Family Stress Associated with Wartime Separation


Name: Deborah Messecar


Organization: Oregon Health Sciences University

Performance Site: Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland, OR

Year Published: 1993

Abstract Status: Final


The purpose of this qualitative study was to describe families' perceptions of their experiences during the recall of a Guard or Reserve military family member, their coping processes before, during, and after the separation, and outcomes of wartime separation on family functioning and individual family members' growth and development. Grounded theory methodology (constant comparative analysis approach) was used to analyze the data collected from interviews with 14 family members (mainly spouses) of Guard or Reserve personnel who were recalled to active duty during the Persian Gulf War.A core variable, uncertainty, evolved from the category codes developed from the data, and explained the families' ability to come to terms with separation. Level of uncertainty is determined by an initial process of making sense of the separation, which in turn is influenced by a variety of factors such as level of commitment to the relationship, duration of separation, quality of communication with departing member, financial strain, and previous experience with separation.Three patterns of experiencing separation were identified: low uncertainty (limited need for family to assume new roles); high uncertainty initially (new roles and responsibilities required) followed by adjustment; and high uncertainty that persists (due to serious problems and lack of support). Strategies for managing uncertainty included connecting with the activated family member, seeking information, and accessing formal and informal social support.Three contextual mixed patterns of social support not previously reported were identified in this study: an informal network including military contacts; a strong support network excluding military contacts; and isolation from informal support networks. In the grounded theory resulting from the study, coping with uncertainty is implicated in the struggle with separation, in changes within one's self and in relationships, and in problems of readjustment to new family roles.The data reveal strategies that families use to manage uncertainty. This information will help in designing clinical interventions sensitive to the needs of Guard and Reserve family members. Findings of the study also suggest areas of needed policy changes at the federal and major command level, e.g., establishing an income protection insurance program, recalling Guard and Reserve members by unit rather than individually, and utilizing existing health promotion programs to increase the awareness of support unit commanders.