|Home | About | Journals | Submit | Contact Us | Français|
Few studies on stress have been carried out in soldiers and other paramilitary forces deployed in operational situations because of the security concerns, practical difficulties of conducting combat psychiatric studies and various other reasons. Studies on their families, who safeguard the family interests, during the period of absence of soldiers, have been even fewer. Significant contributions of researchers in this field were reviewed and suitably interpreted. Analysis revealed various types of stress and the multiple coping methods being practiced. It also highlighted various preventive and remedial measures being undertaken by waiting wives and their children. There is a need to understand and address the psychosocial issues of these families.
Separation from the family due to the call of military duty has been a necessary evil of soldier's life. These prolonged and frequent separations not only impact a soldier's life significantly but also affect their wives and children, who are manning the homefront in a varied manner. In Indian mythology while Laxman goes with Lord Ram to fight one of the largest crusades ever fought, later to be known as Ramayana, the contribution of Urmila who bore the distress of enforced separation with utmost sincerity stand out as the epitome of sacrifice by the military family.
This article takes inspiration from these “heroes at home” and attempts to review all relevant literature and discuss the woes of waiting wives. Our review brings out most of the relevant researches and literatures even to include important milestones like Second World War or Vietnam era. It will try to highlight the nature of stress affecting the families during various phases of separation, coping strategies being practiced by these waiting wives, predictors of good psychosocial adjustment and preventive strategies being practiced. Though this review attempts to cover the entire gamut of military family separation, it might lack the cultural colouring due to lack of any existing Indian studies in this direction.
Separation enforced by the call of duty, induces immense strain on the bond the of holy contractual agreement called marriage. The impact varies in nature and severity depending on the stage of the stressors being tackled, practices involved in the family and the coping mechanism of watchful expectants.
Ashanka (Pre-separation): Extraordinary stressors are associated during the period of pre-separation, beginning with notification and terminating with separation of the family following movement of soldiers to the area of deployment. This period is characterized by general anxiety and tension within and between the family members. Nice reported significantly higher depressive affect scores in wives of naval sailors who were deployed as against wives of those not deployed. These effects began just before deployment. Interaction patterns between family members during the period of pre-separation were found to be the most important factors associated with these stressors, and supportive communication was found to be most critical in clear understanding of the changes associated with deployment .
Viraha (Separation): While the deployed soldier is surviving the adversities and war, the families at home are surviving a myriad of stressors, which are varied [2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]. Stressors, which affect families generally, include the following [8, 9, 10, 11]:
Punarmilan (Reunion): Dealing with the process of integration following return of the solider is equally or more stressful than periods during the war/deployment [13, 14]. The joy or relief of reunion is short lasting and is soon masked by the distress caused due to adapting or modifying changes brought about by war [2, 13, 15, 16]. The challenges are associated with the strains of reviewing what has happened to them during the separation and attempting to reorganize their lives as quickly as possible. These fundamental stressors can be grouped as follows:
Goonj (Echoes: long term post war stressors): Soon after the delayed/prolonged second honeymoons and vacations, families settle down to face the issues unresolved at the time of deployment which would have been exaggerated (e.g. marital conflicts, career decisions, major purchases etc.) and additional stressors brought out of physical separation and hardships of war. These include the following:
Psychological residues of war: Adjustment reactions and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are the common forms of stress reaction. Other not so uncommon problems are fear of NBC poisons, lingering guilt about moral turpitude, if any and depression .
Secondary traumatisation: Numerous studies have confirmed the existence of this phenomenon amongst the spouses and children of war veterans [20, 21, 22]. People in contact with traumatized person may experience considerable emotional upset and may, over a period of time, become indirect victims of the traumatic events experiencing secondary traumatization .
In comparison to soldiers without PTSD, those with PTSD had:
Figley  suggested that secondary traumatic stress is an important frontier for scholars concerned with accurately accounting for the long-term effects of traumatic events. Given the evidence, he suggested that the secondary traumatization syndrome should be included in the discussion of PTSD in subsequent classification.
These described patterns of coping in military wives can be analyzed conceptually on the basis of Lazarus  cognitive theory of coping behaviour. His conceptual framework laid reliance on three major coping patterns (Direct action tendencies, defensive reappraisal and anxiety reaction). Four of the patterns mentioned (Resolution and expression of feelings, maintaining family integrity, establishing autonomy while maintaining family ties and establishing independence through self development) are all “direct action” highly functional patterns which aimed at strengthening the individual's resources to combat or adapt to stress and to protect against harm. Reducing anxiety is compatible with Lazarus anxiety reaction pattern; the threat of permanent loss of a husband, the ambiguity of the prolonged separation, the wife's past and present wives perceptions of an unsatisfactory marriage contribute to her feeling of estrangement and her questioning of the future. Lazarus formulations also suggest that maintenance of the past, denial of fear and dependence on religion are varied forms of psychological defenses, which are basically dysfunctional.
These coping patterns and their predictors when considered together corroborate Hills  theory that a family's crisis and its response to that crisis are a function of:
Hill , in his classic study of families of servicemen separated by the demands of World War II, found a relatively predictable roller coaster type pattern of adjustments which involved initial disorganization, followed by recovery and eventual disorganization. Not many studies have come to the forefront ever since to have a re-look at this fact.
Limited empirical research in this field suggests that war families cope with various war related stressors more effectively by following methods:
These methods of coping not only fail to effectively manage the stress related to deployment or war, they tend to create additional source of stress themselves .
Psychological father presence: This theory was proposed by Boss . Seen in a family with a physically absent father, a high degree of psychological father presence relates to the wife's dysfunction. A family with a physically absent father should reorganize itself into the one parent system so that it can cope more functionally with membership loss. Development of independence without the husband is functional, atleast until the husband returns to the family system. Parson et al  traditionally delineated women to expressive behaviour and men to instrumental behaviour. Personal qualities that allowed women to act both instrumentally and expressively collectively termed “androgyny”  positively correlated to the degree of wife or family functioning.
Management: These psychosocial issues in family of serving soldiers deployed in war/operations need to be addressed more aggressively.
Cumulative literature has revealed several factors associated with lower levels of family stress and more effective family coping patterns.
The following steps are the elements of the most effective intervention programs:
Following interventions have been found useful during various operations and wars:
In conclusion, the authors here have attempted to draw attention to the woes of these waiting wives, critically analyze their coping skills and understand the predictors for dysfunction in family to formulate appropriate preventive measures and remedial intervention for the “Urmilas of today” in addressing these psychosocial issues of waiting wives. We would like to give an analogy of relatives waiting for their kith and kin at an international airport. The ambience of waiting area is comfortable, there are appropriate authorities to inform the time of arrival and adequate facilities exist for recreation and diversion. There are frequent announcements and display of time of arrival of aircraft. The airport authorities take responsibility for the appropriate dissemination of information as regards arrival and delay of the arrival of aircraft. People are confident of the fact that in case of inadvertent delay or postponement/change of schedule of flight the passengers would be suitably looked after. Finally, the expectation materializes into reality at a distant horizon and slowly paces down to smoother airfield. After the arrival the baggage is rolled onto your footstep. In case of misplacement of baggage, the same would be relocated or compensated for.