Coping Strategies for Military Couples: How to Face Conflict
Deployment is a major disruption in the lives of both the Service member and their partner, and adjusting to this new normal can take a toll on the relationship. Researchers have identified three common coping strategies used by couples to manage stressors during a deployment (i.e., emotion-focused, problem-focused, and avoidance) and evaluated how each strategy worked for the couples. We will discuss each method below.
Emotion-Focused Coping involves coping with the feelings related to the stressor rather than addressing the stressor directly. This strategy can be particularly helpful when dealing with the deployment stress because, while you cannot change the deployment, you can change the way you cope with it (e.g., go for a walk, bake a cake for your co-workers to take your mind off your partner being away). Researchers found that partners who use higher levels of emotion-focused coping and lower levels of avoidance coping during deployment report higher levels of relationship satisfaction.
Problem-Focused Coping means trying to change the stressor itself. This strategy is most effective in situations where control is possible. Researchers found that when Service members and their partners used problem-focused as a coping strategy during a deployment, it did not associate positively or negatively with their relationship satisfaction. Problem-focused coping is therefore unhelpful for cope specifically with a deployment.
Avoidance Coping is the management of conflict by not addressing the conflict directly. This can look like passive-aggression, procrastination, or avoiding discussion of the issue. Sometimes, it’s easier to avoid a problem because it’s too difficult to face; however, avoidance coping strategies have the potential to make you angrier. Researchers found that avoidance coping was used most commonly by Service members with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and by partners with psychological distress (i.e., anxiety, depression, and stress). However, in military couple relationships, both Service members and their partners’ use of avoidance approaches resulted in lower relationship satisfaction and more psychological distress.
It's important to remember that the most beneficial coping strategy is the one best-suited to each situation. Emotion-focused coping works great for managing stressors beyond your control, like a deployment. With that said, research has consistently shown that avoidance coping is linked to poor well-being. Although deployments are challenging for couples and families, spend time creating a plan that will allow you to maintain control of your relationship.
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