"Don't hide from the problem – ask for help"
To date, more than 5,600 serving personnel and their family members have accessed Relate's relationship support service via the Fund. Additionally, the service includes access to subsidised mediation sessions for couples going through separation or divorce, and family counselling.
Caroline and Sam have shared how Relate had a positive impact on their relationship. Sam and his long-term partner, Caroline, who – like many couples in today's age – had children to consider from previous relationships, reached out to Relate for some counselling sessions when they felt new pressures arise from moving in together, closer to Sam's Station.
Caroline said: "We had a bit of a rocky start when we moved into our first home together. We'd been together but lived apart for six years so we'd both expected a bit of an 'adjustment' stage, but 10 days after we moved in Sam went on an overseas deployment. Normally this wouldn't have been an issue, but the timing was less than ideal: we'd just moved home, Sam was still finding his place in his new squadron and it was the first time he'd been away on ops for quite some time.
"This meant that Sam was juggling pre-deployment courses, gathering and checking off his kit and being a dad – a stressful situation to say the least! When Sam left, I was responsible for unpacking both of our homes into one, all while looking after the children who were missing their dad.
"Upon Sam's return, it wasn't long before we realised we could do with some help. We knew about the different types of support that the RAF Benevolent Fund offered and decided that one-to-one relationship counselling sessions would be the best place for us to start. It was a straightforward process: we reached out to the Fund who helped us get our first session set up with Relate.
"It wasn't an immediate solution to our problems – in fact, sometimes we'd find ourselves angry with each other after the sessions – but Relate helped us navigate our issues and find a place of compromise to work on going forwards. We were able to address things that we'd chosen to ignore and allowed ourselves to air those feelings in a healthier environment. We also left each session with 'homework' to do which meant we were able to continue making progress in our day-to-day lives."
Sam added: "When me and Caroline used to have disagreements at home – from the important stuff to the downright trivial – we both had a tendency to be defensive and stubborn. By having access to a counsellor, we were able to talk about our problems away from the heat of the moment when emotions weren't running quite so high. This meant we could learn more about where the other was coming from, acknowledge and appreciate our different parenting styles, and build some positive pathways going forward.
"In retrospect it sounds like common sense, but when you're in a tough spot like that it's hard to see the wood for the trees. Our counsellor allowed us to take a step back and look at the bigger picture in order to address the things that were getting in our way."
Both Sam and Caroline agreed: "The difference in our relationship has been astonishing. We're now able to identify a problem when it's building and prevent it from escalating further by communicating better with one another.
"The number one piece of advice I'd give to anyone in a similar situation would be: don't hide from the problem – ask for help. Lots of couples go through rough patches, but there is plenty of support out there, and you have every right to access that support."
Alison Wyman, Head of Strategy and Programmes, said: "Supporting the emotional wellbeing of the RAF Family is a key priority for the RAF Benevolent Fund. Relationship counselling is just one aspect of the support we offer in this area – we also partner with organisations such as Anxiety UK in order to help those dealing with depression and anxiety.
"We know all too well about the pressures and challenges that RAF families deal with. It's important for us to equip both serving personnel and veterans alike with the appropriate tools and strategies to handle these in their day-to-day lives."