Background: The reentry of service members back into family life after deployment can be extremely challenging for military couples, perhaps even more demanding than deployment itself. The stressors couples face during reintegration are not well understood, making the reunion period a high priority for research and clinical efforts. Empirically based guidelines are urgently needed to inform prevention and intervention services for couples during the transition from deployment to reintegration.
Difficulty with reintegration refers to the interpersonal problems that returning service members and at-home partners encounter upon reunion. The mental health of returning service members and at-home partners, as well as the dynamics of their romantic relationship, may shape resilience upon reunion, but much remains unknown about how these factors operate separately and in tandem to predict reintegration difficulty.
Objectives and Specific Aims: The goal of this project is to evaluate how people's mental health symptoms and characteristics of their romantic relationship contribute to adjustment during reunion. Identifying the factors that hinder the resilience of returning service members and at-home partners during reunion carries important implications for the strategy, curriculum, and timing of prevention and intervention efforts.
The relational turbulence model is a theoretical framework that may explain why some couples have difficulty with reintegration. The model identifies three mechanisms of relational turbulence: (a) mental health symptoms, (b) relational uncertainty, and (c) interference from partners. Our specific aims are derived from the model; they address three possibilities for how the mechanisms of relational turbulence may predict reintegration difficulty. (1) Evaluate the mechanisms of relational turbulence as independent predictors of the reintegration difficulty of returning service members and at-home partners. (2) Investigate relational uncertainty and interference from partners as mediating pathways linking mental health symptoms to people's reintegration difficulty. (3) Test relational uncertainty and interference from partners as moderating debilitative factors of the associations that mental health symptoms may share with people's reintegration difficulty.
Study Design: The design is a nine-wave study. It involves collecting online survey data from 250 couples one month before homecoming, at homecoming, and for seven consecutive months after homecoming (4,500 total observations). The first wave of data collection will afford a prospective view of reunion, and the eight waves of data collection following homecoming will extend beyond the 6-month window that defines the reintegration phase. Our data will address calls to evaluate both linear and nonlinear patterns of change as the transition unfolds over time.