Q: My husband just returned from his first deployment to Afghanistan. We're both feeling a bit intimidated by one another after a year apart. How do we deal with this?
Jim: Military families face challenges that those of us in the general population don't have to experience. Thanks to your husband for his service to our country and to you for supporting him in that role.
Author Erin Prater has developed a list of tips for couples who are struggling to "reconnect" after a deployment. Here are a few:
While it may be tempting to plan a surprise homecoming party or family get-together, such celebrations may overwhelm your spouse. Ask him how he'd like to celebrate.
Remember the good old days of dating when the two of you remained engrossed in communication for hours? Enjoy frequent conversation, and relearn his temperament, preferences and quirks.
Laughter really is the best medicine during stressful times. Read the Sunday comics together or watch a funny movie. Don't be afraid to act silly around each other; it's a fun way to develop intimacy.
Offer a back scratch or massage when your husband has a hard time sleeping, but make sure he knows you don't expect one back.
Be available to watch movies or news reports about the conflict in Afghanistan. It's never wise to force a service member to watch such material, but a spouse who is otherwise unwilling (or possibly unable) to talk about difficult experiences might find it easier to express while viewing footage.
Find others you can help as a team. Spend time with the child of a deployed soldier, or bring cookies to war veterans. You'll find yourselves naturally refocused when working together to benefit others.
You can find Erin's full list of tips for reconnecting after deployment at focusonthefamily.com.n n nQ: About six months ago, my sister and I had a big blowup. We haven't spoken since. There's a family reunion coming up and I'm thinking of making other plans. Any advice?
Juli: A Spanish proverb says, "An ounce of blood is worth more than a pound of friendship." The beautiful thing about families is the long-term nature of the connection, through thick and thin.
In practically every other relationship, if you have a blowup or disagreement, you can just let the bond of friendship fade. You see each other less and less often until you've drifted apart.
But you and your sister can never stop being sisters. Holidays, birthdays, graduations, weddings, decisions about aging parents -- each will connect your worlds again.
Only in family relationships are we forced to walk through conflict and hurt feelings throughout the course of life.
I think the most difficult step in resolving a conflict like this is the question, "Who goes first?" Family members can stew over pretty minor arguments for years because both parties are too stubborn to take a step toward peace.
My advice is to take the initiative to mend the relationship with your sister before the reunion. I'm sure she has fault in the blowup; she may even be more at fault than you are.
But show your love and maturity by taking responsibility for your part. You might send a card that says something as simple as, "I miss our friendship. Let's start over." Or just give her a call to say, "I'm really sorry we fought. It doesn't change how much I love you."
Whether your sister responds or not, you will have peace throughout the family reunion knowing that you've done what you can to extend goodwill.
Jim Daly is president of Focus on the Family, host of the "Focus on the Family" radio program, and a husband and father of two.
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of "Focus on the Family," author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.