Research has long shown that service members and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder have higher-than-average rates of marital conflict, as well
as higher blood pressure, poorer sleep and more stress-related
physical problems than those without the disorder.
Now, new research shows spousal disagreement itself may fuel
physical health problems in military personnel and veterans with
PTSD. Findings suggest that the way someone with PTSD reacts to
marital conflict — with intense anger and cardiac symptoms like
high blood pressure and heart rate, for example — may lead to
poorer sleep and greater risk for cardiovascular disease.
But the most surprising finding is that this discord may
influence the partner of the service person or veteran. In some
cases, the research suggests, partners are more vulnerable to
health problems than the military personnel and veterans
The heart knows
In the first-ever study to examine the relationship among
marital conflict, PTSD and heart disease risk in military
couples, Catherine Caska, PhD, a psychology fellow at the
Veterans Administration Puget Sound Health Care System–
Seattle Division, and colleagues at the University of Utah
examined veterans’ and their partners’ emotional and physical
changes when they were in conflict.
Sixty-five military couples came into the lab for testing: All of
the men had fought in the Iraq or Afghanistan wars, or both, and
all of the women were their spouses or partners. The men in 33
of the couples had screened positively for PTSD. The men in the
other 32 couples had no PTSD or other Axis-I diagnosis.
The team first measured couples’ marital functioning via
BY TORI DEANGELIS
self-report questionnaires. Over the next 10 minutes, they
measured couples’ state anxiety and anger, as well as a range of
cardiac indicators including blood pressure, heart rate, heart
rate variability and cardiac sympathetic activation. In elevated
conflict may be at greater risk for heart disease and sleep
problems than their peers without these issues.