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UF expert: Military families can thrive with communication, respect

ORLANDO, Fla. – This Valentine’s Day, Mark and Kimberly Brooks  will look fondly back at 35 years of marriage, with most of those years spent moving around the globe to different military bases.

Mark, who retired from the United States Army after more than 10 years of service, recalls the adjustments and challenges he and his wife Kimberly faced as a young military couple.

“The moves were so hard with two small children, and family was thousands of miles away,” says Mark, who was stationed everywhere from Germany to Japan to Panama. “We survived because we were determined to make it as a family and as husband and wife. We communicated constantly and set ground rules for fighting fair.”

Communication is key to building a solid relationship, says Victor Harris, an associate professor of family, youth and community sciences at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Military families face unique challenges, but they can thrive, says Harris, director of the UF/IFAS Smart Couples program offered in five Florida counties.

“While military couples are less likely to divorce than civilian couples, their divorce rate does go up after the service member leaves the military,” Harris says. “Marriages that see longer deployments are also more likely to divorce, probably because the increased time apart eventually just becomes too much of a hardship. And there is an increased risk of divorce when the service member sees combat.”

Harris provides tips for couples in the military who want to strengthen their relationships:

  • Take advantage of resources: The armed forces do offer many helpful support programs for couples and families, including classes and retreats. Take advantage of these, even if you think you don’t need them.
  • Be intentional: Consciously work on ways to maintain your connection when apart, using tools like care packages, journal exchanges, and sharing memories and future goals.
  • Ask for help: Reach out for assistance from friends (others who are going through the same thing may be helpful), family, and military programs.
  • Be prepared: Educate yourself on the stages of deployment and typical reactions to these stages, so that you understand what’s going on. It can be very comforting to realize that you’re not alone.

“While being part of a military couple definitely has its challenges, these marriages and spouses unquestionably also have their strengths,” Harris says. “Together, you and your spouse can unite to face the challenges of remaining close while continuing to serve your country.”

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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

 

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