MFRI research focuses on couple communication during deployment

Communication is key to relationship success, especially for intimate partners. To learn more about how deployments impact couples’ communication, MFRI researchers recruited 87 partners of deployed service members to complete daily diaries about their communication.

The research was conducted as part of MFRI’s Family Journeys study, designed to understand how families negotiate and manage changing family roles before, during and after deployment.

“Given developments in new media and social media, deployed service members and their at-home partners were often able to communicate regularly via phone and video calls during the Iran and Afghanistan conflicts,” said Steve Wilson, Purdue University professor of communication and MFRI faculty partner. “Our findings suggest that the key issue is not how often couples talk during deployment, but rather what they are saying and doing during their communication.”

Every evening for seven consecutive days, at-home partners described all of the day’s communication with their service member. They also described the level of connection they felt during the interaction. The MFRI team analyzed these reports and found indications that partners felt more connected to their service member when:

  • the service member provided them with higher levels of support; and
  • the couple made decisions together.

Couples also reported greater feeling of connection on specific days when partners and service members provided each other with more support than usual during phone or video calls.

According to Wilson, the research suggested several ways couples experiencing deployment could communicate effectively.

“Couples can help maintain their relationship by consistently offering each other support. At home partners can also involve the service member in key decisions without overburdening them,” he said. “Couples also need to recognize that they are going to have good and bad days. When their spouse or partner offers them less support than usual on a specific day, this probably reflects daily challenges and not a long-term change in their spouse.”

On the flip side, Wilson said, when at-home partners can offer meaningful support to their service member on a day when it is really needed, they feel especially connected. This is also true when their service member does the same for them.

During deployments, communication can fluctuate for a variety of reasons beyond a couples’ control (e.g. time zones, blackouts, lack of privacy).  The team says future research should explore how these fluctuations affect couples’ connection and strategies they might use to maintain their relationship during and after deployment.

MFRI is grateful to the couples who took part in this important research project. To learn more about its findings, read “Communication and connection during deployment: A daily-diary study from the perspective of at-home partners,” published in the Journal of Family Psychology.

Reference: Wilson, S. R., Marini, C. M., Franks, M. M., Whiteman, S. D., Topp, D., & Wadsworth, S. M. (2017). Communication and connection during deployment: A daily-diary study from the perspective of at-home partners. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publishing. doi: 10.1037/fam0000333

Student opportunities grow experience, knowledge

Are you thinking about a unique, challenging internship experience that offers an array of hands-on opportunities, college credit and a rewarding experience? MFRI is accepting interns for the upcoming spring semester within the External Relations, Family Support and Research teams. Internships are open to qualified Purdue students, especially those who are interested in serving military-connected families.

Students majoring in communication, human development and family studies and hospitality and tourism management majors are strongly encouraged to apply. An internship in External Relations internship provides a part-time, for-credit opportunity for undergraduate or graduate students in the Brian Lamb School of Communication, offering tailored communication experiences. Students will gain experience on social media and video production, web and print content creation, event management and copyediting. It is an excellent stepping stone for those seeking a career in public relations, event management, marketing or communications. For more information, contact Linda Hughes-Kirchubel.

If you’re seeking research-focused experience, consider applying for an internship assisting with the Family Journeys Study through HDFS 390/590. This course provides an opportunity for students to code tasks performed by the family members during interviews. Email Keisha Bailey or Christine McCall for more information.

The Family Support Team will be offering one full-time, 12-credit undergraduate internship through the Human Development and Family Studies program. The intern in this position will work with the Measuring Communities project and help collect important data to distribute to communities. While this internship is already filled for the spring semester, contact Kathy Broniarczyk for more information if interested in this opportunity for future semesters.

MFRI Excellence in Research on Military and Veteran Families Award recipient announced

Research exploring the World War II GI Bill, marriage and socioeconomic outcomes earned the 2016 Military Family Research Institute’s annual award for Excellence in Research on Military and Veteran Families.

Sixteen distinguished reviewers examined all the research on military families published in 2015, over 150 articles. Multiple rounds of review yielded the winning article: “War and marriage: Assortative mating and the World War II GI Bill,” by Matthew F. Larsen, T. J. McCarthy, Jeremy G. Moulton, Marianne E. Page and Ankur J. Patel. The authors’ research, detailed in the publication, used quantitative research methods to explore linkages among the World War II GI Bill, marriage and generational impacts on socioeconomic status.

“Our goal at MFRI is to increase the impact of research, and this award helps to strengthen connections between researchers, policy makers and practitioners,” said Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth, director of MFRI. “We are thrilled to recognize and celebrate the excellent work of these outstanding scholars.”

The article appeared in the October 2015 issue of Demography, a peer-reviewed journal that presents the work of scholars across a variety of disciplines, including anthropology, biology, economics, geography, history, psychology, public health, sociology and statistics.

The award was presented on Nov. 16, at a panel discussion based on MFRI’s forthcoming book, A Battle Plan for Supporting Military and Veteran Families. The event was hosted by the Association of the U.S. Army and held at its headquarters in Arlington, Va.

MFRI established the award to recognize the year’s best research on military-connected families. It is given annually to the authors of research published in the last year that combines exceptional rigor with important insights about military and veteran families. Nominations for this award are neither solicited nor accepted. Instead, a panel reviews all published research to determine the winner of the award.

About the authors of “War and marriage: Assortative mating and the World War II GI Bill”:

Matthew F. Larsen
Department of Economics, Lafayette College, Easton, PA.
T. J. McCarthy
Sol Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Jeremy G. Moulton
Department of Public Policy, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC.
Marianne E. Page
Department of Economics, University of California Davis, Davis, CA.
Ankur J. Patel
U.S. Department of the Treasury, Washington, DC.

MFRI is also pleased to announce two other articles that received top honors:

If you would like to revisit the 2016 evening’s discussion, please view the archived version of this event.

2015 Recipient

Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth, Zhun Xu and Patty Barron
Research Award Recipient co-author Zhun Xu with MFRI Director Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth, left, and Patty Barron, of AUSA, which sponsored the award dinner.

Lundquist, J., & Xu, Z. (2014). Reinstitutionalizing families: Life course policy and marriage in the militaryJournal of Marriage and Family 76(5), 1063-1081.

Jennifer Lundquist, University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Zhun Xu, Howard University, argue that structural conditions of modern military service – including deployment, frequent moves and overarching characteristics of military employment – shape the relationships between spouses and service members. Through the article, the authors bring together life course literatures on turning points, the welfare state, and linked lives to show how military policies are part of an overarching institutional culture that directly and indirectly promotes marriage.

2015 Finalists

An analysis of National Guard post-deployment relationships

Individuals differ in the ways they typically cope with stressful life circumstances. Authors Christina M. Marini and Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth, who work at MFRI, and Sharon L. Christ, and Melissa M. Franks evaluated military couples and their coping strategies in relation to their psychological health during reintegration after deployment.

The article, published in the “Journal of Social and Personal Relationships” evaluated 175 National Guard couples who recently experienced deployment and addressed two main topics: (1) whether there were interactive associations among partners’ coping strategies and (2) whether service members’ level of combat exposure moderated any of these associations. The research showed that psychological health was positively associated with one’s own emotion expression and negatively associated with one’s own avoidance.

There was also a significant association between service members’ psychological health and their significant others’ emotion expression but only in the context of high combat exposure. The article is available through the publisher’s website.