For those working in the Canadian Forces, Sanela Dursun has discovered that having a supportive spouse means more than just a lasting marriage.
“If a spouse isn’t happy, you won’t have a happy soldier,” says Dursun, a Carleton psychology PhD graduate. “In the past, spouses weren’t much of a concern. There was a saying that went ‘If the military wanted you to have a wife, they’d issue you one’.”
As part of her thesis, she conducted two studies – one survey of Canadian Forces members and another of military spouses.
“My key question was to look at spousal support and how that plays a role in terms of affecting members’ well-being and some organizational outcomes,” says Dursun.
In the first study – which surveyed 2,684 Canadian Forces members in Canada – Dursun looked at how a Canadian Forces member’s family support impacts their ability to carry out missions and their readiness to carry out those missions.
She found that the more supportive – including emotional and instrumental support – a spouse was to the Canadian Forces member, the more likely they would do their job well and be happy performing their duties.
“If my husband is a military member and I say that I’m supportive of his military career and ready to take care of the kids and look after the house, that’s an example of instrumental support,” she explains.
Dursun found that when a spouse offered emotional and instrumental support, it boosted the soldier’s well-being, their commitment to the organization, personal morale and reduced intentions of leaving the Canadian Forces.
“Given the importance of spouses’ support, it was crucial to understand how spouses can maintain and even enhance resiliency during and after military deployment and separation.”
To do so, the second survey randomly surveyed 1,644 spouses in Canada, and examined the spouse’s well-being, and the factors that influenced their willingness to support the military career of the serving member.
Spouses face a number of unique stressors as they try to meet the demands placed upon them by military institutions. The results of the survey revealed some of the stressors, potential outcomes of such stressors, as well as factors that may buffer the impact of these stressors.
“It was suggested that social support from the member, even when deployed, is critical for spouses’ well-being,” she concluded.
In other words, support is a two-way street.
Dursun says the conclusions could be related to other types of work, especially where a spouse is away from the home regularly.
“Given the global economy trends, there are lots of people who move for jobs and there’s separation,” she adds. But the Canadian military is increasingly recognizing the importance of the family.
Dursun has applied her findings in her work as a researcher for the Department of National Defence. As part of her job, she advises military officials on how to improve the quality of life for service members and their families.