Deployment Stressors, Use of Military and Civilian Resources, and Post-Deployment Adjustment for Wives of Active Duty Service Members

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In the current climate of sustained and intensive military operations in the Middle East, spouses of recently deployed active duty service members are negatively affected both psychologically and relationally. Although there is a growing body of literature on spouses' adjustment during the deployment cycle, the role of accessing military and civilian resources in reducing distress has not been examined. Guided by Family Stress Theory and the ABC-X model, it was hypothesized that accessing military or civilian resources would weaken the relationships between high levels of deployment cycle stressors and spouses' post-deployment levels of mental health problems and marital satisfaction. The current study used a sample of almost 10,000 female spouses of active duty service members from the Military Family Life Project, a secondary dataset collected and maintained by the Department of Defense. Two types of hierarchical regression appropriate for non-normal data were used to analyze the relationships between four deployment cycle stressors, three types of military and civilian resources, and spouses' post-deployment levels of mental health problems and marital satisfaction. Findings indicate that spouses who experience more challenges at home during the deployment and who perceive more post-deployment adjustment problems in their service member husbands also experience higher levels of mental health problems and lower marital satisfaction. Accessing more types of social support resources was found to be related to lower levels of post-deployment mental health problems, whereas accessing more types of counseling resources was found to be related to higher levels of mental health problems. In addition, two interactions between accessing information and counseling resources while experiencing high levels of at-home deployment challenges were found to be significant for reductions in levels of mental health problems. The overall pattern of findings suggests that spouses' personal at-home experience of the deployment is more important than the external characteristics of the deployment itself, that there are meaningful differences between spouses' post-deployment mental health and marital satisfaction, and that accessing social support operates differently for active duty military wives than for other populations of women. The implications of study findings for theory, future empirical research, policy and practice, are discussed.