What can be considered relationship problems?
Have you had trouble lately getting along with people close to you? Or maybe your relationship with your family hasn’t been as good lately as it used to be. Perhaps military life or deployment has strained your relationships or made it challenging to take care of the people who depend on you. Maybe it’s difficult to talk or make decisions with your family without getting into arguments, or you feel disconnected from the important people in your life.
Many of these problems are common to everyone at some point in life. But others are unique to situations that Veterans and their loved ones experience.
What can lead to relationship problems?
Problems like stress, posttraumatic stress, health concerns, depression, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, feeling out of place or disconnected, or difficulties with memory may interfere with strong relationships. Family members and friends may not understand these problems very well, including how they can affect relationships. Veterans who have experienced traumatic events such as combat or sexual assaults often find it especially difficult to talk to their loved ones.
Military training rewards self-reliance, so your first instinct when facing any problem may be to withdraw or isolate from others instead of sharing what you are going through. It can also feel like you are protecting your loved ones by not sharing information. But instead, it can cause you and your family members to feel disconnected or distant.
“Even though I tried hard to care about certain things again, especially the issues my wife and I were having, at the end of the day I was still numb to a lot of it. Many of my problems at home seemed to pale in comparison to the things I had to overcome during my deployment.”
Relationship issues can make it difficult to enjoy life: You may feel as if no one understands you, and as a result, you may lash out or pull away from the people in your life.
Sometimes relationship problems involve emotional or physical abuse. Behaviors that are fear-inducing, controlling, demeaning, intimidating, or physically or emotionally abusive or violent are signs of an abusive relationship. Whether you are on the receiving end of these behaviors or your behavior is what's harmful or scary to others, it's essential to find support. Family members, friends, or a professional — such as a doctor or counselor — can help you learn healthier ways of relating that do not bring harm to others.
What are signs that I should reach out for support?
You may want to reach out for help if you are experiencing any of the following over a long period of time, or if others have pointed these out to you:
- Feeling misunderstood or disconnected from your family and close friends or having them tell you they feel distant or pushed away
- Having difficulty communicating
- Feeling distant from your spouse/partner even if you initially felt very close when you first returned from deployment
- Feeling like a stranger in your own home
- Feeling emotionally distant or numb or avoiding closeness with others
- Withdrawing from participation in social activities
- Feeling lonely
- Believing that you're a burden to others
- Acting or feeling angry or aggressive toward others in your life
- Withdrawing from making plans or returning people's calls
- Not being able to confide in others like you used to
- Losing patience with family members, including children
- Drinking alcohol more often or taking drugs
- Feeling constantly on edge
- Being angry or irritable
- Losing interest or pleasure in things you normally enjoy
- Having difficulty living your usual life or just getting through the day
If I’m experiencing relationship problems, what can I do about it right away?
Many Veterans have overcome relationship problems that arose after time away from family or after traumatic events or stressful situations. Here are some tips they have found to be helpful:
- Address the issue as soon as you realize it's happening to prevent it from getting worse.
- Make a “communication plan” for expressing your thoughts and feelings with those you care about by thinking about what you want to say and how you want to convey it. Writing these thoughts and feelings down can often help.
- Listen to what others who care about you have to say.
- Talk with others who may be experiencing similar issues.
- Exercise regularly to help relieve stress and boost your mood.
- Practice relaxation exercises such as deep breathing.
- Make an effort to spend time with people you care about to relax or have fun.
- Find something social to do, such as a hobby, a Veterans’ group, volunteer work, or becoming involved in a place of worship.
- Balance alone time and "together" time.
You can take this free, confidential self-assessment to get feedback on your relationship problems. Although this short quiz is not a formal assessment, it can give you a sense of how you're doing with family or relationship issues and may be helpful in deciding how to take action, including if seeking professional help might be a good idea.
“Just like we all say in the service, ‘It’s all about that person to your left and right.’ Those are the kinds of relationships that kept us strong — and kept us alive — while we were in, and it’s just as important to maintain that strength in our personal relationships now that we’re out.”
Talking to your family and friends about the difficulties in your relationships can be an important first step. While it can be difficult to share your feelings, it's important to explain what you're experiencing to them. They may get a better understanding of your circumstances and help you find support. You may also want to use support services to help you to better express yourself with your family and friends.
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 useful resources and effective treatments for relationship problems. If relationship trouble is 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. Consider connecting with:
- Your doctor. Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does. If you feel comfortable enough with your physician, he or she may be able to help you find tools to manage relationship problems even without direct experience with Veterans.
- A mental health professional, such as a therapist
- Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center. VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans.
- A spiritual or religious adviser
Explore these resources for more information about relationship problems in Veterans.
Learn more about what you can do if you are experiencing specific concerns related to relationship problems, such as stress and anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress, 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.
National Center for PTSD – Intimate Partner Violence Information
This resource provides information on intimate partner violence and the VA services that are available for Veterans who experienced abuse in their relationships.
This website has wellness resources for Veterans and Service members, including information and self-help tools for anger and irritability and other issues they commonly experience.
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.
VA Medical Center Facility Locator
Relationship problems may be related to other health conditions that need attention. 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.