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The impact of the military lifestyle on adult military children relationships

APA Citation:

Freeman, B., Georgia Salivar, E., & Thayer, K. K. (2024). The impact of the military lifestyle on adult military children relationships. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 13(1), 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1037/cfp0000252

Abstract Created by REACH:

Attachment theory emphasizes the influence of one’s early relationships with their parents on later romantic relationships. Informed by attachment theory, this study compared individual and relational functioning between adult children from military families and adult children from civilian families. 584 adults reported their attachment tendencies (i.e., secure, anxious, or avoidant), alexithymia (i.e., difficulty identifying and describing emotions), relationship functioning (i.e., intimacy, couple satisfaction, relationship commitment, and intimate partner aggression), and demographic and military background characteristics. Links between military characteristics (e.g., number of and age during parental deployments or military-related relocations) and relationship functioning were also examined among adult military children. Overall, adult military and civilian children demonstrated similar levels of secure attachment and relationship functioning; however, military children reported, on average, more anxious and avoidant attachment tendencies and greater alexithymia.



Branch of Service:

Multiple branches

Military Affiliation:

Active Duty

Subject Affiliation:

Child of a service member or veteran


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


Freeman, Brianne, Georgia Salivar, Emily, Thayer, Kayla K.


Military families face numerous stressors that civilian families do not typically experience, including frequent relocations, multiple school transitions, parental deployment, and foreign country residence. These unique stressors often disrupt military children’s (MC) familial and social relationships, which may carry into their relationships in adulthood. The present study aimed to better understand the potential impact of military stressors on MC’s relationships in adulthood. Emotional expression, attachment style (AS), relationship quality, and relationship status of MC (n = 291) were compared to adult children of civilian parents (n = 293). The results revealed that adult MC displayed significantly higher rates of insecure AS and alexithymia compared to adults raised by civilian parents. Parental deployment during certain developmental groups (i.e., 6–8, 9–11, 15–18 years) was associated with increased alexithymia. Adult MC did not differ in couple satisfaction, relationship commitment, intimate partner violence, and overall intimacy. The present study provides evidence that adult MC may differ from adult children of civilian parents in alexithymia and attachment. Mental health professionals are encouraged to utilize prevention strategies when working with military families to prevent negative outcomes. Limitations, research implications, and clinical implications are discussed. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2023 APA, all rights reserved)

Publication Type:

REACH Publication


adult military children, military lifestyle, impact of military life

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REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary

REACH Newsletter:

  March 2024

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