Spousal Support and Post-traumatic Growth (PTG) among Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Veteran Couples

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Smith-Evans, Kimberley
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Mount Saint Vincent University
Post-traumatic growth (PTG), positive psychological change developed through managing highly stressful experiences, is gaining empirical attention in the military context. This complements well-established research showing a negative psychosocial impact of military service-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Veterans and their family, particularly spouses/partners. Three salient limitations exist in PTG research among CAF Veteran couples living with military service-related PTSD. First, PTG research is scarce in the Canadian military context; thus, little is known about this phenomenon among CAF Veterans and their spouses/partners. Second, spouses/partners have been identified as a valuable social resource in the development of PTG; however, the spousal support mechanisms involved in this process are unclear. Third, international research suggests that military spouses/partners may experience PTG as a result of living with PTSD in a couple relationship, yet this possibility has remained unexplored in a Canadian military context. The purpose of this study, informed through interpretive theory, is twofold: (1) to learn how PTG has been experienced among CAF Veteran couples who are living with service-related PTSD and (2) to examine the role of spousal support in the development of PTG among CAF Veteran couples. Two questions guided this qualitative study: (1) how has PTG been experienced within the couple relationship for CAF Veterans living with PTSD and their spouse/partner? (2) how have social processes within the spousal support system fostered PTG? Narratives of nine spouses/partners of CAF Veterans, living with service-related PTSD, were collected individually through in-depth, semi-structured interviews. Interviews were taped, transcribed and thematically analyzed using open, axial and selective coding techniques adopted from grounded theory methodology. This analysis was supported by MAXQDA computer software. Results showed that formal support resources at the community level are necessary for PTSD healing among CAF Veterans couples at the home level. Spouses/partners were vital for facilitating access and continued engagement with community level resources through their provision of emotional, instrumental, informational and appraisal support enacted through three key roles, caregiving, managing and cultivating, over the course of healing. Adaptive processes within the spouse/partner, such as positive outlook and determination, helped maintain the spousal support process; in turn, adaptive processes within the couple relationship, such as problem solving and communication skills, ensued from the spousal support process. Together, these personal and dyadic adaptive processes reinforced the relationship between spousal support and the development of PTG in spouses/partners and the couple relationship. As understandings of PTSD evolve, this inquiry is both timely and essential as it expands the focus of research to include positive outcomes for CAF Veteran couples. These perspectives hold significance for the advancement of strength-based programs and services that will foster optimal social health and well-being for CAF Veterans and their families. Furthermore, these programs/services should target spouses/partners more directly given the crucial role they play in the healing process for CAF Veterans living with PTSD and to ensure spouses/partners can maintain their own well-being throughout their supportive role.
Post-traumatic growth, Canadian Armed Forces, veteran couples, post-traumatic stress disorder,