Emotional Intimacy Mediates the Relationship between Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Intimate Partner Violence Perpetration in OEF/OIF/OND Veterans

By Kar, Heidi Lary; O'Leary, K. Daniel | Violence and Victims, October 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Emotional Intimacy Mediates the Relationship between Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Intimate Partner Violence Perpetration in OEF/OIF/OND Veterans


Kar, Heidi Lary, O'Leary, K. Daniel, Violence and Victims


Veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are at elevated risk for perpetrating intimate partner violence (IPV). Little research exists on the link between PTSD and physical IPV in Operational Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn (OEF/OIF/OND) veterans. A sample of 110 male participants was recruited from the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC). Three separate models were compared to determine which best explained the relationships between PTSD, IPV, emotional intimacy, and relationship satisfaction. Constructs were assessed via a battery of standardized, self-report instruments. Thirty-three percent of veterans had clinically elevated PTSD scores, and 31% of the men reported that they engaged in physical IPV in the past year. Poor emotional intimacy mediated the association between PTSD symptoms and perpetration of physical IPV. Past predeployment IPV perpetration was shown to be a predictor for current postdeployment physical IPV perpetration.

Keywords: aggression; path analysis; couples; mental health

The psychological impact of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on returning veterans has been well studied, but the secondary impact of PTSD on the veterans' close relationship functioning is less well understood. Veterans with PTSD experience a multitude of relational problems including marital/relationship dissolution (Ruger, Wilson, & Waddoups, 2002), intimate partner violence (IPV; Jordan, et al., 1992), marital dissatisfaction, and emotional distancing or "numbing" (Galovski & Lyons, 2004; Hoge, Auchterlonie, & Milliken, 2006; Sayers, Farrow, Ross, & Oslin, 2009; Taft, Watkins, Stafford, Street, & Monson, 2011).

Various studies have offered a glimpse into ways combat experience and/or PTSD symptoms negatively affect veterans' relationship functioning across these domains. Although PTSD, emotional intimacy, relationship satisfaction, and IPV have been studied individually, to our knowledge this study is the first to compare models of the PTSD-physi- cal IPV relationship through investigation of our specific hypothesized associations of these four constructs among young veterans. In addition, we investigate whether previous IPV perpetration adds any new information to understanding the relationship between PTSD and current IPV. A recent meta-analysis by Taft and colleagues (2011) calls for examina- tion of models that can help explain types of relationship difficulties associated with PTSD in military populations; this study evaluates a model in which emotional intimacy mediates the associations between PTSD symptom severity and physical IPV perpetration.

Many prevalence studies have suggested that although veterans without a PTSD diag- nosis perpetrate IPV at rates similar to the general population, veterans with PTSD per- petrate IPV at much higher rates (e.g., Carroll, Rueger, Foy, & Donahoe, 1985; Jordan et al., 1992). A recent meta-analysis found a medium-sized association ( p 5 .36) between IPV and PTSD (Taft et al., 2011). As such, expanding knowledge to better understand what about having PTSD symptoms is, specifically associated with perpetrating partner violence, can help with design of early intervention programs for this population.

The temporal relationship between past and current IPV is an often overlooked associa- tion. A central tenet of behavioral psychology is that past behavior is one of the best predic- tors of future behavior (Bonta, Law, & Hanson, 1998; Triandis, 1977). Attachment theory supports this behavioral psychology tenant when one considers that patterns of relating between children and caregivers often correlate to similar patterns of relational functioning later in life (Bowlby, 1973). Specific to the issue herein of IPV, associations between both separation anxiety and unhealthy attachment history have been repeatedly demonstrated in children (e.g., Bowlby, 1976) and adulthood (e.g., Hazan & Shaver, 1987). …

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