Traits of tenacious families
Your SOF family can learn to bolster tenacity-building traits to build your family’s performance.

By: Family - Family - 11/15/2018

SOF families are often described as being in the "line of fire" because the indirect effects of exposure to war can impact family relationships.  Your SOF family can learn to bolster tenacity-building traits to build your family's performance.

These traits include communication, cohesion, flexibility, problem solving, and routines and traditions—all central components of family well-being, health, and resilience.  Indeed, many of these traits have been called "crisis shock absorbers" because of their protective functions.  They can either build or diminish your family's strength and tenacity.  Read on to learn about each of them.


Communication is a vital aspect of a resilient family.  Good communication includes being able to speak clearly, listen well, and show a range of emotional expression while remaining respectful.  And remember that children tend to learn their communication and conflict-management skills from their parents.  Families that function well often interact positively on a regular  basis and have family members who nurture and appreciate each other.  However, families don't need to be together all the time or be conflict-free in order to function well.  The key is communication and conflict without criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

Criticism is the act of verbally attacking or blaming someone else.  A person displaying contempt actively disrespects the other person.  When you're defensive, you deny responsibility and make excuses.  Stonewalling refers to withdrawing or ignoring another person.  Family members sometimes resort to unhealthy communication tactics such as these when they don't feel valued or accepted or when poorly handled conflict or unhealthy communication accumulates.  To prevent this, address your concerns early to avoid letting your emotions build up.

SOF families create unique ways to maintain close communication through deployments and long duty times.  Communicating in creative ways during a deployment is an asset.  For example, a combination of phone calls, emails, and video chats can help bolster family connection through a deployment.  Your SOF family can record and send video messages so a deployed family member can watch when it's convenient or safe.  Furthermore, your family might deal with the stress of separation by balancing talk of everyday things with deeper, more meaningful conversations.  When it's possible, keeping deployment communication similar to non-deployment communication (in both planned and spontaneous discussions) can be constructive.  Your children also will benefit from communication with their deployed parent when it's possible.

However, for SOF families communication during deployments can be a unique challenge.  Operational security measures, optempo, and time zone differences are significant barriers.  Still, your family can commit to making best use of the potentially rare time when you can connect with your deployed Operator/Enabler.  If video communication is possible, this method enables you to show gifts and photos to foster a stronger connection.  And when possible, align dates of contact with important life events such as birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays.


Think of cohesion as how close or bonded you are with your family members.  Families that function best are those that balance of closeness and commitment to each other—yet also support each member's independence and differences.  Close family members also trust, appreciate, encourage, nurture, and respect each other.  Such relationships help buffer and support individuals through tough times.  In high-stress situations, your family can use its cohesion to protect its members until they're able to adapt.

A cohesive family shares beliefs about the family unit and about events that occur around and to them.  Think about how you'd describe your family.  What does it mean to be a part of your family?  How do you treat the members of your family?  How does this compare to how you treat others?  In a cohesive family, members share a common understanding of what it means to be a part of the family unit.  They can use the traits they assign to their family as evidence the family will persevere through stress.  A cohesive family also instills in its children the value that they are part of something bigger than just themselves:  they are part of a family.


Flexibility means being able to reorganize when new challenges come your way.  When stress, disruptions, and hardships impact your family, you need to react and adapt by being flexible.  Enduring through hard times—from massive traumas to daily hassles—can make a family stronger, especially if you're able to change your mindset about stress from being an enemy to being an ally.  Your family's ability to adapt well might depend on your answers to the following questions:

  • What challenges might result from the current hardship you're experiencing?

  • Are multiple family transitions occurring at the same time?

  • Have several family hardships accumulated over time?

  • What is your family's ability to cope with the hardship?

  • Does your family have community support?

Is your family able to change its patterns of behavior to is done with care and cooperation, and when your relationship as a couple is based on mutual respect, flexibility is possible.  When you approach hardships and daily stress with an open mind, when you strive to see the positive in a challenging situation, and when you reinforce that your family has the skills and strength to persevere, as parents you model flexibility that your children can replicate, which increases cohesion as a family unit.

If stress piles up, a family can slip into crisis mode.  What helps families be flexible during a crisis?  Restore routines, reallocate family roles and functions, and increase coordination across your family unit.  Bolstering your family's flexibility is a key protective factor for family wellness.

Problem Solving And Coping

Your family's problem-solving abilities help you manage stress by eliminating it or its related consequences.  When your family faces a hardship, how you first respond is important for how you adjust later.  Each family member can appraise the situation in vastly different ways.  When your family responds with positive coping strategies and proactive problem solving, then you'll accumulate less stress as a family over time.

When you and your family need to solve a problem together, try these steps:

  1. Specifically state the problem or issue.

  2. Discuss why the issue is important.

  3. Brainstorm, list, and discuss all the possible solutions.

  4. Have everyone decide on one realistic solution you're all willing to try and can live with.

  5. Pick a specific amount of time to try the solution and start soon.

  6. Meet again to discuss how well the solution worked.  If the first solution didn't work, pick another one and follow steps 4–6 until you've solved the issue.

If high stress levels continue over time, your family needs to figure out how to maintain everyday responsibilities while still meeting the needs of the additional challenge until you adjust permanently, resolve the challenge, or the challenge disappears.  Family members also must manage their emotions (that is, cope well) while trying to solve the problem.  This is your family's search for a new equilibrium—that is, a new normal.  During this time, you can build on small successes, plan proactively, and prepare for future events.

Routines And Traditions

Family rituals, traditions, celebrations, and routines also foster resilience.  Sharing fun activities and spending quality time together create opportunities to connect with each other and build stability within your family.  Couples who spend their leisure time together are less likely to divorce or separate.  Family routines (such as mealtimes together, bedtime stories for children, and holiday celebrations) also link to family stability.  Strive to keep children's routines as consistent as possible, especially when a parent is deployed.

This provides significant security and comfort to kids and can reduce the negative, reactionary behaviors children sometimes display when a parent deploys.  Maintaining routines also can help families preserve expectations about how a typical day will go.  The stay-at-home spouse is often inundated with responsibilities during a deployment; maintaining routines can help keep kids on track so the parent can focus on other essential tasks.  Taken together, families that maintain family rituals, routines, and celebrations in normal times as well as in times of heightened stress are more able to remain strong.


Certain family characteristics—communication, cohesion, flexibility, problem solving, and routines and traditions—can either enhance or diminish family tenacity.  All families are likely to experience extreme difficulty and falter at some point, but strong families embody more of these positive traits and use them to bounce back from stress.  However, don't wait for trauma or crisis to occur:  your family can be proactive and foster resilient characteristics at all times.  The same characteristics that buffer your family in times of crisis will also help you weather the storms of everyday life.  Being strong doesn't mean you don't ever falter—it means that you bounce back from difficulties stronger and more prepared to confront the next ones.

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