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What should I know about managing my relationships with friends and family?

Relationships with friends, family, and co-workers can have a major impact on your everyday life. The love, support, and friendship of people who care about you may make the good times even better and can help you get through the bad times. Oftentimes, Veterans get closer to their families and friends when faced with challenging situations; yet there are occasions when difficult experiences or unhealthy relationships with family members, friends, or peers can cause excessive stress or challenges.

Many Veterans are dealing with stress related to military family life or challenges that are common to many families, such as finding or keeping a job and caring for spouses, children, or elderly parents. Relationships can be strained by these situations even when family and friends are also a source of happiness and support.

There are times when getting along with other people can be more difficult than you expect. If you’re returning from deployment or other time away from family and friends, or if you’re undergoing a significant change in your life, such as retiring, moving, or changing jobs, you may not feel as if you are the same person you once were — or you may feel that those close to you have changed. Perhaps the things your family and friends care about don’t seem as important to you anymore. Your family and friends may notice you have changed as well, and they may feel hurt, confused, sad, or angry. Your loved ones may feel awkward around you because they are not sure what to say or do to make you feel comfortable. Communication can be hard during the best of times, even with those you are closest to — but not communicating during challenging experiences may cause more trouble down the road.

“Just like performing maintenance on your equipment, every relationship works better the more effort you put in to it. A lot of times I didn’t want to deal with certain issues, especially after a long day, but in the end, it always feels better to resolve issues as they crop up as opposed to setting them aside for another day.”

Some Veterans, members of the National Guard, and Reservists return home from being away and immediately notice that things are different. Others may enjoy being home seeing family and friends at first, but then, as the feeling of celebration fades, they notice that their lives aren’t the same as when they left. It is understandable to want to spend some time alone after an intense or stressful time or to feel as though others around you may not understand what you’ve been through during your time in the military. However, not reaching out to family and friends can sometimes lead to social isolation or relationship conflicts — and may actually make you feel worse over time. It is essential to your well-being, as well as to the well-being of those around you, to make time to reconnect with other people. You should also take time for yourself. Both are important.

What family and relationship-related issues should I keep an eye out for?

Relationships can change quickly, especially after a major change in your life, or changes can happen slowly over time and may be difficult to notice. You may want to reach out for help if you notice any of the following in your relationships:

  • Feeling disconnected or misunderstood by your family and closest friends
  • Arguing a lot with family members or friends
  • Feeling distant from your spouse/partner
  • Feeling like you and your spouse/partner cannot agree on household tasks or like you’ve been replaced in your former role after being away
  • Feeling like a stranger in your own home or noticing that your children seem disconnected from you
  • Feeling emotionally distant or numb
  • Wanting to avoid people who used to be important to you
  • Drinking alcohol more often, or taking drugs
  • Being constantly on edge or jumpy
  • Feeling angry or irritable
  • Having problems eating or sleeping
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Forgetting things often
  • Losing interest or pleasure in things you normally enjoy
  • Having difficulty living your usual life or just getting through the day
  • Acting violently or being physically aggressive

What can I do about family and relationship issues?

There are several steps you can take that may help you manage your relationship issues. Try to remember to:

  • Make a “communication plan” for expressing your thoughts and feelings with those you care about; think about what you want to say and how to say it.
  • Listen to what others who care about you have to say.
  • Find something social to do — a hobby, a Veterans’ group, volunteer work, or participation in a place of worship.
  • Pace your social involvement and family activities; don’t overdo it or overwhelm yourself.
  • Discover ways you can spend time with others in ways that aren’t too emotionally or physically demanding.
  • Get the right amount of sleep.
  • Maintain a healthy diet by eating right.

You can take a free, confidential self-assessment to see if you may have issues relating to your family or relationships. Although this short quiz can’t tell you for sure if you have family or relationship problems, it may be helpful in deciding whether it would be a good idea to see a professional.

Take the next step: Make the connection.

Every day, Veterans who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard connect with proven resources and effective support for family and relationship issues. If family or relationship problems are affecting your health and well-being or getting in the way of your happiness, work, or daily activities, you may want to reach out for support. This is especially important to take care of immediately if violence or physical aggression is a part of your relationships. Consider connecting with:

  • Your doctor. Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does
  • A mental health professional, such as a family therapist or counselor
  • Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center. VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans, and many offer couples or family counseling.
  • A spiritual or religious adviser

Explore these resources for more information about family problems and relationship problems.

Learn more about what you can do if you are experiencing specific concerns related to family and relationship problems, such as stress and anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress, a history of military sexual trauma, and alcohol or drug problems.

Coaching Into Care
This VA program provides guidance for helping family members encourage their Veterans to get on a better track. Free, confidential assistance is available by calling 1-888-823-7458 or emailing CoachingIntoCare@va.gov.
http://www.mirecc.va.gov/coaching/

Moving Forward: Overcoming Life’s Challenges
Moving Forward is a free online educational and life-coaching program that teaches problem-solving skills to help you better handle life’s challenges. While it’s designed to be especially helpful for Veterans, Service members, and their families, Moving Forward teaches skills that can be useful to anyone with stressful problems.
www.veterantraining.va.gov/movingforward

Vet Center
If you are a combat Veteran, you can bring your DD214 to your local Vet Center and speak with a counselor or therapist — many of whom are Veterans themselves — for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA. In addition, any Veteran who was sexually traumatized while serving in the military is eligible to receive counseling regardless of gender or era of service.
www2.va.gov/directory/guide/vetcenter_flsh.asp

VA Medical Center Facility Locator
VA provides world-class health care to eligible Veterans. Most Veterans qualify for cost-free health care services, although some Veterans must pay modest copays for health care or prescriptions. Explore your eligibility for health care using VA's Health Benefits Explorer tool and find out more about the treatment options available to you.
www2.va.gov/directory/guide/home.asp?isflash=1