Announcements — December 2011 Archives

December 1, 2011

Mission: Healthy Relationships After War

A recent study suggests more than 300,000 troops suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or a traumatic brain injury — no surprise to VCU School of Social Work Associate Professor, Dr. Karen Smith Rotabi, who runs Mission Healthy Relationships, a program aimed at teaching military couples how to manage conflict and improve their relationship.

RICHMOND, Va. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Thousands of military families are eagerly awaiting the arrival of troops from Iraq. Last month, President Obama announced that all the troops would be home by December 31. Re-adjusting to civilian life and a marriage after the stress of combat and extended separations can mean couples are more likely to face relationship trouble. That’s where a program aimed at saving troops’ marriages comes in.

Walking hand in hand, Roy and Mary Bell are a happy couple, but the road hasn’t been easy. The two got reacquainted at their 10-year high school reunion. Sparks flew and six weeks later, they were married.

“It was right, it felt right and I believe God sent him to me and for me,” Mary Bell told Ivanhoe.

Roy had just returned from Iraq, his third combat deployment and readjusting to life became a battle.

“I think emergency room doctors haven’t seen as much stuff as I have,” Roy Bell told Ivanhoe. “Each time I got deployed, it got harder and harder to be around groups of people. To trust people and to really be comfortable about myself and to be myself.”

“Roy just really kept a lot of things to himself. I think his time in Iraq really impacted him being able to verbalize how he was feeling,” Mary Bell, Roy’s wife, told Ivanhoe.

A recent study suggests more than 300,000 troops suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or a traumatic brain injury. Roy suffers from both. The news is no surprise to Karen Smith Rotabi, who runs Mission Healthy Relationships.

“I’ve had people say, my husband is just not the same or my wife is not the same person. We’ve had to negotiate something new. They are no longer fun with the kids,” Karen Smith Rotabi, School of Social Work, Virginia Commonwealth University, said.

Her top tips? Create a safe environment for your partner. For Mary and Roy, that meant letting Roy open up at his own pace.

“That was one of the things that was real special about Mary is that she always showed that she was there for me,” Roy said.

Also, plan and commit to a date night.

“Write down five to 10 things that you think would be fun as a date night that you want to do,” Rotabi added.

But keep deeper issues out of the date.

“The way to prevent that is to talk about the tough issues at appropriate times so you can go out to dinner and enjoy each other,” Rotabi said.

And remember how you manage conflict will determine the health of your relationship. Fifty-nine percent of marital conflict is about hidden issues. Practice active listening.

“Another way to say it is, ‘So let me get this right: when I don’t take the trash out, you feel like I don’t care about the house,’” Rotabi said.

You can use these same skills you learn for smaller issues on the ones that really count.

“If we can overcome those things, then there is nothing we cannot overcome,” Mary concluded.

Even the stormiest of days.

The stresses of war could also be contributing to increased reports of family violence within the military over the last two years. A new report says 16 domestic abuse deaths were reported to the family advocacy program last year. In 81 percent of the cases, the perpetrator was on active-duty in the military.