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 can enhance the good times and may help you get through the bad. Often times, Veterans get closer to their families and friends when faced with challenging situations. However, sometimes difficult experiences or unhealthy relationships with family, friends or peers may 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, caring for spouses, children or elderly parents. Relationships can be strained by these situations even if 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 you’re undergoing a significant change in your life such as retirement, moving, or changing jobs, you may not feel as if you are the same person you once were—or you may feel like those close to you have changed. Perhaps the things your family and friends care about don’t seem very important to you anymore. Your family and friends may notice a change in you as well and may be hurt, confused, sad, or angry. Your loved ones may feel awkward around you because they are not sure what to say or do around you 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 can lead to even 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 are not the same as when they left. Some Veterans ignore those feelings about the relationship changes for years—only to have to deal with them much later in life.
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. It makes sense to prefer to spend time with others who have shared your experiences. 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 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?
Many Veterans need some time to adjust after an intense experience or major change in their lives. Some Veterans need a longer time to adjust than others. Sometimes the stresses of adjusting contribute to family problems or relationship problems, but they don’t have to. You may want to reach out for help with the adjustment process if you notice any of the following over a long period of time:
- Feeling disconnected or misunderstood by your family and closest 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 roles
- Feeling like a stranger in your own home or noticing that your kids 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 that you can take that may help you manage challenges in your relationships. Try to remember to:
“At times, I wish that my spouse would just ‘get it’ and understand all the things that I am dealing with. What I figured out is that the more honest and up front I am, the more that happens and better things get. We take it one day at a time.”
- Get the right amount of sleep
- Maintain a healthy diet by eating right
- Make a “communication plan” for expressing your thoughts and feelings with those you care about, thinking through 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—this may be a hobby, a Veterans’ group, volunteer work, or being involved in a place of worship
- Pace your social involvement and family activities—don’t overdo it or overwhelm yourself
- Find ways to spend fun time together that are not too emotionally or physically demanding
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 problems or relationship problems, it may be helpful in deciding whether or not it would be a good idea to see a professional.
Take the next step – Make the connection.
Every day, Veterans connect with useful resources and effective support for family and relationship issues. If family problems and 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 family 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 advisor
Explore these resources for more information about family problems and relationship problems in Veterans.
Learn more about the possible associations between family and relationship problems and other issues such as stress and anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress, a history of military sexual trauma, and alcohol or drug problems.
Vet Centers offer group and individual counseling for Veterans and their families. If you are a combat Veteran or experienced any sexual trauma during your military service, 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.
VA Medical Center Facility Locator
Family and relationship trouble could also be associated with other health conditions that need attention. Many VA facilities have specially trained staff to help with family issues. This website will allow you to search for VA programs located near you. If you are eligible to receive care through the Veterans Health Administration, you can enroll in one of VA’s treatment programs.
Coaching Into Care
This VA program provides guidance for helping family members to encourage their Veterans to get on a better track. Free and confidential assistance is available by calling 1-888-823-7458 or emailing CoachingIntoCare@va.gov.