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Between- and within-subject associations of PTSD symptom clusters and marital functioning in military couples

APA Citation:

Allen, E., Knopp, K., Rhoades, G., Stanley, S., & Markman, H. (2018). Between- and within-subject associations of PTSD symptom clusters and martial functioning in military couples. Journal of Family Psychology, 32(1), 134-144. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/fam0000363

Abstract Created by REACH:

PTSD symptom clusters (numbing, hyperarousal, effortful avoidance, and reexperiencing) as a whole are related to marital functioning (e.g., satisfaction), but there is less information regarding how specific symptoms relate to specific aspects of marital functioning. Theoretically, numbing symptoms have been linked to deficits in positive relationship characteristics (e.g., positive bonding), and hyperarousal symptoms have been linked to greater conflict. Additionally, there is little known about how PTSD and marital functioning are related over time, such as whether changes in PTSD symptoms lead to changes in marital functioning. Data from 570 couples with male Army service members and civilian wives were used to examine these associations. Findings suggest a continued link between PTSD symptoms and marital functioning over time, with more evidence for the influence of numbing symptoms than other symptoms.


Mental health

Branch of Service:


Military Affiliation:

Active Duty

Subject Affiliation:

Active duty service member
Spouse of service member or veteran


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


Longitudinal study


Allen, Elizabeth, Knopp, Kayla, Rhoades, Galena, Stanley, Scott, Markman, Howard


Using data from 570 male service members and their wives, the current study investigated over-time associations between male service members’ self-report of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and marital functioning (marital satisfaction, positive bonding, conflict behavior) as perceived by both spouses. Analyses spanned 5 time points over a 2-year period and fully disentangled between- and within-subject effects. Higher levels of all four PTSD symptom clusters (numbing, hyperarousal, effortful avoidance, and reexperiencing) showed significant between-subject associations with lower levels of marital satisfaction and positive bonding, and higher levels of conflict for both men and women, whereas there were markedly fewer significant within-subject associations. When running models with all four PTSD symptom clusters entered at once, the primary between-subject finding was that men with higher numbing symptoms overall reported poorer marital functioning in all domains; there were no significant between-subject links between numbing and marital functioning for women. In contrast, within-subject effects for numbing were found for both men and women, linking increased numbing with decreased positive bonding and increased conflict behavior over time; women also had lower marital satisfaction when their husbands reported relatively higher numbing. Between-subject analyses also revealed that for men with higher average levels of effortful avoidance, wives reported lower levels of satisfaction and positive bonding, whereas men themselves reported less frequent conflict behavior. Finally, within-subject effects showed that at times when men reported increased hyperarousal, they also perceived increased marital conflict, whereas women surprisingly reported increased marital satisfaction. Implications of divergent between- and within-subject results are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)

Publisher/Sponsoring Organization:

American Psychological Association

Publication Type:

REACH Publication

Author Affiliation:

University of Colorado-Denver, EA
University of Denver, KK
University of Denver, GR
University of Denver, SS
University of Denver, HM


communication, couples, interpersonal communication, marital satisfaction, military, military deployment, post traumatic stress disorder, ptsd, test construction

View Research Summary:

REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary

REACH Newsletter:

  November 2018

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