By Tracey Linegar Taylor
We’ve all heard relationships take work. Military marriages are no different. In fact, because of the unique stressors these families face, like multiple moves, deployments and combat-related injuries, military marriages may take more work.
So, how can military families maintain strong relationships and overcome threats to their marriages? One word, three syllables: resilience. Families who are resilient are more likely to have stronger, lasting relationships.
Characteristics of Resilient Families
In her book, “Strengthening Family Resilience,” resilience specialist Dr. Froma Walsh identifies nine characteristics that resilient families share. These characteristics highlight the family belief systems, organizational patterns, and communication and problem-solving skills that foster resilience.
- Finding meaning in adversity. Resilient families view crises as shared challenges that together they can understand, manage and make meaningful in some way. They see their emotions as human and understandable under the circumstances, and believe in their ability to learn from their experiences and move forward.
- Positive outlook. Resilient families have an optimistic, rather than pessimistic, view of life. Members see each other’s strengths and offer encouragement to overcome difficulties or accept what can’t be changed have a positive outlook.
- Transcendence and spirituality. Resilient families have beliefs and values that offer meaning, purpose and connection beyond their personal lives and troubles. They find strength and comfort in their cultural and religious traditions and experience spiritual inspiration in a variety of ways, including nature, the arts, service to others, and faith in a higher power.
- Flexibility. Resilient families adapt to change. They’re able to adjust their family roles and rules to fit new life challenges while maintaining the rituals and traditions that provide stability in their relationships. Their flexibility depends on strong yet nurturing leadership, guidance, protection of children and mutual respect in the marital relationship.
- Connectedness. Resilient families pull together during times of crisis. They’re able to function as a team and support each other while respecting individual needs, differences and boundaries.
- Social and economic resources. When they can’t solve problems on their own, resilient families reach out for help by turning to extended family, friends, neighbors, community services or counseling.
- Open emotional sharing. Resilient families accept and encourage a wide range of emotional expression (joy, sadness, fear, silliness, etc.) in adults and children. Family members take responsibility for their own feelings and accept others who have different feelings. They value positive interactions and appreciate humor, even as they cope with difficult circumstances.
- Clarity. Resilient families practice clear, consistent and honest communication. Family members say what they mean and mean what they say; thus they avoid sending vague, confusing or mixed messages to each other.
- Collaborative problem solving. Resilient families manage their difficulties by working together to understand a problem and identify ways to solve it. They make decisions together in ways that allow family members to disagree openly, and then resolve those disagreements through negotiation and compromise. These families seek to repair the hurts and misunderstandings that go along with conflicts and act proactively to solve current problems and prevent future ones. They also learn from their mistakes.
Divorce: Not an Automatic Result for Rocky Military Marriages
If you are feeling a little insecure about the success of your marriage, don’t think that because you are a military couple you’ll automatically end in divorce. Military marriages are no more likely than non-military marriages to end in divorce. A study by Benjamin Karney, a professor of social psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, compared marriage and divorce rates of military personnel and civilians in the three years before and after the conflicts began in Afghanistan and Iraq. After accounting for differences in age, race, education and employment, the study revealed that despite a surge in overseas deployment from 2002-2005, divorce rates did NOT increase for military service members. And here’s more good news, as members of the military got older, they were even less likely to be divorced.
Family resiliency is an important factor in preventing marital problems and divorce. So, the next time you are faced with resiliency training, from the command or family readiness group, perk up and pay extra attention – it just might help strengthen or save your marriage.
Tracey Linegar Taylor is an advanced practice nurse in psychiatry and a retired Army nurse corps officer. She is a senior policy analyst at Altarum Institute, consulting with the Deployment Health Clinical Center.