Anyone in a romantic relationship (yes, that includes those of you who are married) knows that creating and maintaining a healthy relationship takes hard work. In the military, such factors as long hours at work and deployments and separations can take their toll on a relationship. Often, when service members return home after an absence, they discover that some roles have changed. Feelings of anger, isolation, betrayal and fear may be experienced by many people in these circumstances. A variety of stressors can challenge even the best relationships.

So, what can you do to improve and keep your relationship healthy'

Good habits like physical exercise and healthy nutrition keep our bodies and minds strong. So it is with healthy relationships! To improve and maintain a healthy relationship start practicing these three good habits:

First, work on improving your communication. You can begin now, and reap the benefits immediately by using these techniques:
- Active listening-Really listen to what your partner is saying when he or she is talking. Eliminate distractions such as television, an iPod or video games! Tune in to your partner's words and hear what is being said behind the words. Benefit: Your partner will feel valued and important.
- Reflection-When your partner finishes speaking, repeat what your partner said, so he or she knows you are listening. This practice ensures you really understand what is being communicated. Your partner then has a chance to clarify if you didn't quite understand. Benefit: Your partner will know you really want to know what he or she is trying to say.
- Effective expression of emotions-If you are upset and feeling angry, slamming doors and shouting will not address the issue. If you are really out of control, take a timeout-go for a walk, or leave the situation - but not before telling your partner you want to talk about your feelings after you've had time to cool off. Benefit: You and your partner will exercise control over the situation rather than allowing the situation to control you.

Second, be thankful and appreciative. Take time to think about why your relationship is important to you, and the many benefits reaped from sharing life with your partner. Telling your partner that he or she is important can shift the emotional energy from conflict to contentment. Rather than being fixated on what is wrong, focus on the positive aspects of your relationship. Many times this reflection helps to put the issue in perspective.

Third, have FUN! Remember when you were a teenager and dating' You might not be teenagers anymore, but re-dating your partner can jump-start a stalled relationship and steer you from a rocky, difficult time. Consider going to a movie together, trying a new activity such as bicycling or a pottery class or just taking a walk together.

Building and maintaining healthy relationships is hard work, but putting forth the effort can improve your mental and physical health. Arguments often cause blood pressure increases, hasty, impulsive decisions, a bad mood for the rest of the day, etc. Healthy relationships don't happen overnight, but making little changes in your behavior and thoughts can result in improved happiness and better overall health.

Visit After Deployment, a military site for help with a variety of life issues including program and information sheets for improving relationships at