How to Deal with Family Stress from Military Life

Stress is a normal part of most people’s lives.  Of course, not all stress is bad.  But some stress can negatively affect your health and damage or destroy your relationships, especially if left untreated.  When it comes to military life, there are many things that can cause family stress.  Several examples include deployments, time away from home, working long hours, moving every few years, struggling financially, and much more.

In the paragraphs below, I want to share some of my favorite tips for reducing family stress for military personnel and military families.

# 1 Get Involved in the Family Support Group

Every Army unit is supposed to have a Family Support Group.  This is a group where spouses, family members, and friends of the family can meet up on a regular basis for fellowship and to find out what is going on in the unit.  It’s a great place to meet new friends and share your feelings or concerns.  Best of all, it’s free.

# 2 Attend Marriage Retreats and Marriage Classes

The ARNG, USAR and Active Duty all offer free marriage retreats and classes for military families.  I’ve been on one of these retreats myself (and my spouse) and really enjoyed it.  The retreats are taught by a chaplain and/or marriage counselor or therapist.  You will learn lots of great ideas about keeping your relationship strong and reducing the family stress.

# 3 Sit Down with the a Chaplain or Pastor

Most Army units also have a Chaplain.  Whether you are a religious person or not, the Chaplain can sit down with you and offer you some great advice to keep your relationship strong and reduce the family stress in your household.  If you are a religious person, you can also talk to your pastor at your local church.

# 4 Talk with Other Military Families to See What They Do

You could find a trusted friend or couple that has lived the “military life” for 10+ years and get some tips from them.  You might be surprised at what you can learn from someone who has been there and done that.  Most long-term military couples have a lot of experience dealing with issues facing today’s military personnel.

# 5 Read Some Books on Stress Management

There are lots of great books on stress management.  You can visit your local library or go to your local book store.  I’ve recommended a few of my favorite “family stress” related books that will benefit military families.

# 6 Have a Heart to Heart with Your Spouse

If the stress is built up in your home, you should have a heart to heart with your spouse.  After all, you are a team.  You should be able to talk to each other about things.  Letting the stress build up and keeping it all to yourself is a bad idea.  When you are stressed out, sit down with your spouse for an hour or so and talk about what you are feeling and thinking.

# 7 Resign, ETS or Get Out of the Military If Needed

There might come a point in your career where “serving in the military” might not be the best course of action for your family.  I’ve always believed that the family is more important than the military.  Some people might disagree, but I believe that your family should always be # 1, even ahead of your career.  If you see that your military career is destroying your relationship(s), you should consider looking for a new career.

Final Thoughts

The secret to dealing with stress is to understand it.  You must realize that stress is normal and learn to identify when you are stressed out.  When you feel stressed for more than a day straight, sit down and talk to someone you trust.  Don’t let it build up and get out of control.  By following the seven ideas listed above for how to deal with family stress from military life, you should be able to resolve any issue you have.

If you have any comments or questions, you can post them below.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, psychiatrist, or family therapist.  These are simply my tips from my personal experience in the military.  If you need help, visit a licensed professional.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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24 thoughts on “How to Deal with Family Stress from Military Life”

  1. Every marriage, military or not, has stress. You mentioned it in your post, but I just have to reinforce it…communication. Those heart-to-heart talks have saved many marriages. They must be two-sided conversations, not just one talking. I am also a firm believer in Chaplains, Priests or Pastors being intermediaries. Just talking can sometimes alleviate the worst of problems.

    This was an excellent post; one that could be used just as well on any marriage website.

    Thank you.

  2. Candace Ginestar

    My husband and I cherish every minute we have together, since the first year of marriage was spent apart, and the third will be spent apart as well. You can’t buy back the time lost, but you can make the most of what you have. I don’t like going to ‘girls only’ events or whatever else – I only socialize when my husband and I go together. Likewise for him not needing ‘boys weekends’.

    I think that making yourself healthy has to be a priority before you can be healthy together. whatever it takes…working out, reading, etc. Work on your resilience and you can grow together even stronger than before.

  3. For my husband and I, if we ever get stressed out or have anxiety trickling into our home we sit down and talk it out before things start to get out of hand – because we have been there, done that! We have also utilized a Marriage Counselor who helped us through some of the stresses of being apart and he helped us become a unit again after all that my husband had been through.

    But all in all I think the most important thing is to communicate, and love each other unconditionally despite the circumstances. It is hard, trust me! But we have made it through some tough times together.

