Assessing the co-occurrence of psychological well-being in the intimate relationships of ex-services personnel in Northern Ireland

  • Kenneth Ross

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a trauma and stressor related disorder, characterised by a variety of symptoms that can develop after an exposure to a traumatic event (American Psychological Association, 2013). This thesis aimed to understand if and how symptoms are transmitted from traumatised military veterans to their intimate partners (IPs). These symptoms can be wide ranging, including, but not exclusive to, emotional processing deficits, PTSD, depression, and anxiety. As a first step, a literature review was conducted to gain a better understanding of the existing research on secondary traumatisation (ST) in IPs of military veterans and to guide the methodology of this thesis. The review found significant negative associations between veterans’ PTSD and their IPs’ well-being. Additionally, it identified a major limitation in the existing literature; a failure of the previous studies to control for IPs’ past traumatic experiences. The current thesis therefore included participants’ traumatic history in analyses. The empirical part of this thesis utilised male military veterans and their IPs living in Northern Ireland to explore the issues around ST. The data was collected through standardized questionnaires designed to evaluate different aspects of participants’ well-being and by using eye tracking equipment to ascertain if traumatised veterans and their IPs experience deficits in emotional processing, specifically in facial affect recognition. The questionnaire data was analysed primarily through dyadic Actor-Partner-Interdependence-Models. The eye tracking study used the Facial Affect Recognition Task and the Contextual Recognition of Affect Faces Task, in which participants viewed faces displaying different facial expressions (i.e., neutral, happiness, fear, sadness, and disgust) superimposed upon emotionally valenced (i.e., happiness, fear, sadness, and disgust) and neutral images. The overall results of this thesis showed a strong negative relationship between veterans’ PTSD symptoms and their IPs’ well-being, but these relationships were attenuated once IPs’ past trauma has been accounted for. Participants’ well-being was also found to be related to their attachment orientations and empathy. Finally, IPs of veterans with high levels of PTSD symptoms displayed deficits in facial recognition abilities. These findings may be particularly useful for clinicians treating Northern Irish veterans with PTSD, and they point to the importance of a compassionate acknowledgement of the role that IPs can play in the psychological health and well-being of their veteran partner. Veterans’ IPs may also need specific support in relation to ST.
Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorCherie Armour (Supervisor) & Gillian Shorter (Supervisor)


  • PTSD
  • secondary traumatisation
  • attachment
  • veterans
  • intimate partners
  • empathy
  • APIM
  • relationship satisfaction
  • facial recognition

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