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Psychological distress and communication quality in military couples after deployment to war

APA Citation:

Zamir, O., Gewirtz, A. H., Cheng, C. H., Zhang, N., & Lavee, Y. (2019). Psychological distress and communication quality in military couples after deployment to war. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/fam0000589

Abstract Created by REACH:

This study examined the association between psychological distress (i.e., posttraumatic stress, depressive, and anxiety symptoms) and constructive communication (e.g., verbal aggression, negative tone, empathy, humor, conflict) among military couples after the service member returned from deployment. 160 couples from the After Deployment Adaptive Parenting Tools (ADAPT) program completed surveys at two time points (baseline and one-year follow-up) and participated in a constructive communication assessment, which consisted of a conflict discussion and resolution task. Researchers postulated that higher levels of psychological distress in service members and their partners would be associated with lower levels of constructive communication over time for themselves and their partners. The results showed that higher levels of psychological distress predicted lower levels of constructive communication in service members one year later; this association was not found for their civilian spouses.


Mental health

Branch of Service:

Air Force
Multiple branches

Military Affiliation:

Active Duty

Subject Affiliation:

Active duty service member
Military families
Spouse of service member or veteran


Adulthood (18 yrs & older)
Young adulthood (18 - 29 yrs)
Thirties (30 - 39 yrs)
Middle age (40 - 64 yrs)
Aged (65 yrs & older)


Longitudinal Study
Quantitative Study


Zamir, Osnat, Gewirtz, Abigail H., Cheng, Cheuk Hei, Zhang, Na, Lavee, Yoav


Previous research has found elevated levels of psychological distress (i.e., posttraumatic stress, depressive and anxiety symptoms) among veterans. Existing theory and evidence show how psychological distress is associated with marital disruptions. Only a few studies, however, have tested the link between psychological distress and couple communication quality in military couples, most of which were cross-sectional and employed self-report measures. The current study investigated whether psychological distress predicts changes in observed communication quality across 1 year in 228 couples consisting of male service members, who were deployed to Iraq and/or Afghanistan, and their nondeployed female partners. Psychological distress was indicated by self-reported posttraumatic stress disorder, depressive, and anxiety symptoms. Communication quality was assessed using observed couple interactions. The results of an actor–partner interdependence model showed that men’s psychological distress predicted men’s lower communication quality at one year after accounting for baseline communication quality. Women’s psychological distress did not predict their communication quality, and each partner’s psychological distress did not predict changes in their partner’s communication quality over time. Consistent with previous findings on civilian populations, our findings highlight the long-term effects of psychological distress among service members on their communication behaviors with their intimate partners, and emphasize the importance of targeting psychological symptoms of service members following deployment to war. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)

Publisher/Sponsoring Organization:

American Psychological Association

Publication Type:

REACH Publication

Author Affiliation:

The Hebrew University, OZ
University of Minnesota, AHG
University of Minnesota, CHC
University of Minnesota, NZ
Max Stern Yezreel Valley College, YL


communication, couples, distress, military deployment, military families, models, partners, stress reactions, war

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REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary


National Institute on Drug Abuse’s prevention branch to Abigail H. Gewirtz (R01DA 030114)
Warburg Fund to Osnat Zamir

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