Annelisa Leinbach

Approximately 50 to 60 percent of military couples seek marital therapy as a result of infidelity, according to a paper released by researchers at the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Connecticut. Military relationships are marked by frequent and extended periods of separation, which prompted researchers at the National Center for PTSD in Connecticut to investigate the issue of infidelity among deployed service members.

Research at the Veterans Affairs Connecticut Healthcare System at the West Haven Campus examined the impact of infidelity on combat-exposed service members. The study suggested that infidelity, though often overlooked, is a pressing issue for veterans’ mental health. Experts said the findings underscore the need to further investigate the effects of infidelity on deployed service members and develop clinical methods to better treat those effects.

“There’s not really many people studying [infidelity], even though it’s probably something that we showed in this study that really does have implications for post-deployment mental health,” study senior author Dawne Vogt, a research psychologist at the National Center for PTSD and psychiatry professor at the Boston University School of Medicine, said.

Vogt and her fellow researchers began by distributing surveys to recently deployed veterans who were in a relationship at the time of their deployment. The participants answered questions about their infidelity experiences and concerns, PTSD and depression symptoms and post-deployment stressors. Of the 573 veterans who participated, 22 percent reported that their partners were unfaithful during deployment. Of the participants who did not report infidelity, 37.8 percent indicated that they were concerned that their partners may have been unfaithful.

The results of the surveys also indicated that veterans whose partners were unfaithful during deployment were significantly more likely to experience depression and symptoms of PTSD. Vogt said the research suggested that infidelity can function as a contributing stressor during deployment and ultimately leads to greater post-deployment stress.

According to Lorig Kachadourian, study author and research fellow at the Clinical Neuroscience Division of the VA National Center for PTSD, the study’s findings on the effects of infidelity on service members suggest new directions for clinical methods in post-deployment mental health.

“Just knowing that this can be a significant stressor for those who are deployed can definitely be of assistance for clinicians and mental health professionals and those who are there with [service members] to provide necessary treatment or counseling,” Kachadourian said.

Psychiatry experts interviewed agreed that post-deployment counseling is a field that requires further development. Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine John Krystal said while service members receive extensive support in navigating their romantic relationships during deployment, that level of support often deteriorates once they return home.

“[Military leaders] monitor their [platoon members’] relationships closely and try to provide support when people are struggling with these problems,” Krystal said. “But this level of monitoring does not continue after deployment even though the risks to the well-being of military personnel and veterans persists.”

Robert Pietrzak, psychiatry professor at the Yale School of Medicine and director of the Translational Psychiatric Epidemiology Laboratory in the Clinical Neurosciences Division of the National Center for PTSD, added that it would have been valuable for researchers to conduct the survey on service members mid-deployment, as well as post-deployment.

The survey asked combat-exposed veterans to describe their emotions during combat after their return home, but Pietrzak said this may not provide fully accurate data because perceptions of infidelity may be influenced by psychological symptoms at the time of survey completion.

Vogt and Kachadourian both said they hope their findings have opened the door for additional research on the topic of infidelity and deployment in the future. Vogt particularly emphasized that there is still much more to learn about the effect of infidelity on veterans.

“What I think would be great would be to expand the assessment. What kind of infidelity was it? And, did [service members] engage in infidelity?” Vogt said. “So, I think there’s a lot more questions that would be useful to ask, and that we don’t currently have in our existing data set.”

According to the National Center for PTSD, about 8 million adults are affected by PTSD in the United States each year.