Relationships

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Do you want to know what to expect when returning to a relationship after combat trauma?

When a military person prepares for deployment, there is a change in focus from the relationship, family and community to being prepared for the mission. The spouse, partner, family and community also change focus to learning what needs to be done to pick up the responsibilities of the military person. Both deploying and staying at home folks assume more responsibilities. When the military person returns there might be expectations that everything will be the same as  before preparation for deployment occurred.

However, just as the military person focused on the military aspects, training and practice to accomplish the mission, the person staying at home has concentrated on the home front, learning skills and practicing what is necessary to maintain the household. Just as there are unexpected events in combat, there are unexpected events that occur at home. So, both partners have had to learn, change and grow in their respective roles for the time of deployment. And just as the military person might not share the details of the dangers experienced so the partner won’t be concerned, the partner at home might not share the details of events that might cause concern or distract the military person.

So, the homecoming becomes an “adventure” in reconnecting: meeting the partner again and learning what and how the partner has changed in mind, body and spirit; and then reconciling these changes into a renewed shared relationship by listening to, respecting and understanding the other. Four stages of reconnection and reconciliation occur, each with its challenges and gifts:
 
The first stage of reconnecting is with the physical reality of the partner as compared with the “idea” of the partner carried in the mind, and reconciling to how the changes will be integrated into day-to-day life. Some illusions might bite the dust here.

The second stage is reconnecting with the reality of home life as compared with the “idea” of home and reconciling the changes into daily life.

How to do this?
Communication is the key. Each person shares his/her view about the changes and about what is desired in the renewed relationship, and listens to the partner's view and desires.  Being willing to compromise to reach agreement about the renewed relationship will result in a stronger relationship as each contributes new strengths and perspectives.

The third stage is reconnecting with family members and reconciling the differences between before and after. In particular, children have grown older, changing family dynamics a great deal.

How to do this?
Again, communication is the key. Allow each family member to share his/her view about the changes and what is needed/wanted. Move from willing compromises to agreements and then a renewed commitment to a new family relationship. Understand there will be trial and error as the family adjusts. All members must be patient, tolerant, and willing to renegotiate agreements that are not working.

The fourth stage is reconnecting with the community and reconciling with the changes in yourself and others. To facilitate integration of these changes (to make these changes second nature) it is important to talk about how these changes affect you. It is important to NOT assume that everything will work itself out by magic or just goodwill. Communication is essential in this process. A support group may provide the practice necessary to become comfortable in the community again.
  
Do you want to know about communication issues and skills?

Some think of communication as Talking and forget the most important part of communication is Listening.  The following information is to help with both parts of communication.

TALKING

It is vital to create a safe space to share where you can speak from your heart. 

Talking helps us feel and know ourselves, helps us feel connected to others, helps us release tension, and helps us get our needs met. Bottom line, it is a core ingredient of what makes us human and able to cope with each other.  Finding a support group where you can say what you think/feel is a first step in learning to communicate. 

LISTENING

Communication is more than talking . . . more than arguing points . . . more than seeing who can talk the loudest or longest to “win.” Communication comes from a word that means commune, literally, coming together at a higher level.   

The first step is to be willing to listen--not just to hear the person’s words to figure out how to refute them, shut them up, or one-up them. So, really LISTEN:  hear the MEANING of the words so you can put them in your own words in an understanding manner.

For example:
“I am really tired of having to do everything around here.” Instead of becoming defensive and saying, “You don't do everything around here. I do ___________ ,” look at the feelings behind the words. Tired (perhaps, with an angry tone) seems to be a key word and seems to be based on the person’s reality of doing too much: “everything around here.”  So, to put their outburst in your own words might sound like this: “I hear you feel you have to do everything and by doing everything you are exhausted and frustrated.”
 
Now, the person may respond with, “Yes, you're right.” 

This beginning is better than a beginning that becomes a jousting contest of who does what and how much. If you come to agreement on the feeling words the next part is easier.

There are THREE KEY WORDS to moving forward in any emotional discussion:

“ARE YOU WILLING to tell me what you need?” 

The next communication step is to understand what the need is and what your partner wants in order to satisfy the need. For example:

“This ___________ is what I believe you said you need and this ___________ is what I understand you want.”

When the need and what it will take to satisfy the need are understood,
continue with what you are willing to do to respond to the request by saying:

“I feel ____________ because I need __________ and I am willing to do _________.  Would you be willing to do __________?

A key here is that anger feelings can only be transformed into positive action if the hearer can listen and empathize with the speaker FIRST.

If you are feeling angry, a good way to have your feelings understood is to say:

“When this _________ happened I felt angry because I needed __________ .  Are you willing to hear how I felt?” Or : “Are you willing to do __________ next time this happens?

