What are Dual Trauma Couples?

Rachel Dorman, MS & Heidi Radunovich, PhD

Traumatic events can have long lasting impacts on an individual, and military members returning from deployment could be coping with exposure to multiple traumatic events. Traumatic events can result in PTSD, anxiety, isolation, and depression. Nelson Goff and colleagues (2014) sought to not only learn more about military members coping with traumas but also what happens when their partners have experienced trauma as well.

The researchers specifically sought to learn more about dual trauma couples (DTC) and how having 2 partners coping with trauma impacts the relationship. The study involved 11 married couples, consisting of 11 male soldiers and their female partners (some of whom had a military background). In five of the couples, only the soldier was found to have experienced a high level of traumatic experiences (single trauma couples, or STC); in the other six couples, both members scored as having had a high level of traumatic experience (DTC). Participants had to be 18 years or older, in their relationship for a year or more, and reported no substance abuse or domestic violence during the initial screening. Participants were interviewed separately from their partner, and were also given written measures, which included the Traumatic Events Questionnaire (TEQ), the Purdue Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Scale – Revised, the Trauma Symptom Checklist-40, and the Dyadic Adjustment Scale.

Group of military personnel
[Flickr, 20150718-Z-SW098-196 by Maryland National Guard, CC BY-ND 2.0] Retrieved on September 17, 2015
The researchers found communication problems and trauma triggers to be unique themes to DTC as compared to STC. The researchers found that eleven of the twelve participants in this DTC category reported communication problems, such as not being open and sharing information and the avoidance of conversations related to traumatic events. Trauma related triggers, such as being startled by daily events, were identified by the researchers in nine of the twelve participants in the DTC category. Most of the STC participants described positive couple communication (e.g., staying connected while deployed, perspective taking, and being able to discuss issues openly).

The researchers recommend for clinicians working with military couples who have experienced trauma to evaluate for communication problems, trauma triggers, and issues with relationship roles and intimacy.  The researchers also highlight the importance of practitioners being more aware of DTC, and the fact that when both members of a couple are coping with trauma, this can add additional stress to a couple’s relationship. To learn more about how to help military members dealing with trauma check out our Resource Discovery on Trauma-informed Care, our previous blog on EFT for Couples Affected by Trauma, or our previous blog on Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: Prevalence and Effects on Couples.

References

[1] Nelson Goff, B., Irwin, L., Cox, M., Devine, S., Summers, K., & Schmitz, A. (2014). A qualitative study on single-trauma and dual-trauma military couples. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 6(3), p. 216 – 223. Doi: 10.1037/a0036697

This post was written by Rachel Dorman, M.S. and Heidi Radunovich, PhD, members of the MFLN Family Development (FD) team which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, on TwitterYou Tube, and on LinkedIn.

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