Extant literature on traumatic stress has predominately focused on the exploration, identification, and treatment of trauma-related symptoms and diagnoses in individuals. In addition, conceptualization and examination of the role of traumatic stress exposure on couples have generally typified partners as comprised of one primary and one secondary trauma survivor (commonly referred to as “single-trauma couples” (STC). As a result, there are critical gaps in the examination of the lived experiences of dual-trauma couples ([DTC]; i.e., wherein both partners meet diagnostic criteria for PTSD or have a history of exposure to traumatic stress), and in understanding(s) of dual-traumatic exposure on couples’ functioning. The research presented herein aims to address these limitations and expand upon existing dual-trauma scholarship using a mixed methodology, two study approach. In the first study, I used cross-sectional data from the Relationship Evaluation Questionnaire (RELATE) to analyze and compare the relationship between (a) childhood trauma exposure (i.e., physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence) and (b) relational satisfaction and stability, and perceived partner flexibility in a non-clinical sample (n=4,308) of STC and DTC. Principles from the Couples Adaptation to Traumatic Stress (CATS) informed construction of latent constructs (i.e., trauma exposure, relational satisfaction, perceived partner flexibility) that comprised all six actor-partner interdependence models. Actor-partner effects indicated greater exposure to or frequency of childhood trauma had significant adverse effects on STC and DTC relational satisfaction and stability, and DTC perceived partner flexibility. Notable gender differences were found among both STC and DTC samples. Post hoc analyses illustrated that problems in child-rearing had a greater negative effect than childhood trauma exposure on DTC and STC relational constructs. In the second study, I focused on the DTC non-clinical sample from Study 1 and conducted a data reductive thematic analysis on dual-trauma female partners’ (n=822) and male partners’ (n=831) perceived relational strengths and weaknesses to ascertain individual and dyadic resiliency processes. Short-answer participant responses were taken from the Relationship Evaluation Questionnaire (RELATE). Eight salient processes that promoted and hindered couple resiliency emerged from the data, providing insight into the perceptions, behaviors, dyadic interactions, and past experience that may foster or hinder effective resilience in DTC. Further, findings corroborate extant literature and support a balanced (inclusion of adaptive and maladaptive interactions) conceptualization of DTC relational dynamics. Global implications of both studies illustrate evidence that dual-traumatic exposure has influence on relational constructs (i.e., satisfaction, stability, perceived partner flexibility) and couple interactions. Individual perception of trauma, as well as, the complex delineation of the influence of childhood trauma exposure and the role of daily stress within dual-trauma couples’ lives are discussed. Implications for clinical practice are also described. Future directions demonstrate the need for continued empirical studies to ascertain accurate reflection of the lived experiences of dual-trauma couples.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. June 2020. Major: Family Social Science. Advisor: Tai Mendenhall. 1 computer file (PDF); x, 134 pages.
Dual-Trauma Couples: Examining the Reciprocal Roles of Dual-Traumatic Exposure on Dyadic Functioning and Resiliency Processes.
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