A military family is a special alliance in which all members subordinate their lives to military duty. It is a relatively specific social group, for which, along with the functions and problems common to any family, peculiarities due to military service are inherent. The tension in such a family is determined not only by general family problems but also by several specific factors of military service. Unfortunately, not all spouses understand the special mission that their beloved carry out. However, their successful fulfillment of military duty depends on the spouse’s endurance, resilience, and ability to overcome emerging problems (Moore 50).
The lack of communication between a military couple, caused by the service, adversely affects the moral and psychological climate of the family. That is why family counseling is created to reduce tension in the families of military personnel and to prevent conflicts or crises. Family counseling is focused on the formation and preservation of the family unit of military personnel and helps to draw the attention of young families to family traditions, strengthen the family, and support its values.
General tendencies of changes in family relations over the past decades have influenced the functioning of military families. The institution of the family in modern society has significantly changed its appearance and is characterized by the manifestation of crisis factors in its functioning. It is associated with the transformation of its functional foundations, which directly affects the spiritual and demographic state of modern society (Moore 40).
The traditional family is actively being destroyed, the value-normative space which no longer corresponds to modern social relations. As a result, on the way to the democratization of society, family values are amenable to modernization changes.
The family of a soldier undergoes a strength test throughout its entire life cycle. Frequent deployments and movements make the process of professional self-realization of a soldier’s spouse difficult, form everyday discomfort, and problems with raising and educating children. With all these issues, the spouse is, as a rule, left alone due to the soldier’s over-employment in the military service, who cannot sacrifice their career for the sake of the family (Moore 45). However, although family and marriage relations in the military environment are often problematic, the family has been and remains one of the most important components that stabilize the army.
A crucial aspect aimed at determining how well military couples deal with the stressors of deployment and preserve a healthy relationship is how well they communicate. Transparent communication among service members and their families, especially spouses, is essential for dealing both with the separation of deployment and the preparation for the arrival of the service member home. Therefore, there should be plenty of opportunities for the consistent exchange of information and feelings to help address important concerns and questions about the entire process and aid couples stay together in a healthy relationship.
When the marriage lacks elements of healthy communication, conflicts can take place, leading to misunderstandings, offense on either part, as well as resentment (Brown and Hall 55). On the bright side, couples that have good communication skills tend to have less marital conflict, suggesting the importance of warmth, problem-solving, and self-disclosure.
Many studies have shown that emotional support from the spouse is one of the most important circumstances in marriage. In breaking up families, communication difficulties are one of the main root causes (Knobloch-Fedders et al. 2155). Nervousness, imbalance, isolation, and negative character traits are bad companions of full-fledged family communication. A significant barrier to mutual understanding between spouses is selfish thinking, as well as the lack of the ability to comprehensively and objectively analyze their personalities. The inability or unwillingness to build normal communication between spouses inevitably leads to a deterioration in family relations. On the contrary, with a good relationship, it is easy for a husband and wife to objectively assess the problem that has arisen and find a reasonable way out together.
In the conditions of military service, communication between couples begins to acquire a fragmentary and impersonal character. In this regard, the need for confidential, emotional communication in the family increases. The communication style that has developed between the spouses is of great importance for the normal functioning of the military family. It largely depends on the properties of their character, temperament, cultural level, habits, interests, and the model of relationships introduced by their parents’ families (Knobloch-Fedders et al. 2146).
Spouses’ satisfaction with communication largely depends on the degree of compatibility of their values and communication norms. Strong family relationships can withstand a mismatch of opinions, moods, and conditions. That is why the task of counseling is to make a military couple communicate, openly talk about the experiences of both partners, clearly express their wishes, and talk about their joys and sorrows.
Beyond communication, other strategies have been shown to work for military couples to stay strong and together. As suggested by Eckhart, because a service member is often expected to be absent from home for long periods, the responsibility to establish structure in family life and relationships lies on the spouse (Eckhart). Among military couples who have been married for more than ten years, the spouse of the service member has always been the one to create a ‘normal’ life and maintain it. This ranged from celebrating holidays even long-distance to making the most of the time spent physically together.
Therefore, it can be beneficial for couples to create their own understanding of ‘normal’ to keep a positive mental outlook that is based on communication and collaborative effort. Preserving the sense of normal is also important when it comes to housework and childcare, which have shown to be instrumental in bringing service members back into everyday family life, thus keeping the marriage strong (Matsakis 108). Going back into one’s place through housework or having to drive children to school is something that can offer routine and the needed boost to adjust to family life after deployment.
Counseling is the most effective strategy to foster good communication within military families because of the benefits it brings on both personal and intrapersonal levels. Due to the challenges that such families encounter regularly, it is important to consider talking to a counselor. The professionals can offer unbiased and neutral perspectives on the marriage of their clients and offer solutions and team exercises that they can incorporate into their family life.
Counselors will also help remind couples why they are together and why it is important to support one another through complicated times without any subjective opinion or bias (Knobloch-Fedders et al. 2148). Besides, when couples try to solve their relationship problems with the help of friends or relatives, not all information is revealed for the fear of being judged. The counselor is completely impartial and can see the situation from an objective angle that does not involve any personal opinion or judgment.
