Study identifies several factors linked to resiliency in military spouses

A new study indicates that a broad range of psychosocial factors are associated with the resiliency  of military spouses. The research, published in the journal Military Psychology, also found that resiliency was related to psychological distress, relationship functioning, sleep quality, and overall health in military spouses.

“For several years, I have collaborated with staff members at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research on research projects related to military service members’ mental health and related topics. This project was a natural extension of some of that work in to the relatively new area of military spouse mental health,” said Robert R. Sinclair, a professor at Clemson University and the corresponding author of the new study.

“The specific topic of dispositional resilience, a personality trait associated with being less affected by stressful circumstances, is an on-going research interest of mine, so this project was an exciting opportunity to integrate my work on dispositional resilience with my interests in occupational health to investigate health concerns in military spouses — a group whose sacrifices and contributions to our national defense, particularly while their soldier spouses are deployed, often go unappreciated by the general public.”

In a survey of 333 female military spouses, the researchers identified several factors that were associated with psychological resilience.

Spouses who reported higher levels of trait resilience also reported lower levels of work family conflict, having an officer for a spouse, higher levels of social support, being a member of a church, having a greater number of children, having a spouse who was in better mental health, being older, and having higher levels of education.

Higher resilience, in turn, was associated with better mental and physical health.

“Our study asked the basic question: What variables predict mental health symptoms among military spouses? The outcomes we looked at included spouses’ reports of general psychological distress (a measure which included symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety), marital relationship functioning, sleep quality, and general health,” Sinclair told PsyPost.

“Although there were a couple of differences, the results were fairly consistent across the outcomes: healthier spouses reported higher levels of social support, were more likely to be members of churches, and reported fewer mental health problems among their soldier spouse, lower levels of work-family conflict, lower levels of negative experiences during their own childhoods, and higher levels of dispositional resilience.”

“These results help improve understanding of military spouses’ mental health and point toward interventions that might help military spouses, such as increased social support, efforts from their employers to reduce work-family conflict, and resilience-focused stress management interventions,” Sinclair said.

But the study — like all research — includes some limitations.

“All of the data were gathered from a single self-reported survey of the spouses. This means that we cannot draw strong conclusions about causal relationships, such as whether spouses’ work-family conflict affects their mental health or whether spouses’ mental health affects their work-family conflict,” explained Sinclair, who is also a founding editor-in-chief of Occupational Health Science.

“So, research that studies these relationships over time would be valuable. It is also important to note that the results may not generalize beyond military spouses to civilian samples. Finally, there is an ongoing need to study the effects of organizational programs designed to address spouses’ mental health – do intervention programs intended to benefit military spouses actually work?”

The study, “The Resilient Spouse: Understanding Factors Associated With Dispositional Resilience Among Military Spouses“, was authored by Robert R. Sinclair, Abby L. Paulson, and Lyndon A. Riviere.