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Stress-buffering versus support erosion: Comparison of causal models of the relationship between social support and psychological distress in military spouses

APA Citation:

Ross, A. M., Steketee, G., Emmert-Aronson, B. O., Brown, T. A., Muroff, J., & DeVoe, E. R. (2020). Stress-buffering versus support erosion: Comparison of causal models of the relationship between social support and psychological distress in military spouses. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 90(3), 361–373. https://doi.org/10.1037/ort0000438.

Abstract Created by REACH:

Social support can include social connectedness (i.e., contact with both formal and informal sources of social support), dyadic satisfaction (i.e., satisfaction with the support from one’s partner), and perceived social support (i.e., the level at which one believes they have someone to turn to in times of need). This study examined the link between social support and psychological well-being (i.e., anxiety and depressive symptoms) for 103 National Guard/Reserve military spouses by testing two competing hypotheses, the stress-buffering hypothesis and social erosion hypothesis. The stress-buffering hypothesis posits that social support protects individuals’ well-being from the detrimental effects of stress, whereas the support erosion hypothesis posits that psychological well-being concerns may reduce available social support. Longitudinal data (i.e., baseline and three-month follow up) were drawn from the Strong Families program. In support of the erosion hypothesis, military spouses’ psychological well-being at baseline was associated with their reduced social support three months later.


Mental health

Branch of Service:

Air Force
Marine Corps
Multiple branches

Military Affiliation:


Subject Affiliation:

Spouse of service member or veteran


Adolescence (13 - 17 yrs)
Young adulthood (18 - 29 yrs)
Thirties (30 - 39 yrs)


Longitudinal Study
Quantitative Study
Secondary Analysis


Ross, Abigail M., Steketee, Gail, Emmert-Aronson, Benjamin O., Brown, Timothy A., Muroff, Jordana, DeVoe, Ellen R.


Spouses of National Guard/Reserve (NG/R) military service members cope with deployment-related stressors (DRS) that may contribute to increased psychological distress. Research indicates that higher levels of social support are associated with reduced depression and anxiety in military spouses, but longitudinal relationships have not yet been examined bidirectionally. This study examines temporal relationships between 3 dimensions of social support (social connectedness, dyadic satisfaction, and perceived support), and psychological distress in a sample of NG/R spouses during the first year after a service member returns from deployment. Data from 103 military spouses were drawn from a larger intervention development study. Autoregressive cross-lagged panel analyses examined the stress-buffering and support erosion hypotheses over a 3-month period. DRS were measured by the cumulative number of deployments and duration of most recent deployment. Distress was assessed using latent variables of depression and anxiety. Statistically significant relationships emerged between initial levels of psychological distress and social connectedness at 3 months. Social support dimensions of dyadic satisfaction and perceived support did not predict subsequent levels of psychological distress. No significant relationships emerged between any dimension of social support at baseline and either form of psychological distress at 3 months. The support erosion hypothesis may more accurately describe the relationship between social support and psychological distress in this sample than the stress-buffering mechanism. During the first year of reintegration, social connectedness may be of particular relevance for NG/R spouses, as they may not have access to supports typically available to their active duty counterparts. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved)

Publisher/Sponsoring Organization:

Educational Publishing Foundation

Publication Type:

REACH Publication

Author Affiliation:

Graduate School of Social Service, Fordham University, AMR
School of Social Work, Boston University, GS
Open Source Wellness, BOEA
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Boston University, TAB
School of Social Work, Boston University, JM
School of Social Work, Boston University, ERD


anxiety, distress, major depression, military deployment, models, social stress, social support, spouses

View Research Summary:

REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary


Sponsor: US Department of Defense, US; Grant Number: W81XWH-08-1-0230; Recipients: DeVoe, Ellen R. (Prin Inv)
Doris Duke Fellowship for the Promotion of Child Well Being; Recipients: Ross, Abigail M.

REACH Newsletter:

  January 2021

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