While everyone experiences stress and negative life events, social relationships can act as protective factors against the development of mental health symptoms or psychological health disorders.[ Reference 1 ]
Positive social support is associated with physical and psychological benefits such as:
Lower mortality rates[ Reference 2 ]
Lower rates of trauma- and stressor-related mental health disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)[ Reference 4 ]
Higher resilience to stress[ Reference 5 ]
The stress-buffering theory proposes that positive primary relationships can mitigate the harmful effects of stress by giving an individual a sense of purpose, identity, security, embeddedness, and comfort.[ Reference 6 ] These relationships can also reinforce health-promoting behaviors (e.g., healthy eating and exercise) and discourage health-comprising behaviors (e.g., drinking, smoking, etc.).[ Reference 7 ] While peer support is helpful, support from primary relationships (i.e., marital relationships and romantic relationships) has been found to be most beneficial to overall well-being and mental health.[ Reference 2 ], [ Reference 4 ]
Meanwhile, symptoms of stress, including combat and operational stress reactions, can erode social relationships.[ Reference 8 ] When irritability, angry outbursts, and avoidance or isolating behaviors occur, these symptoms can undermine the protective nature of healthy social support.
Unhealthy patterns in primary relationships can also adversely impact service members’ adjustment and readiness.[ Reference 9 ], [ Reference 10 ], [ Reference 11 ] Interpersonal conflict is the most commonly reported problem on post-deployment health reassessments, suggesting that prevention interventions that strengthen relationships and improve communication skills could be helpful in ameliorating individual and couple distress.[ Reference 12 ], [ Reference 13 ], [ Reference 14 ]
The following resources can support service members, leaders, and providers.
- National Military Family Association The website of the National Military Family Association, which supports service members, their spouses, and their children with resources and programs, includes links to marriage enrichment programs available through the services and camp opportunities for military children.
- Military Family Research Institute The website of this Purdue University-based organization that conducts research on military families offers resources and programs to support service members and their families.
- Keeping Marriages Healthy, and Why It’s So Difficult This American Psychological Association Science Brief discusses healthy relationship behaviors, common difficulties, and implications for helping couples succeed.