Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

17069 “Cyber-Marriage” Phases In Wartime Military Relationships: Partners' Perceptions of the Impact of Telecommunications On Interpersonal Deployment Stressors and Resilience

Thursday, January 12, 2012: 1:30 PM
Farragut Square (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Alexa Smith-Osborne, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Jayshree Jani, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland Baltimore County, Baltimore, MD
Purpose: Earlier research on military families and dual career couples has suggested that geographical separation between partners may be associated with emotional distance and even attentuation and termination of the relationship. Current conflicts are characterized by increased rates of both recurrent, lengthy deployments and deployment extensions, and of posttraumatic stress disorder and polytrauma. Trauma and deployment stress may be related to the steady rise in military divorce rates from 2001-2008 in all branches, except for males in the Navy. Further, communication in both proximate and distal phases of military relationships has been pinpointed as an understudied area, with a particular gap in the impact on relationship resilience of telecommunications use in today's conflicts as compared to past combat eras. Further, prior investigation of communication use has primarily examined the perspective of the deployed, predominantly male, military family member. This knowledge gap has increased urgency for military families as increasing numbers of women and married personnel enlist in today's all volunteer force. Therefore, this study investigates female partners' experiences and perceptions of the impact of different types and use of communications media on interpersonal deployment stressors and resilience during long-distance wartime deployment phases of the relationship. Method: Female partners of personnel deployed to a combat theater were interviewed, as were contrast cases of women engaged in long-distance civilian relationships during the same combat era. In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted to examine sixteen long-distance relationships. Thematic analysis of interview transcripts was conducted independently by two coders. Themes from each of the interviews were identified and analyzed, and re-contacts scheduled as member checking to clarify emergent themes. Content analysis of interview transcripts was then done using Atlas.ti 5.2 software in another iteration to code transcripts and to determine frequency of terms for key concepts across interviews, as well as to compare themes from exceptions to prominent emerging themes and from contrast cases. Codes were discussed until consensus was reached by both coders. Patterns of themes were then identified and clustered to more fully describe the phenomena of interest.

Results: Barriers to frequency and type of communication media used were identified, and perceived as having an important impact on success in defining cyberspace as intimate social space, which was viewed as supportive of relationship resilience. Predeployment expectations of frequency of communication in multiple modes, and of the ease and dependability of internet modes of communication, were commonly higher than the reality turned out to be. Women perceived differential meanings and significance for relationship quality and maintenance and limitations of functionality by type of communications technology used.

Conclusions and Implications: This study provides new information for social workers who are working with military families. It offers a description of protective effects and risk factors of multiple modes of communication on deployment phase relationships, from the perspective of the women engaged in them. These findings clarify ways in which social workers can assist women on the home front in making decisions about communication patterns supportive of stress prevention and resilience in their relationships.

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