$878K grant allows WSU researchers to study military marriages

Military marriages are known for long periods of separation and high stress — situations that can cause those on active duty to become distracted at a time when they need to be keen.

Wright State University psychology researchers are tasked with studying whether early detection can save more of these marriages.

The Department of Defense has awarded the researchers an $878,000 grant to recruit about 250 Air Force couples who have been in a committed relationship for at least six months, and see how they respond to marriage counseling.

The goal of the three-year study is to see if it is effective to intervene before a marriage gets too toxic.

Jeffrey Cigrang, associate professor of psychology at Wright State and the lead researcher on the study, says when military marriages go under it can cause serious issues during deployment.

“They present with, ‘My partner is seeing someone else. My partner is expressing some doubts about whether our relationship will continue. I’m here in Iraq. My world is coming apart, but I’m here for another six months and I can’t do anything about it,’ ” Cigrang said.

In addition, he said military marriages undergo unique strains and stresses.

“One of my last assignments in the Air Force I was at a base in North Dakota,” Cigrang said. “You could throw a rock and hit Canada. And the base itself was 13 miles away from the nearest town.

“So you take a young couple, send them to North Dakota where it’s freaking cold, snow piles up, it’s a flat wasteland, and they’re nowhere near anybody or anything they are familiar with and then their husband or their wife goes off to work in the missile field for three days at a time. And she’s 20 years old and never been away from home. No wonder sometimes people show up on the police blotter for shoving each other, or getting in a yelling match.”

Military marriages have a slightly lower divorce rate compared to civilian marriages. Both groups are unlikely to turn to marriage counseling.

“Most couples wait a very long time, if ever, to seek out marriage counseling. Things got to be in pretty bad shape for any couple to even think about (counseling),” Cigrang said.

The Wright State researchers plan to use a method devised by a psychology professor in Massachusetts. It consist of three 30-minute appointments with a behavioral health provider. The intervention assesses a couple’s concerns, history, and strengths. The health provider will then provide feedback.

“This marriage checkup is intended to be the equivalent to an annual dental checkup or an annual physical. It would be preventative medicine for relationships,” Cigrang said.

The professor says he’d like to see the check-up become an annual routine for both civilians and military marriages, however, he notes it’s unlikely in the near future.

A portion of the funds will go to pay for graduate assistant Ashley Evans’ tuition and stipend. She plans to use the study as the basis of her dissertation.

“I think it is something that needs attention,” Evans said. “They come to therapy when it’s already broken and want you to fix it.”

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