By Rachel Dorman, MS & Heidi Radunovich, PhD
Military members can face a number of challenges when reintegrating back into the family after deployment. Some challenges may include changes in previous roles and responsibilities in their marriage, finding their place among friends and family, and civilian activities that evoke wartime memories. Due to the stressful events, such as exposure to combat during deployment, reintegration can be more difficult for some. Foran, Wright, and Woods (2013) sought to learn more about how combat exposure impacts marital relationships among military members who recently returned from deployment.
The researchers examined how combat exposure, mental health symptoms, and aggression impacted service personnel’s intent to divorce or separate within nine months post-deployment. Participants included 194 married active duty personnel who had returned from a 15-month deployment to Iraq in 2007-2008. Participants took a survey on base four months post-deployment, and again nine months post-deployment. The survey contained measures for combat experiences, depressive symptoms, PTSD symptoms, intent to divorce or separate, relationship psychological aggression, general aggression, and marital distress. The researchers found that at four months post-deployment over one-third (37%) of service members reported marital problems. During the same time period, the researchers also found that over 43% of participants reported psychological aggression against their partner within the last month. Marital distress, relationship aggression, combat exposure, and PTSD symptoms related to re-experiencing events were all associated with higher intent to divorce or separate. Participants who reported high levels of marital distress and also experienced high levels of combat exposure were much more likely to report intent to divorce or separate nine months post-deployment than those who only had high levels of marital distress, or just combat exposure. This held true even when controlling for PTSD symptoms.
Practitioners who work with service members and their families should be aware that service members who have experienced high levels of combat are at particularly high risk for divorce or separation if they are already experiencing marital distress. This could be due to symptoms and behaviors that the service member is showing to the spouse, as well as their own challenges in handling stress. Because they are particularly vulnerable, it is recommended that married military service members who have experienced deployment participate in couple-based programs to reduce depressive symptoms and marital distress, and also to focus on education to reduce the stigma of seeking treatment when needed. For more information about military couples cans be found in the below blogs previously published by MFLN Family Development:
- Military Couples, Infidelity, and Marriage Education Programs
- Couple Separations: Strengthening & Resilience
- Infidelity and Military Couples: Risks & Effects
- Military Couples vs. Civilian Couples
- Resource Discovery: Military Family Lifestyle Survey Report
- Relationship Stability: What Helps and Hinders
- Research on Military Enrichment Programs
 Foran, H., Wright, K., & Wood, M. (2013). Do combat exposure and post-deployment mental health influence intent to divorce? Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 32(9), p. 917 – 938. doi: 10.1521/jscp.2013.32.9.917
This post was written by Rachel Dorman, M.S. and Heidi Radunovich, PhD, members of the MFLN Family Development (FD) team which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter, YouTube, and on LinkedIn.