Combat Veterans' Symptoms of PTSD and Partners' Distress: The Role of Partners' Perceptions of Veterans' Deployment Experiences

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Abstract

Romantic partners of combat veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) report elevated relationship and psychological distress. One recent study suggests that this association may be weaker when partners perceive that veterans experienced higher levels of traumatic deployment events, but such results have not yet been replicated. We replicated and extended these findings in a sample of 206 National Guard service members who deployed overseas since 2001 and their partners. We used multivariate structural equation models to explore whether partners' perceptions of service members' deployment experiences moderated the associations of severity of service members' overall PTSD and specific PTSD clusters with partners' psychological and relationship distress. The significant association of overall PTSD symptom severity with partners' distress was not moderated by partners' perceptions. When examining PTSD symptoms at the cluster level, only the numbing/withdrawal cluster was significantly associated with distress. However, this association was moderated by partners' perceptions of service members' deployment experiences, such that the associations weakened as these perceptions increased. These results are in line with research indicating that the avoidance cluster of PTSD symptoms is particularly detrimental for partners of those with PTSD. Furthermore, they indicate that such symptoms are associated with less distress in partners who perceive that service members experienced high levels of potentially traumatic deployment events. Such perceptions may be linked with external attributions for symptoms, which suggests that psychoeducation regarding the causes of PTSD and the totality of PTSD symptoms may be useful in intervening with such partners.

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