Posttraumatic stress and intimate partner relationship functioning: An examination of couple distress and the interrelation of symptomology

Veterans suffering from posttraumatic stress (PTSD), compared to relative trauma-exposed veterans without PTSD, have more serious relationship problems. Research in the area of combat trauma-related symptoms and intimate partner relationships have to-date, mostly focused on identifying the negative outcomes of trauma but have not elaborated on how the symptoms themselves act as agents in negative relationship functioning. The purpose of this study was to identify a relationship between combat-related PTSD symptoms of insomnia/sleep dysfunction, avoidance/emotional numbing, and intimate partner distress - specifically the mechanisms by which symptoms and distress are maintained or exacerbated. A review of combat trauma and relationship theories indicated that a newly applied theory, Conservation of Resources (COR) could account for specific combat trauma symptomology, the effects of non-PTSD intimate partners’ distress, and the course of these aspects. This study predominately utilized quantitative data for exploratory correlational research. One hundred and fifteen Canadian combat veterans completed self-administered questionnaires that included demographic characteristics, supplementary questions and the study variables: PTSD assessment, dyadic adjustment, and sleep issues. Results indicated that PTSD overall is negatively related to dyadic adjustment, and that avoidance symptoms represent the most detrimental cluster of PTSD in terms of relationship functioning. Although insomnia/sleep dysfunction was not correlated to dyadic adjustment for those with PTSD, it was identified as a contributor to negative relationship functioning through supplementary responses. The study suggests a revised Canadian PTSD prevalence rate of 29%, which is noteworthy when compared to the previous PTSD prevalence rate estimation of 10%. The application of COR theory to combat veterans and relationship functioning is supported by the results of this study. Findings of this study can aid clinicians in the enhancement of couple therapies, draw attention to the need for improved deployment screening and care provisions for military members, and contribute to the breadth of empirical literature.
PTSD, Canadian Forces, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Intimate Partner, Intimate Partner Distress, Relationship Functioning, Insomnia, Sleep Dysfunction, combat veterans, military, emotional numbing, avoidance