Romantic Partner Satisfaction and Communication Prior To and During Deployment

By Jay Morse & Heidi Radunovich, PhD

Creative Commons [Flickr, Happy couple walking in the sunset, March 9, 2013]
Creative Commons [Flickr, Happy couple walking in the sunset, March 9, 2013]
Mental health professionals serving military members have commonly held that relationship functioning (time together, communication, and relationship stress) influenced a service member’s effectiveness in combat situations.  Cigrang and colleagues examined service members’ intimate partner relationship functioning prior to and during deployment to determine whether there is a relationship between  functioning and a military member’s performance during deployment [1].

Researchers studied 144 members of the U.S. Air Force Security Forces who were in a significant romantic relationship for 6 months or longer prior to being deployed for one year.  Almost nine-tenths (89%) of the Airmen were male, and averaged 27 years old. Eighty percent of the military members had been deployed previously.  Participants described their deployment experiences as stressful, and was regarded as being a high-risk assignment.

To determine the associations among relationship functioning and combat functioning prior to and during deployment, the researchers used 4 measures: (1) Relationship functioning, (2) Depression, (3) Impact of relationship concerns on self-reported duty performance, and (4) Frequency of communication with romantic partner.  Relationship functioning was measured using items from the Marital Satisfaction Inventory (MSI-B) and included measures of global distress, time together, sexual dissatisfaction, affective communication, and problem-solving communication.  Depression symptomatology was measured using the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9).  The impact of relationship concerns was assessed using a measure developed for this study, based on clinical experiences of military members on the research team.  Items used included: distraction from the combat-related job, making mistakes on the job, relationship stress leading to arguments with the combat team, missing work, and reduced overall job performance.  A combined score for communication was created using frequency of communication and methods of communications.

Analysis of the study variables showed that relationship functioning (time together, communication and relationship stress) at pre-deployment was significantly related to relationship functioning during deployment. Additionally, relationship functioning, and to a smaller degree depressive symptoms, predicted overall duty performance during deployment, supporting commonly held beliefs about intimate partner relationship functioning and job performance in combat situations.

Importantly for mental health professionals, focusing on couple communication prior to deployment may have a positive impact on relationship functioning during deployment, which can positively affect the job performance of the military member.


[1] Cigrang, J.A., Talcott, G.W., Tatum, J., Baker, M., Cassidy, D., Sonnek, S., . . . Slep, A.M.S. (2014). Intimate partner communication from the war zone: A prospective study of relationship functioning, communication frequency, and combat effectiveness. Journal of Marital & Family Therapy40(3), 332-343. doi:10.1111/jmft.12043

This post was written by Jay Morse & 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.

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