Psychological distress and communication quality in military couples after deployment to war

Osnat Zamir, Abigail H. Gewirtz, Cheuk Hei Cheng, Na Zhang, Yoav Lavee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous research has found elevated levels of psychological distress (i.e., posttraumatic stress, depressive and anxiety symptoms) among veterans. Existing theory and evidence show how psychological distress is associated with marital disruptions. Only a few studies, however, have tested the link between psychological distress and couple communication quality in military couples, most of which were cross-sectional and employed self-report measures. The current study investigated whether psychological distress predicts changes in observed communication quality across 1 year in 228 couples consisting of male service members, who were deployed to Iraq and/or Afghanistan, and their nondeployed female partners. Psychological distress was indicated by self-reported posttraumatic stress disorder, depressive, and anxiety symptoms. Communication quality was assessed using observed couple interactions. The results of an actor-partner interdependence model showed that men's psychological distress predicted men's lower communication quality at one year after accounting for baseline communication quality. Women's psychological distress did not predict their communication quality, and each partner's psychological distress did not predict changes in their partner's communication quality over time. Consistent with previous findings on civilian populations, our findings highlight the long-term effects of psychological distress among service members on their communication behaviors with their intimate partners, and emphasize the importance of targeting psychological symptoms of service members following deployment to war.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)383-391
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Family Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 American Psychological Association.


  • Actor-partner interdependence model
  • Couple communication
  • Deployment
  • Psychological distress
  • Military Family/psychology
  • Spouses/psychology
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychological Distress
  • Male
  • Military Personnel/psychology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic/psychology
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Anxiety/psychology
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Longitudinal Studies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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