When counseling, it is important to understand that the military family is usually distant. The socio-psychological goals of distant families are focused on gaining a sense of stability and family integrity, eliminating the painful state of parting, as well as finding mutual understanding as a support and a condition for professional growth (Knobloch-Fedders et al. 2150). Military families are quite mobile in solving vital problems and are distinguished by increased autonomy and independence of actions. At the same time, they need a diverse range of social and psychological services. Therefore, family counseling should be aimed at restoring or transforming the ties of family members with each other, as well as developing the ability to understand each other and form a full-fledged family.
When considering couples counseling, military families can expect several things from the entire process. First, the spouses will talk about the good and the bad things in their relationship in order to understand the sources of their feelings and identify the roots of their conflicts. While laying out everything about one’s problems, with time, it will become easier and more rewarding. Second, couples will have to do their ‘homework’ in the form of exercises that are instrumental to practically applying the lessons learned during counseling sessions (Moore 79). Such assignments can range from simply saying ‘thank you’ to engaging in active listening.
Third, it is up to the couple to decide how long they will have counseling sessions. An important thing to consider is that psychology professionals are there to help couples understand their differences and work through them. The overall consensus regarding the maintenance of military families is that every couple is different and various solutions will work for keeping their marriage strong. However, finding the best way to get through the hardest times is critical for longevity, with open communication and transparency being the key to strong relationships.
The more the couple tells, the more complete the counseling and results will be. The more both spouses open up about their relationship, the more objective the conclusions will be. So, a couple needs to talk about painful things and feel heard. In the next stage, it is important to see the relationship from a new perspective. Besides, the couple has to find the source of the controversy. In the family life of a military couple, many conflicts are born, which are intertwined with each other, create enormous confusion, and cause a feeling of tremendous helplessness and the loss of self-control (Forziat et al. 12).
However, in most cases, there are one or two key problems that can be discovered by creating a list of issues and prioritizing them. Counseling can help to find a new, more useful way to interact and create a plan for getting out of a relationship crisis. It is also important to take steps in the chosen direction and discuss their consequences with each other.
Stemming from the discussion about counseling, military couples should also consider the importance of spirituality and other holistic ways of dealing with family issues. According to Thompson, whether couples are spiritual or secular, it is essential that they find meaning in abstract concepts and practices, such as meditation or prayer, that they can implement in their routines, whether they are long-distance or in their home (Thompson). If a couple is involved in a local church community, for example, it could be beneficial to attend social gatherings with other couples and socialize within a spiritual setting. All the examples are expected to elevate spouses’ levels of attachment while also helping to overcome the obstacles of military couple life through a close emotional connection.
Counseling in military couples focuses on the study of the patterns of interpersonal relationships in the family and intrafamily relationships from the standpoint of influencing the development of personality. Knowledge of patterns allows for practical work with families, diagnosing, and helping to rebuild family relationships. An important synergistic approach allows considering the dynamics of family relations from the standpoint of nonlinearity, and disequilibrium, taking into account periods of crisis (Forziat et al. 15). Currently, family psychotherapy is being actively developed, based on a systemic, scientific approach, integrating the accumulated experience, revealing the general patterns of therapy for families with related disorders.
The military family has special features that are formed under the influence of the conditions of military service. It leaves an imprint on all aspects of family life, its role, functional specifics, and the level of stability. The life of a military couple can be challenged by the lack of open communication and the need to stay apart for long periods due to deployment. While there are several strategies implemented to address the issue, counseling is recommended as the focal approach toward problem-solving. Evidence has shown that counseling is key to maintaining a healthy marriage in military families because it ensures ongoing communication, helps deal with the issues associated with living a long distance, as well as allows develop effective coping mechanisms and conflict resolution strategies.
Family counseling in military couples is important since it contributes to a comprehensive solution to the problems of military families. It is focused on supporting the family, strengthening its values, preserving the family union, improving its moral and psychological climate, and contributing to the successful fulfillment of military service.
Brown, Jessica, and Brenda Hall. “Exploring Intimate Partner Communication in Military Couples: Implications for Counselors.” American Counseling Association, 2009. Web.
Eckhart, Jacey. “How Long-Married Military Couples Stay Together.” Military. 2020. Web.
Forziat, Kellie E., Nicole M. Arcuri, and Chelsea Erb. “Counseling the military population: The factor of prior military exposure for counselors-in-training.” The Journal of Counselor Preparation and Supervision, vol. 10, no. 2017, pp. 1-34.
Knobloch-Fedders, Lynne M., et al. “Relationship changes of military couples during reintegration: A longitudinal analysis.” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, vol. 37, no. 7, 2020, pp. 2145-2165.
Matsakis, Aphrodite. Back from the Front: Combat Trauma, Love, and the Family. Sidran Institute, 2007.
Moore, Bret. Handbook of Counseling Military Couples. Routledge, 2012.
Thompson, Mark F. “Semper FI: The Effect of Marriage Enrichment on Military Marriages: A Causal Study.”. 2011.