Family relationships embedded in United States military culture

Leanne K. Knobloch, Erin C. Wehrman

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


United States military personnel and their families have made substantial sacrifices to protect and defend their country in the service of the post-9/11 global war on terrorism (MacDermid Wadsworth, 2010; Willerton, MacDermid Wadsworth, and Riggs, 2011). Service members, their romantic partners, and their children have handled the increased operational tempo of deployments resulting from both Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) with impressive resilience (Bonanno et al., 2012; Cozza, Chun, and Polo, 2005; Lester et al., 2010), although the challenges of war can take a substantial toll on people’s physical health (Badr, Barker, and Milbury, 2011; Gorman, Eide, and Hilse-Gorman, 2010), mental health (Mansfield et al., 2010; Milliken, Auchterlonie, and Hoge, 2007; Pfefferbaum et al., 2011), and relationship health (Adams, Durand, and Castro, 2006; Allen et al., 2010; Nelson Goff et al., 2007). One foundation of this resilience is undoubtedly the strong military identity that many families embrace. US military culture espouses the ideals of courage, fortitude, strength, fairness, discipline, loyalty, respect for authority, determination, and valor (Coll, Weiss, and Yarvis, 2011; Greene et al., 2010b; Ulmer, Collins, and Jacobs, 2000), and these qualities are the signature values of many active duty and reserve component military families (Hall, 2008). To be a US military family is to be proud, to be strong, and to be brave (Hall 2011a; 2011b; Park, 2011). Although military culture provides a pervasive backdrop for how service members and their families navigate domestic life (Hall 2008; 2011a; Sherman and Bowling, 2011), scholarship on the interpersonal functioning of military couples and families has not always been sensitive to the unique parameters at play. With some notable exceptions (Palmer, 2008; Pincus et al., 2001; Riggs and Riggs, 2011), scholars have tended to apply established theories of relationship functioning to the military context without fully taking into account the social circumstances that envelop military personnel, their romantic partners, and their children. The result is a body of work (including some of our own research) that underemphasizes the distinctive trademarks of military life. As Wiens and Boss (2006) noted, "To understand how best to support today’s military families, it is essential to understand their contexts. What are the contextual sources of their stress and resiliency?" (p. 25). This chapter takes up that question.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationSocial Influences on Romantic Relationships
Subtitle of host publicationBeyond the Dyad
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)9781139333610
ISBN (Print)9781107029361
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014


  • Developmental psychology
  • Social psychology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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