Managing relationships in Defence families

02 March 2023

The way of life for those in the Defence Force can create unique challenges and demands on Defence families, which can make maintaining healthy relationships difficult.

Frequent relocations, long periods of separation, uncertainty, and the risks of operational deployments can create additional stressors in relationships and family dynamics.

Healthy relationships play a key role in the recovery from the impacts of service. Research has found that quality relationships are associated with reduced stress, anxiety, and depression, alongside increased quality of life, positive mood, self-esteem, and even physical health.

The difficulties when serving

Separation due to military requirements can effectively remove daily interactions and physical contact with partners and children, increasing loneliness and isolation for Defence Force members. 

The potential traumatic stress of serving is also suggested to alter a service person’s perceptions and behaviours, including greater perceived threat and emotional detachment, which creates a barrier to re-engage and re-establish relationships when home.

The impacts on partners and children

When Defence Force members are away, their partners often report feeling lonely, isolated, sad, and depressed, while also worrying about the safety of their loved one. If a child is involved, it typically results in sole-parenting responsibilities for them. 

The process of moving can also have an impact on employment opportunities and access to social supports, increasing feelings of loneliness and social isolation. There are many transitions in the household that can also have a negative impact on military children. These include an absence of role modelling from the serving parent, instability in environment, and the compromise of secure relationships with educators, peers, and wider social networks through geographical relocations. 

Children can experience regressions in learning as well as socio-emotional skills that are required to maintain healthy relationships, which can in turn increase fatigue for parents and impact on their ability to cope, placing additional strain on the family unit. 

Tips on building healthier relationships

Developing and maintaining healthy relationships requires effort, attention, and care, such as:

  • Being self-aware of when we might start to withdraw or become emotionally distant from important people in our lives. The process of reconnecting with those in our lives can’t begin until we first recognise the signs of withdrawal within us.
  • Prioritising important relationships and create time to connect with those that matter the most. Even while away, stay connected through thoughts, gestures and rituals that can be completed together.
  • Maintaining clear and open communication with loved ones. Sharing thoughts, feelings and problems helps to build trust and intimacy in relationships. Practicing good listening skills to enhance ability to understand and connect with others better.
  • Planning an engaging and meaningful activity that can be shared together.
  • Identifying triggers and stressors that lead to tension in the relationship.
  • Taking time out to de-stress and allow breathing room in the relationship to reflect and regulate.
Support at Mates4Mates


Mates4Mates offers a wide range of mental health services to support veterans and their families impacted by service.
If you’re a veteran or family member and would like to find out more about seeing a psychologist at Mates4Mates, reach out to us on 1300 4 MATES for a confidential chat.

To book an appointment, you will need a Medicare or DVA referral from your GP. You do not need to be an inducted Mate to access psychological services.


Written by Ann-Marie Trinh, Mates4Mates Psychologist


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