With or without you: Preliminary evidence that attachment avoidance predicts nondeployed spouses' reactions to relationship challenges during deployment

Jessica L. Borelli, David A. Sbarra, Jonathan E. Snavely, Dana L. McMakin, John K. Coffey, Sarah K. Ruiz, Binghuang A. Wang, Samuel Y. Chung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

17 Scopus citations


Although much is written about the impact of deployment on nondeployed spouses (NDSs) and couple relationships, few empirical studies address this directly. Using attachment theory as a guiding framework, this study followed 32 NDSs across a military deployment. We examined the prospective association between NDSs' attachment avoidance and their response to relational challenges (assessed using both correlational and experimental designs) during a deployment. Two weeks before deployment, NDSs provided self-reports of their attachment avoidance and relationship satisfaction. During the deployment, they provided stream-of-consciousness speech samples regarding (a) the deployment and (b) their anticipated reunion with their spouse: after each speech sample they reported on their subjective anxiety. Based on random assignment, NDSs then completed either an experimenter-led "personal" or "relational" memory savoring task, reporting on their emotional state before and after the task. Two weeks after the deployment, NDSs reported on their relationship satisfaction. Higher avoidance was associated with more frequent anxiety word use and higher self-reported anxiety when discussing the anticipated reunion. Avoidance moderated the association between savoring condition and postsavoring negative emotion, such that in the relational condition only, greater avoidance was related to more negative emotion. Postsavoring emotional state moderated the longitudinal association between predeployment attachment avoidance and postdeployment relationship satisfaction. Results are discussed in terms of their contribution to the literature on coping during attachment stressors as well as their implications for treatment with NDSs undergoing deployment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)478-487
Number of pages10
JournalProfessional Psychology: Research and Practice
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014



  • Anxiety
  • Attachment
  • Avoidance
  • Military deployment
  • Savoring

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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