create together in your relationship.
■Eliminate all sarcasm, name calling, belittling or other types of verbal and emotional abuse, and make a pact to not tolerate displays of temper such as slamming objects or doors. These behaviors cause significant damage to the trust and safety between you and may lead to physical abuse. If you’re able to say at least five positive comments to every negative one you say to your partner, your relationship will feel much more loving and supportive.
■Nurture the bond between you. One way is to foster and keep open regular communication about the important things in your life, as well as the small daily matters.
■Develop a homecoming ritual upon your partner’s return from deployment. This ritual can serve as a line of demarcation for both of you, a dividing point from their being away at war, to being here, at peace.
Often service members returning from deployment need a period of readjustment to their old lifestyle and familiar surroundings. They may want to talk but are unable to find words to express their experiences or feelings about what they’ve been through. They may need time to themselves, which you should respect. The non-military partner can play an important role in the stress management of the relationship by lovingly encouraging their military partner to seek help if it appears they are experiencing severe post-deployment problems.
Service members should remember that their partners want to help and reconnect with you. Have compassion for the stresses that they experienced while you were away. It’s OK to share your feelings about your deployment experiences without sharing details about what you saw or did. In this way you can reconnect emotionally, lean on your partner for support, and feel less isolated while protecting them from the harsh realities of what you experienced. Be alert for signs of traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder. If you find yourself unable to cope, talk to your partner about it and seek professional help. If you have suicidal thoughts, always seek professional help, as you may be experiencing depression, which resolves with proper treatment.
In the end, our relationships reflect the amount of energy and devotion we give to them. If you both give your relationship the gifts of compassion and empathy, regardless of what the external world heaps upon you, you both will reap the rewards of contentment and love within your relationship.
Are you familiar with some of the risk factors for suicide, which include relationship issues? Find out more about suicide prevention information and resources on the DCoE website.