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Risk and protective factors predictive of marital instability in U.S. military couples

APA Citation:

Pflieger, J. C., Richardson, S. M., Stander, V. A., & Allen, E. S. (2022). Risk and protective factors predictive of marital instability in U.S. military couples. Journal of Family Psychology, 36(5), 791–802. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/fam0000949

Abstract Created by REACH:

Using data from 6,494 military couples, this study examined a range of demographic factors (e.g., age, education, length of marriage, spousal employment status), risk factors (e.g., history childhood trauma, mental health concerns, social isolation), protective factors (e.g., family communication), and military-related factors (e.g., military status, combat exposure) to determine the risk of marital instability (i.e., separation or divorce). All factors were measured at baseline, while marital instability was measured at three years following baseline. A variety of demographic and risk factors contributed to marital instability, whereas family communication was associated with a lower risk of marital instability.



Branch of Service:

Air Force
Coast Guard
Marine Corps
Multiple branches

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)
Aged (65 yrs & older)
Very old (85 yrs & older)


Longitudinal Study


Pflieger, Jacqueline C., Richardson, Sabrina M., Stander, Valerie A., Allen, Elizabeth S.


The objective of this study was to predict marital instability from a range of risk and protective factors in a large, representative cohort of military couples participating in the Millennium Cohort Family Study. Online and paper surveys were administered to service members and their spouses in 2011–2013, which captured couples’ demographic and background characteristics, family stressors, military experiences, and mental health risk factors as well as protective factors including family communication, and military support and satisfaction. Approximately 3 years later, change in marital status was examined among participants who completed a follow-up survey (n = 6,494 couples). Hierarchical logistic regression models indicated that couples’ younger age, lower education, childhood trauma, spouse employment status, mental health, and lower levels of communication contributed significant unique risk for marital instability. Moderation analyses by service member gender and spouse military status revealed that social isolation increased odds of marital instability for couples in which the service member was male but was not evidenced for couples in which the service member was female. Further, combat experience increased odds of marital instability for couples in which the service member was married to a veteran spouse but not for service members married to a dual-military or civilian spouse. Findings from this study can be used to target specific couple risk factors for marital instability and to tailor programs to at-risk subgroups. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved)

Publisher/Sponsoring Organization:

American Psychological Association

Publication Type:

REACH Publication


couples, human sex differences, marital conflict, military families, military veterans, protective factors, risk factors, spouses

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REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary

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