Psychological Health/Traumatic Brain Injury
Predicting Generalized Anxiety Among Military Couples Following Deployment
Posted June 13, 2018
Leanne Knobloch, Ph.D., University of Illinois
Lynne M. Knobloch-Fedders, Ph.D., Marquette University
Dr. Leanne Knobloch
Dr. Lynne M. Knobloch-Fedders
As Service members return from deployment, they are bombarded by stressors, including the challenges of reintegrating back into a romantic relationship and/or family environment.1, 2 Although many returning Service members report elevated anxiety during reunion after deployment, the problems that military couples encounter during the transition are not well understood. Data-based guidelines are needed to inform prevention and intervention services for military couples navigating the post-deployment period.2 Preserving the well-being of returning Service members and their family members upon reunion is critical to maintaining a fit and ready force.
Dr. Knobloch and Dr. Knobloch-Fedders are twin sisters who have conducted a series of studies to better understand the experiences of military couples during the transition from deployment to reunion.3 In Fiscal Year 2013, the Defense Medical Research and Development Program, aligned with Military Operational Medicine Research Program/Joint Program Committee 5, granted Dr. Knobloch and Dr. Knobloch-Fedders an award through a Broad Agency Announcement. The award funded an eight-wave longitudinal study to evaluate how people’s mental health symptoms and romantic relationship characteristics contribute to their well-being during the reunion period. Another goal of the study was to identify factors that hinder the resilience of returning Service members and at-home partners during reintegration.
The original design of the study called for 250 military couples to complete an online survey once per month for eight consecutive months beginning within a week after homecoming, but the study proved to be very popular, and many military couples were willing to share their experiences to help future generations of reuniting military families. In the end, Dr. Knobloch and Dr. Knobloch-Fedders were able to recruit a total of 555 military couples to participate, more than double the target sample size of the project.
Data analysis for the project is ongoing, but Dr. Knobloch and Dr. Knobloch-Fedders recently published a first set of findings in the Journal of Family Psychology with co-author Dr. Jeremy Yorgason. Their journal article examined how the communication of military couples during deployment predicts their anxiety after homecoming. The analysis was informed by the emotional cycle of deployment model, which divides deployment into five stages: pre-deployment, deployment, sustainment, redeployment, and post-deployment.4 A key premise of the model is that individuals who fail to meet the demands of one stage will have difficulty during the following stage. The results of the study supported several hypotheses derived from the model. For example, the data showed that when military couples avoided communicating destructively during deployment, they reported less anxiety at homecoming.
The findings support three recommendations for preserving the well-being of Service members and their partners during the post-deployment transition. A first recommendation is that military couples may benefit from engaging in constructive communication and refraining from destructive communication during deployment. Second, support services for helping military couples manage anxiety may be most beneficial immediately after homecoming when their anxiety was most severe. Finally, research is needed to investigate whether communication skills education may be effective for preventing and/or treating anxiety in military couples reunited after deployment. The recent publication in Journal of Family Psychology highlights just one of the potential advancements that may stem from the project.
Strengthening the bond between military couples is important for many reasons. For example, Service members benefit physically and psychologically from a satisfying romantic relationship.5,6 In addition, the support of a spouse plays a role in the decision of Service members to stay in or exit the military.7 Should the work of Dr. Knobloch and Dr. Knobloch-Fedders lead to improved guidelines for prevention and intervention, military couples may benefit from reduced anxiety and better relationships, which in turn, may enhance Service members’ military readiness and performance.
1Bommarito, RK., Sherman, MD., Rudi, JH., Mikal, JP., and Borden, LM. 2017. Challenges facing military spouses during postdeployment reintegration: A review of the literature and current supports. Military Behavioral Health, 5:51-63.
2Sherman, MD., Larsen, J., and Borden, LM. 2015. Broadening the focus in supporting reintegrating Iraq and Afghanistan veterans: Six key domains of functioning. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 46:355-365.
3Knobloch, LK., Knobloch-Fedders, LM., Yorgason, JB., Ebata, AT., and McGlaughlin, PC. 2017. Military children’s difficulty with reintegration after deployment: A relational turbulence model perspective. Journal of Family Psychology, 31:542-552.
4Pincus, SH., House, R., Christenson, J., and Adler, LE. 2001. The emotional cycle of deployment: A military family perspective. U.S. Army Medical Department Journal, 15-23.
5Meadows, SO., Tanielian, T., Karney, B., Schell, T., Griffin, BA., Jaycox, L. H., … Vaughan, CA. 2016. The Deployment Life Study: Longitudinal analysis of military families across the deployment cycle. Santa Monica, CA: RAND.
6Meis, LA., Barry, RA., Kehle, SM., Erbes, CR., and Polusny, MA. 2010. Relationship adjustment, PTSD symptoms, and treatment utilization among coupled National Guard soldiers deployed to Iraq. Journal of Family Psychology, 24:560-567.
7Hosek, J., Kavanagh, J. and Miller, L. 2006. How deployments affect service members. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.
Knobloch, LK., Knobloch-Fedders, LM., and Yorgason, JB. 2018. Communication of Military Couples During Deployment Predicting Generalized Anxiety Upon Reunion. Journal of Family Psychology, 32:12-21.
Last updated Monday, January 3, 2022