The Double-Edged Sword: The Role of Empathy in Military Veterans’ Partners Distress

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Abstract

Objective: The existing literature has shown that war veterans’ posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) are associated with high levels of distress in their female partners. According to the literature, spouses’ empathy for their spouses can be a risk factor for their own mental health. However, this subject has not been examined among veteran couples. The current study therefore investigated both the direct and moderating contribution of females’ cognitive and affective empathy to their own PTSS and depression symptoms, above and beyond the preexisting traumatic events of the women’s own lives and the veterans’ PTSS. Method: Participants were 300 Israeli men who had served in the 2006 Israel-Lebanon War and their female partners, all of whom completed survey questionnaires. Results: Results revealed that although cognitive empathy can play a positive role for the female in the aftermath of a traumatic event, affective empathy can potentially make a negative contribution to her distress. Women’s education, in number of years, and their own previous traumatic life events, as well as veterans’ levels of PTSS, were all found to make a direct contribution to females’ PTSS and depression symptoms. Conclusion: Findings support the theory that although higher empathy can play a positive role in military couples in which the male partner displays symptoms of PTSS symptoms, it can also contribute negatively to her distress.

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