A new study details the challenges service members may face when returning home from an extended deployment.
According to the researchers, depressive symptoms and relationship troubles are both risks for returning service members.
In the study, Leanne Knobloch, Ph.D., suggested ways for preserving healthy relationships – with many of the ideas helpful for any individual, not just returning vets.
Returning service members are at a greater risk of both depressive symptoms and relationship distress, and research shows the two often go together, Knobloch said. That’s not a good thing, since someone suffering from depressive symptoms “really needs the support of their romantic partner.”
Two consistent themes were found among vets reentering stateside life. The first was relationship uncertainty, and the second was the awareness that conflict will arise as the partner or spouse interferes with the vet’s establishment of a new routine or everyday life.
The authors believe that service members should recognize relationship uncertainty and should address the issues, rather than avoid them, and they believed vets should work to resolve issues that will inevitably develop.
In the study, these situations linked depressive symptoms and relationship distress, Knobloch said. “These may be pathways through which people’s depressive symptoms make them dissatisfied or unhappy with their relationships.”
They may help explain why depressive symptoms and relationship distress are connected, she said, “and the why is important because it suggests how to attack the problem, how to break the link.”
Knobloch emphasized that having questions or uncertainty about a relationship is not unusual for those with depressive symptoms. “People with depressive symptoms have a tendency to question everything in their lives,” she said.
Feelings of interference from a partner are also not unusual, she said, given that each person has grown accustomed to doing things on their own during the deployment.
The study’s conclusions fit with a model of relational turbulence that Knobloch and others have created to understand transitions in relationships.
The authors found that distress in the relationship was no more or less likely for couples who had been through multiple deployments versus those who had been through just one.
“Military couples often say that every deployment is different,” Knobloch said.
They did find, however, that distress was more likely among those in the latter part of their six months after return, which fits with research by others.
“Our findings are important because returning service members and their partners sometime think that the transition home is going to be a honeymoon period where everything is just romance and roses,” Knobloch said. “They can be disillusioned if they run into obstacles.”
They might be better prepared for the potential upheaval, however, “if they recognize that it’s a normal part of the process, that many couples go through it and it doesn’t mean your relationship is not good,” she said.
“Depression is a really hard thing, and if people can separate their relationship problems from the depression itself, then they’re a step ahead,” Knobloch said.
Knobloch and co-author Jennifer Theiss, Ph.D., have published their findings in the Journal of Family Psychology.
Source: University of Illinois