Living with the invisibly wounded: how female partners of male OEF/OIF/OND veterans with PTSD understand their experiences
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This study builds on the literature demonstrating systemic effects of PTSD on spouses of military veterans. An interpretive phenomenological approach was utilized for interviewing and analyzing data from twelve female partners of veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation New Dawn who have PTSD. Half of these women had begun their relationships prior to the veterans’ deployments and half had met their partners after their military service. Seven themes emerged from the analysis of participants’ narratives that captured the confusion, uncertainty, and emotional distress often central to women’s experiences and highlighted their sense of responsibility to their partners, the challenges with trust and intimacy in their relationships, shifts in their identities, and the strategies they used to cope. Noteworthy was the fact that women’s descriptions of listening to veterans’ trauma disclosures did not support the construct of vicarious traumatization as a primary mechanism to explain participants’ distress. Women’s narratives did lend support to the relevance of the theories of ambiguous loss, caregiver burden, and appraisal theory to understanding the heightened psychological distress and relationship distress in this population.