2012. Vol.3, No.6, 480-484
Published Online June 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Rejection Sensitivity and Marital Adjustment among Military
Spouses during Deployments
E. C. Hurley1, Tiffany Field1,2, Debra Bendell-Estoff1
1Fielding Graduate University, Santa Barbara, USA
2Medical School, University of Miami, Miami, USA
Received March 20th, 2012; revised April 24th, 2012; accepted May 21st, 2012
This research examined the relationship between rejection sensitivity and marital adjustment. The Adult
Rejection Sensitivity Questionnaire (ARSQ) and the Revised Dyadic Adjustment Scale (RDAS) were
given to address this question among a sample of 129 spouses of individuals currently deployed on mili-
tary missions in Iraq or Afghanistan. Other potentially confounding variables were examined including
gender, age, education, number of times married, number of children in the household, number of previ-
ous deployments, and number of months separated during the current combat deployment. Rejection sen-
sitivity and number of deployments contributed to 34% of the variance on relationship adjustment.
Keywords: Rejection Sensitivity; Military; Marital Adjustment
Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring
Freedom (OEF) have provided opportunities for research on pro-
blems associated with deployments (Karney & Crown, 2007).
Much of the current research on military personnel focuses on
individual disorders such as depression and posttraumatic stress
disorder. Recognition of the importance of military family pro-
blems has led to family research. The current research was de-
signed to study military spouses’ perceptions of rejection sensi-
tivity and marital adjustment during deployments along with
other potentially confounding effects on relationships including
gender, age, education, number of marriages, number of chil-
dren, number of previous deployments, and number of months
separated during current combat deployment.
Marital Adjustmen t during Deployment
Some research has indicated that war-related separations in-
creased marital instability (Frey-Wouters & Laufer, 1986; Gim-
bel & Booth, 1994; Laufer & Gallops, 1985; Stellman, Stell-
man, & Sommer, 1988). Other data have indicated that military
separations were negatively related to marital satisfaction, al-
though these data were limited to only a 13% response (Burrell,
Adams, Durand, & Castro’s, 2006). In contrast, longitudinal
data comparing Vietnam veterans and nonveterans found no
group differences in divorce rates (Call & Teachman, 1991;
Card, 1983). Some have even reported positive effects (Karney
& Crown’s, 2007). That study suggested that marriages may be
positively influenced by military service due to the resources
and benefits available to military families, particularly when
not exposed to combat. These benefits included extra pay, child
care and health care, family support programs, parenting and
marriage programs. Still others have focused on the risk and
resiliency factors that influenced family stability during de-
ployments (Sheppard, Malatras, & Israel, 2010). However, anec-
dotal reports of rejection sensitivity in the remaining-at-home
spouses of those who have been deployed highlight the ques-
tion of its effects on the marital relationship. The current study
addressed the relationship between rejection sensitivity and
marital relationship adjustment in a sample of military spouses.
A Model for Understanding Rejection Sensitivity
One theory on rejection sensitivity suggests that expectations
of rejection interact with the specifics of the situation (marital
separation due to deployment) (Freitas & Downey, 1998; Mis-
chel & Ayduk, 2002). A person who enters a romantic rela-
tionship with anxious expectations of rejection is predisposed
to anticipate insensitive behavior from her/his spouse, espe-
cially under stressful conditions.
Based on this model, military spouses may experience reject-
tion sensitivity in the following way. If the situation (such as
interpreting the spouse’s email) engenders an ambiguous or ne-
gative response from the deployed spouse, that response could
be interpreted as uncaring behavior on the part of the deployed
spouse. The spouses can scan interpersonal situations looking
for cues as they anxiously expect to find evidence to substanti-
ate their fear of abandonment. They then tend to become exces-
sively concerned regarding whether or not they are loved. Dur-
ing deployments, communication problems can intensify the
ambiguity. The stress of the situation enhances the capacity for
negative interpretations. This process can trigger a cascade of
feelings of anger, rage and resentment as the fear of abandon-
ment intensifies. Controlling and coercive behaviors may result.
Fears of rejection often lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. One
partner responds with emotional reactivity, generated by an
interpreted uncaring response from the spouse passively seek-
ing reassurance. Emotional distancing may result, which is
likely to escalate as the partner moves into a protective mode.
The escalation may then lead to an extra-marital affair or plan-
ning for divorce.
Downey and colleagues have demonstrated that childhood
rejection experiences can lead to later rejection sensitivity (Feld-
man & Downey, 1994). Anticipatory rejection in relationships
is perceived as originating in a parent’s rejection of a child’s
needs, causing the child to become sensitive to rejection. The
model suggests that these individuals may enter relationships
with a propensity to expect rejection from significant others.