  4. Doyle Marquette

    I think the biggest key to dealing with the stress is to communicate. You have to talk about your feelings and what you are going through. Otherwise, things will build up and the stress will be hard to deal with.

  5. From my friends and family who have had members deployed and/or in combat and then return home, they find it difficult to understand and to communicate. They have not had the experience of having to face fearful situations without fear, to see another way of life besides that of middle-class America, to kill someone, to see friends killed, nor to be almost killed. The family and friends do not know if they should be silent or to be conversational. They don’t understand the returned soldier and what she or he is going through. Sometimes what’s needed is caring, professional, outside help such as at a marriage retreat. I agree.

    1. In today’s world all families have stress. Between long commutes, the lack of good jobs, high divorce rates, both partners working, and so much more. Stress in the military is even higher, especially since 9/11 and the frequent deployments. I think the key to dealing with the stress is to be aware of it and not let things build up. You have to talk about your problems with each other. Your marriage must be a top priority.

  6. Neil O'Donnell

    Seeking counseling from a therapist or chaplain is a great move to take for anyone dealing with personal issues, family related or otherwise. There is no shame in seeking such help, because everyone needs such supports at some moment in their life. I would also agree that family is the priority. If, ultimately, leaving military life is best for a family, the soldier should resign. To me, putting a priority on family is an act of honor and strength and should not be seen as a weakness.

    1. Chaplains are a great resource to deal with stress from military life. I’ve utilized the Chaplain many times myself during my career, and I’m not even a religious person. The Chaplain’s are good at listening and they are normally very level headed and full of great ideas.

  7. Having a strong support key is crucial, when you are dealing with stress from military life. Remember your friends and family members are only a phone call away. There are also a number of support groups that can be helpful, but the first step is acknowledging that stress is impacting your relationship. After, you can accept this and start finding ways that you and your partner can deal with it accordingly.

    1. Thanks for the comment.

      Everyone NEEDS a strong support group, whether they realize it or not. It’s nice to know you have someone you can talk with when the need arises.

      And when you feel stressed, you need an outlet to deal with it!


    2. Being in the military and having a happy and healthy family is tough to do, especially when you are always gone and deployed. The military cost me my first marriage and almost my second marriage. You really have to marry someone who is flexible and understands the military way of live. It isn’t a good fit for most couples.

  8. These are great tips for ANY family that experiences the stresses of work, household duties, raising children, etc. My husband and I always try to set a date night at least twice a month. We usually pick an activity that re-bonds us together and creates a private space to focus on each other.

    1. Amy Skalicky

      Lauren, kudos to you and your husband for proactively finding time together. Successful marriages take on-going work, and taking advantage of the more pleasurable “work” opportunities, such as date night, is definitely a great step in keeping your bond strong and your relationship healthy. It is so easy to become immersed in daily living with the demands of raising children and careers, sometimes at the expense of significant others. I am glad you guys work to keep things in balance.

      1. Let’s face it, military life is tough on families. Civilians do not understand what it is like to be apart 9-18 months at a time. You also have to worry about whether or not your spouse is in harm’s way when they are deployed. I think the key to success is trust, respect and communication.

  9. It can be so difficult to compartmentalize different aspects of your life, and sometimes it can even be harmful, but it seems like it might be essentail when you lead a military life. Can’t bring your work home with you.

  10. Chuck your ideas are great and very important to keeping a happy household. Too many times we are pulled in different directions with our schedules, and overlook the little things at home that keep the home fires burning. It’s important to seperate your professional life with you personal life. Thanks for the great topic and a fresh reminder.

    Semper Fi brother,


    1. Lance,

      Thanks for visiting my blog. Keeping the “home fires burning” should be a top priority for every Soldier, Marine, Sailor and Airman! Happy spouse equals happy life.


  11. One quick and relatively easy thing you can also do is schedule a date night: it can be going out to dinner, going bowling, or just sitting and talking. (Don’t do something like watch a movie – your attention needs to be focused on your spouse.) Clear the air and spend some face-to-face time. Remind each other (and yourselves) what you love about your spouse!

    1. Great point Lisa. Whenever my wife and I schedule a date night we always have lots of fun. The best date nights are when we can have private time to talk to each other and spend quality time together. It’s hard to do that during movies. I personally like picnics, private dinners, playing board games, spending time on the beach, etc. These activities are romantic, quiet and private.

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