This feeling-oriented form of communication, created by Marshall Rosenberg, is called Compassionate Communication.  Rosenberg's organization, Non Violent Communication, has a website, www.cnvc.org which provides resources for understanding this style of communication. There are also support groups available to practice this approach.
 
 
Do you want to know about sexual issues?

There are several different types of sexual issues: lack of intimacy, lack of interest, inability to perform, physical or mental blocks. 

We will deal with one issue here: reconnecting with intimacy of sex by restoring trust in a sexual relationship.  Other issues are best dealt with professional counselors.  
           
The issue of reconnecting with the intimacy of sex after a long absence is one we often hear about from our veterans. This issue is best addressed by resolving trust issues first. What has happened to each partner during the absence? Have there been concerns about fidelity? Have one or both partners lost some of their initial attraction? Have changes in each partner affected the relationship? Is it possible to accept each other as they are NOW and work to make the relationship work? If so, a recommitment to each other and the relationship is the first step to resolve the trust issues. If there are trust issues that can’t be resolved by sharing and agreeing to meet each other’s needs, it's time to find outside help.  Please see the RESOURCE page.

After trust is renewed, then sexual intimacy can be revived by setting aside a special time to be reintroduced to your partner and the needs in a sexual relationship. What might be called for is to set up a dating period and for both partners to learn what the expectations of the new sexual relationship are. If people don’t verbally share those expectations, each partner is expecting the other to be a mind and body reader or to operate out of past conditions that might no longer be relevant. It is very important to recognize that both partners have changed; not just the one who was deployed. Even if the partners are married, a pause before returning to sexual relations might be called for, and both individuals need to accept this, not perceive they have been rejected or abandoned forever. Professional help is recommended if the two are having difficulty reconnecting.

There are sexual issues in normal relationships so it would not be unusual to have sexual issues after deployment.  There are many counselors, therapists and clinics that have devoted much research and experience to help clients with sexual issues. Even Oprah has had Dr. Laura Berman on her show many times to help couples experiencing sexual issues in their relationship.  Please know that seeking help will provide knowledge, skills and new approaches to creating sexual intimacy.  Asking for help may allow you to let go of any blocks that may have been created early in life preparing you for a satisfying and exciting sexual experience.

For the issue of lack of interest in or ability to participate in sexual relations.  Please see the RESOURCES page to find support to resolve these issues. Or for a local marriage/sexual counselor visit: www.thetherapistlocator.net

Do you want to know about power issues?

This may be the biggest hurdle to an equal opportunity relationship. If our relationship models are male dominant or female dominant it will be difficult to set up equality in the relationship. Many times the relationship models set up expectations that one person or the other is the leader who sets the goals and makes the “important” decisions. This leaves the partner without power. So, to have some representation in those decisions the partner may resort to manipulation. Manipulation is a game that has no satisfying end. The manipulator uses guilt, shame, lying, and taking advantage of weak points to bargain to “win.” power in the situation. The winner has truly not won but has simply played at winning. If there is no honesty in both partners’ expression of his or her needs, coupled with honest discussion of the options and consequences to both partners, including final agreement on the action steps, then the “loser” will simply find a way to sabotage the process.
           
So, how to set up an equal opportunity relationship: 

First, agree on what you both want in a relationship, and what you each want from each other in that relationship. This requires trust and honesty. Don't sell out now or the relationship will have shaky foundations and ultimately not work!
Second, agree on a mission for the relationship. A mission is what both partners want beyond their personal needs for the relationship. For instance: To raise a healthy child who can make healthy decisions. Or, to support each other to grow into the best person they can be. Or, to dedicate their relationship to supporting a cause both agree to support. Or, to experience and demonstrate unconditional love as examples to their children. To do this it is important to visualize what the outcome/results look/feel like.
 
Third, agree on how to accomplish the mission by setting guidelines that support the vision of the mission in terms of doable goals. These goals and guidelines need to be reviewed periodically to keep them alive, relevant and effective.
   
Fourth, agree on the roles and responsibilities needed to meet the goals. These have to be realistic, flexible and fair.

Fifth, agree to have FUN along the way and to deal with the ups and down of the relationship with mutually appreciated humor. No one is perfect.
           
If there are blocks or stalemates to any of the above steps please see the RESOURCES page to find a relationship group or counselor. The Merritt Center is one resource and offers couples retreats to enhance relationships.

Do you want to know more about domestic violence? 

There is no excuse for domestic violence.  If you are experiencing physical, mental or emotional violence SEEK HELP NOW: www.domesticviolence.org or call 911 to find a safe haven.

If you are a partner who physically, mentally or emotionally abuses your partner know this is a serious offense. There is help to change  your need to control. http://www.hiddenhurt.co.uk/abusers.html

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