"You can freak out or deal with it" : military wives' perspectives on communication and family resilience, coping, and support during deployment



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This study investigates the process of resilience from the perspective of military wives during deployment. The study had two main goals: 1) to further understand the deployment experience, as it is lived personally and within the family, and 2) to develop a theory-based resilience model, guided by family stress and resilience theory, highlighting the role of communication within the family resilience process. According to the FAAR Model (Patterson, 1988; 2002), resilience involves three components: meanings, demands, and capabilities. Based on the goals of the study and the three main components of resilience, five broad research questions guided the study: How do military spouses perceive, interpret, and make meaning of their experience with spousal deployment? How do spouses cope with the spousal deployment experience? How do spouses perceive the family deployment and coping experience? What supportive resources and responses are most helpful for military spouses during spousal deployment, and why? And what supportive resources and responses are most unhelpful for military spouses during spousal deployment, and why? The data are also viewed through a lens of ambiguous loss theory (Boss, 1999; 2004; 2006; 2007), as deployment is a stressful situation that incorporates uncertainty, loss, and a presence-absence paradox for spouses and families. To investigate these questions and develop these theories, in-depth interviews were conducted with 26 military wives who were currently experiencing deployment. The results illustrate various aspects of women’s perceptions of their deployment experiences, including how they make sense of these experiences. Women did not only discuss their own personal experiences; they also reported experiences at relational and family levels. Paralleling these tri-level perceptions of the experience, women’s approaches to coping also occurred at individual, relational, and family levels. Different coping strategies within each level are outlined and discussed. Finally, women’s perceptions and evaluations of the responses they receive from others, both supportive and unsupportive, are reported and discussed. Based on the results, a transactional model of family resilience, highlighting the central role of communication, is proposed. Implications for theory (e.g., stress and resilience theories, ambiguous loss theory) and practice are discussed. Future directions for research are explored.