Distress in spouses of Vietnam veterans: associations with communication about deployment experiences.J Fam Psychol. 2012 Feb; 26(1):18-25.JF
Emerging literature shows a consistent pattern of relationship and psychological distress in spouses or partners of combat veterans with symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One possible mechanism of partners' distress posited in clinical literature is that excessive discussion of traumatic events from deployment may have negative effects on partners. At the extreme, some partners are suggested to develop PTSD-like symptoms, or secondary traumatic stress. Despite these hypotheses, there have been few empirical tests of the effects of communicating about such events. In a sample of 465 combat veterans and their spouses who participated in the Family Interview Component of the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study, we explored how the extent of couples' deployment-related communication was associated with partner relationships and psychological distress, and whether such associations were moderated by the severity of veterans' PTSD symptoms. Results showed that Vietnam-specific communication correlated negatively with relationship distress, but the effect was negligible after controlling for overall communication in the relationship. On the other hand, Vietnam-specific communication did not correlate with psychological distress, but the association was significantly moderated by veterans' PTSD symptom severity. Specifically, communication about Vietnam was increasingly and positively associated with partners' psychological distress as veterans' symptoms of PTSD rose into the clinical range, but nonsignificantly and negatively associated with such distress as PTSD symptoms decreased below this level. The findings support previous clinical recommendations that couples' discussions of potentially traumatic events be approached cautiously, and they suggest a need to attend to the content of couples' communications when conducting dyadic interventions for PTSD.