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Families Serve Too: Military Spouse Well-Being After Separation From Active-Duty Service

Rayan Joneydi and Christianna S. Williams: Abt Global; Christopher Spera: then at Abt Global and currently at Arbor Research Collaborative for Health; Nida H. Corry, NORC at University of Chicago; Hope S. McMaster, Leidos and Naval Health Research Center; Shirley Glynn, Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA; Valerie A. Stander, Naval Health Research Center


March 23, 2022

Transitioning from military to civilian life can be challenging for families, but most research focuses only on the service member. We assessed spouse well-being following this important transition by applying a life course model and conducting a prospective, longitudinal survey of service members and their spouses. We captured three spouse well-being domains: psychological health, physical health, and family relationships. We identified differences between families who separated from service and those still affiliated with the military, and assessed baseline factors associated with spouse well-being after the family separated from service.

At baseline and follow-up, spouses of service members who had separated from the military reported poorer mental health and family relationship quality than those who had not separated. After controlling for baseline differences, spouses whose families transitioned experienced a greater increase in PTSD symptoms and a steeper decline in quality of marriage. Spouses of active-duty service members reported greater increases in work–family conflict. Among families who had transitioned, the most consistent predictor of positive outcomes was baseline well-being. Protective factors included having more psychological and social resources and less financial stress.

Several protective and risk factors identified in the study may inform programming for families transitioning from active duty.