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Attachment, couple communication, and family functioning in relation to psychological distress among service members and veterans

APA Citation:

Riggs, S. A., Raiche, E., Creech, S. K., McGuffin, J., & Romero, D. H. (2020). Attachment, couple communication, and family functioning in relation to psychological distress among service members and veterans. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 9(4), 239-255. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/cfp0000154

Abstract Created by REACH:

According to attachment theory, an individual’s attachment style can have consequences for their committed relationships. For instance, avoidant attachment is characterized by discomfort with intimacy, whereas anxious attachment is marked by insecurity with separation from others. This study examined the association of avoidant and anxious attachment styles with mental health outcomes (i.e., posttraumatic stress symptoms and depressive symptoms) in a sample of 156 Service members and Veterans who were in a committed relationship. Further, the demand-withdraw communication pattern (i.e., one partner has a higher demand for communication and the other often withdraws from communication), positive communication, and family functioning (e.g., problem solving, emotional climate) were examined as factors that may alter the associations between each attachment style and mental health outcomes. Attachment avoidance was associated with poorer mental health outcomes, particularly in the context of a demand-withdraw communication pattern.


Mental health

Branch of Service:

Multiple branches

Military Affiliation:

Active Duty

Subject Affiliation:

Active duty service member
Guard/Reserve member


Adulthood (18 yrs & older)
Young adulthood (18 - 29 yrs)
Thirties (30 - 39 yrs)
Middle age (40 - 64 yrs)


Cross-Sectional Study
Quantitative Study
Secondary Analysis


Riggs, Shelley A., Raiche, Emily, Creech, Suzannah K., McGuffin, James, Romero, Daniel H.


Military life is characterized by high occupational stress that may include dangerous training exercises, lengthy deployments, combat exposure, as well as frequent relocations and separations from family that can contribute to emotional distress. Individual attachment style is associated with coping responses and may distinguish service members and veterans (SMVs) who exhibit stress-related symptomatology versus those who do not. Furthermore, family systems theory suggests that couple and family relationships may mitigate or exacerbate the impact of these stressors on SMVs’ psychological outcomes. Married or partnered SMVs (N = 156) completed an online survey that included measures of adult attachment strategies, couple communication, family functioning, and psychological symptoms. Multivariate multiple regression results documented strong associations between attachment strategies and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder and depression, as well as some moderation effects by couple communication and family functioning. Demand–withdraw communication moderated the associations between attachment avoidance and symptoms, and family functioning moderated the association between attachment anxiety and depression, whereas positive couple communication was nonsignificant across models. Overall, the results suggest that the family attachment network plays an important role in the mental health of SMVs. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved)

Publisher/Sponsoring Organization:

American Psychological Association

Publication Type:

REACH Publication


attachment, attachment behavior, communication, couple communication, couples distress

View Research Summary:

REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary

REACH Newsletter:

  April 2021

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