Military family life often includes frequent moves, deployments that can last for months or even years, emotional and mental stress, and many transitional periods that can be stressful and emotionally taxing. Resilience is the ability to remain flexible and bounce back from stressful periods and events. For military families, learning ways to improve bonds can increase your family’s resilience, helping every family member to live a more healthy and peaceful life. We wanted to share a few tips for strengthening familial relationships in a military family. 

1. Improve communication skills to increase resilience

Communication is a key factor in building trust and strengthening bonds, but it isn’t always easy for everyone to cultivate. Strengthening your communication skills is a great way to improve familial bonds. Here are a few ways to step up your ability to communicate effectively: 

  • Listen. Building trust is important when it comes to creating a more resilient family. One of the ways you can do that is by making sure your family members – whether it’s your spouse or your children – feel heard and understood. Firstly, make sure that you are giving a person undivided attention during important conversations. This means putting the phone down and closing the laptop or turning off the television and focusing on the conversation. Really take time to listen to what a person is saying instead of immediately formulating a response. Ask questions to clarify statements to avoid misunderstandings.  
  • Pick up the phone. In an age where we do a great deal of communicating through text and email, sometimes tone can get misconstrued when using those forms of communication. When you need to have a serious conversation, it’s always better to pick up the phone to avoid misunderstandings. 
  • Try to stay calm. Having patience isn’t always easy, but calmly communicating your feelings is the best way to keep conversations on track and helps cultivate trust. 

2. Spend quality time together as much as you can 

Spending quality time with your partner and children is extremely important for strengthening familial resilience. Finding activities that you all enjoy doing together gives you opportunities to learn more about each other.  

Military families are unique in that there are times when a family member may be away for extended periods. Many veterans describe the differences they experienced in relating to family members upon returning from deployment. Spending joyful moments can help create memories that improve the flexibility of familial bonds.  

3. Work on your mental and emotional health with a medical provider 

The emotional and mental stress experienced by active-duty members and veterans can have lasting impacts on the entire family unit. Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) can occur after witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. While not all members and veterans experience symptoms of PTS, it’s important to know what to look for so that you can address it with a medical care provider. Some symptoms of PTS include: 

  • Re-experiencing: 
    • Flashbacks: You may find yourself reliving a traumatic event. This could include physical symptoms such as a racing heart or sweating. 
    • Nightmares: These might include dreams related to the event
    • Frightening thoughts: These can include thoughts and fears about harming yourself or others 
  • Avoidance: avoiding thoughts, feelings, places, activities, or objects that remind you of the traumatic event 
  • Reactivity: being easily startled, feeling tense, having trouble sleeping 
  • Cognition and mood: experiencing negative thoughts, feelings of guilt or blame, or loss of interest in hobbies 

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, seek professional counseling. While individual counseling can be extremely helpful, family counseling can also increase resilience by giving each member of the family the opportunity to heal and grow through the transitions that come with military life.

4. Find available resources, programs and events in your area 

Military families face unique challenges and finding resources that can help you navigate those challenges can make all the difference in how your family copes. Luckily, there are thousands of programs available to active-duty service members, veterans, and their families across the country that provide support for everything from moving and counseling to youth programs and local family events. Finding the right resources for you and your loved ones can help you through the ups and downs of military service and family life. 

Many participants of Heroes On the Water have shared the healing and connections they have experienced while attending kayaking and fishing events with volunteer-led chapters in their local area. The unique combination of camaraderie and outdoor activities gives families a chance to create joyful memories while also experiencing the peace and healing effects of being on the water. You can find chapters near you using our online map. 

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