Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Associations between Prior Deployments and Marital Satisfaction among Army Couples

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Associations between Prior Deployments and Marital Satisfaction among Army Couples

Article excerpt

Since the onset of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, deployments have been more frequent and more dangerous than in prior decades (Hosek & Martorell, 2009). Even before the most recent conflicts, military families considered deployments to be the most stressful aspects of military service (Rosen & Durand, 2000). Accordingly, conventional wisdom holds that deployments damage military marriages and that the past decade's deployments have been particularly damaging (Newby et al., 2005). In keeping with these concerns, policymakers have directed substantial resources toward programs to assist military families in managing the demands of deployment and reintegration (Rubin & Harvie, 2012).

Yet, despite the widespread perception that deployments are associated with less successful military marriages, empirical evidence of this association has been sparse and inconsistent. At least part of this inconsistency can be attributed to the wide variability across studies in the samples addressed, the ways that deployments have been measured, and the marital outcomes considered. The goal of the current study is to refine our understanding of the associations between deployments and marital outcomes through analyses of the baseline assessment of the Deployment Life Study, an ongoing study of married, deployable service members and their families (Tanielian, Karney, Chandra, & Meadows, 2014).

Why Should Deployments Affect Marriages?

Despite agreement that deployments are a significant and impactful part of military life, there has been little consensus on the precise mechanisms through which the experience of deployments may affect military marriages. Different possible mechanisms each suggest distinct predictions about how deployments and marital outcomes should be associated.

Deployments Can Be Stressful

Deployments are associated with increased stress on military couples (Hosek, Kavanagh, & Miller, 2006). Among the specific stresses associated with deployments are the need for one spouse to maintain the household and raise children in the absence of the deployed spouse, difficulty arranging times to communicate and interact, challenges associated with preparing for deployment and reintegrating with the family after deployment, and concern for the safety of the spouse (Segal, 1989). A broad literature informed by family stress theory (Hill, 1949; McCubbin & Patterson, 1982) indicates that, when spouses are under stress, their ability to stay connected and maintain the relationship suffers, leading to declines in marital satisfaction and increased risk for divorce (Karney & Neff, 2013). To the extent that deployments are a stressor like any other, those who have experienced deployments should also experience more negative marital outcomes on average than those who have never deployed or who have deployed less.

Despite the theoretical strength of this perspective, the results of research exploring the effects of deployment on marital outcomes have provided inconsistent support. For example, Karney and Crown (2007, 2010) drew from military personnel records from 1996 through 2005 to examine the linear associations between cumulative time deployed and subsequent risk of divorce. Analyses restricted to service members married after 9/11 revealed a significant negative relationship, such that more time deployed was associated with a lower risk of divorce. In comparable analyses, however, S. Negrusa, Negrusa, and Hosek (2014) drew on military personnel records from 1999 through 2008, also examining the impact of cumulative time deployed. Their analyses examined couples who married both before and after 9/11, and in both groups they found a significant positive relationship, such that more time deployed was associated with a higher risk of divorce. To account for the disparate results, S. Negrusa et al. (2014) speculate that the restricted range of earlier analyses may not have allowed enough time for the negative implications of deployment to emerge. …

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