Avoidance May Lead to Increased Relationship Violence in Veterans

“Experiential avoidance (EA) is the attempt to avoid painful private events, such as negative emotional states,” said researchers from Minneapolis VA Medical Center and Duke University Medical Center. “Though EA is a common coping strategy, there is evidence that attempts to avoid uncomfortable emotions are often unsuccessful, with paradoxical effects.” Some research suggests that intimate partner violence (IPV) actually increases as a result of conflict avoidance. The researchers said, “Soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are at particularly high risk for problems and physical aggression in their intimate relationships.” These couples must redefine their relationship roles and manage the effects of the psychological trauma experienced by both partners during the deployment.

To determine how EA influences physical and psychological aggression, the team enrolled 49 male veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and their female partners. They relied on the Acceptance and Action Questionnaire, The Dyadic Adjustment Scale and Actor and Partner Effects model to calculate their results. They discovered that relationship adjustment was slightly impaired as a result of EA. However, the effect on aggression was more significant. “Tests of actor effects were significant for men, suggesting that men with greater EA were significantly more physically aggressive toward their partners,” said the researchers.

“According to the anger avoidance model, when chronic avoidance is used as a coping strategy to deal with stressful life events, such as reintegrating after combat deployment, and levels of arousal are intolerable, avoidance can take the form of overtly aggressive behavior,” They added, “These findings are particularly relevant given the large number of military members returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.” They concluded, “It is possible that EA is associated with poor emotional expression and communication skills, leading to aggressive outbursts by both men and women when frustrated by soldiers’ inability to identify and communicate their internal experiences. Thus, therapeutic strategies aimed at decreasing EA and increasing effective communication and emotional regulation skills may be beneficial.”

Reddy, Madhavi K., Laura A. Meis, Christopher R. Erbes, Melissa A. Polusny, and Jill S. Compton. “Associations Among Experiential Avoidance, Couple Adjustment, and Interpersonal Aggression in Returning Iraqi War Veterans and Their Partners.”Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 79.4 (2011): 515-20. Print.

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jennifer


    August 25th, 2011 at 4:41 PM

    Just because you avoid a situation and try to bury those feelings does not mean that they are going to go away. So obviously the more you try to shove those feelings and emotions to the side then of course eventually this is going to stress you out even more. The best way to handle all of this is to try to deal with it all from the very beginning. I know that it is hard for some o stay on top of those emotions but it really is for the best for your overall mental health well being.

  • massey


    August 26th, 2011 at 3:55 AM

    there’s just so many seemingly trivial issues that can easily have an effect on bigger things and cause big problems!what are we to do?be aware of them and try our best to avoid would be a good way.what do the experts say?

  • Lacey


    August 26th, 2011 at 6:33 PM

    For many veterans, you know that burying issues and avoiding them has become a way of life for them. Many of them probably cannot bear to think back on the things that they have seen and done in combat so to live with that they have chosen to ignore. Well you know that this way of living and coping has faded into their other lives as well. But there is only so much that you can avoid before it comes bubbling to the surface. the sad thing is that so many of them, instead of getting help, often turn on their families and even themselves.

  • Erica E Gyurin

    Erica E Gyurin

    August 27th, 2011 at 8:22 AM

    Ya? So? How does one “deal with it”?

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