During stressful times, they are especially likely to 1) perceive
rejection by the partner’s insensitive or ambiguous behaviors, 2)
feel insecure about the relationship, and 3) respond to perceived
rejection with hostility, diminished support, or jealous, control-
ling behavior (Downey & Feldman, 1996). When such re-
sponses are unjustified and exaggerated, they are likely to
erode even a committed partner’s satisfaction with the rela-
Rejection Sensitivity Research Applications
Early rejection sensitivity research operationalized and vali-
dated the construct of rejection sensitivity and demonstrated
how it impacted intimate relationships using a self-report scale
called the Rejection Sensitivity Questionnaire (RSQ) (Downey
& Feldman, 1996). In this study on rejection sensitivity, indi-
viduals who anxiously expected rejection by a significant other
tended to hurtful intent to a new romantic partner’s insensitive
behavior (Downey & Feldman, 1996). This response was not
induced by the other variables measured including social anxi-
ety, social avoidance, attachment style, self-esteem, neuroticism,
and introversion. The results also suggested that the rejection-
sensitive individuals were less satisfied with their relationships
and perceived their partner to be less satisfied as well. Another
study by Downey suggested that when both partners rate high
rejection sensitivity, the relationship is likely to end sooner
(Purdie & Downey, 2000).
Most of these studies on rejection sensitivity focused on sin-
gle undergraduate students. The current study extended this
research area by examining rejection sensitivity among military
spouses and how rejection sensitivity relates to relationship
adjustment. Based on the separate literatures of rejection sensi-
tivity and relationship adjustment, these variables were ex-
pected to be negatively related.
A survey monkey was used to assess rejection sensitivity and
relationship adjustment among spouses of army personnel who
were deployed to a combat zone, (either Afghanistan or Iraq).
Rejection sensitivity and relationship adjustment were surveyed
among the stay-at-home military spouses of both genders. Re-
jection-sensitive persons were expected to have low relation-
ship adjustment. Potentially confounding variables including
gender, age, education, number of marriages, number of chil-
dren in the household, number of previous deployments, and
total separation time during current deployment were entered
along with rejection sensitivity scores into a correlation analysis
and a regression analysis on the Revised Dyadic Adjustment
Scale (RDAS) scores.
This non-clinical sample of spouses of army personnel (rank
E-2 to E-7) was recruited at a shopping mall in a military base
town. The sample was comprised of 129 participants (see Table
1). Everyone enrolled in the study was able to complete the
survey. The participants were 94% female, and their ages
ranged from 19 to 50, with 57% being between 21 and 29 years
old. The participants had 12 to 20 years of education. Seventy-
seven percent of the participants were in their first marriage,
11% had one previous military marriage and 12% had 2 - 5
previous marriages. Seventy-five percent were married to
spouses who had no previous marriages while 25% were mar-
ried to spouses who were married one or two times before. The
length of the current marriages ranged from .3 to 19 years with
an average of 5 years. The average number of children the par-
ticipants had in their home was 1.5.
The number of military deployments ranged from one to
eight. Eighty-eight percent had between one and four military
deployment separations while 56% had no other separations,
and 44% had between one and 39 other separations. The total
time that spouses were separated due to military deployments
ranged from 1 to 96 months with a mean of 32 months.
A heavily trafficked central area was selected within the
shopping mall for the survey. Two laptop computers with wire-
less connections to the Survey Monkey website were placed on
the table, and two folding chairs were placed at the table for
participants’ seating during data collection. A reading rug with
books and games was provided for the children of the partici-
pants. A sign described the research project. An administrative
assistant was present at the recruiting table to respond to ques-
tions regarding the research project. The assistant waited for
potential participants to approach the table as a response to
reading the sign. Participation was both voluntary and confi-
dential, although participants were offered $20 as an incentive
and the opportunity to enter a $200 lottery drawing to be con-
ducted after the study was completed. An informed consent
form was provided for each participant. After completing the
Survey Monkey questionnaires, the assistant debriefed the par-
Table 1.
Demographic and assessment scale values.
Variable Minimum Maximum Mean SD
Age 19.0 50.0 28.61 5.91
Education 11.9 20.0 13.95 1.99
Current marriage (yrs.) .3 19.0 5.05 4.06
Times married 1.0 5.0 1.31 .65
Number of
Deployments 1.0 8.0 2.62 1.55
Times spouse
married 1.0 3.0 1.30 .57
Total time
separated (mos.) 1.0 96.0 32.16 22.73
Current separation (mos.)1.0 15.0 3.47 3.33
Number of children
in home 0 9.0 1.50 1.41
Adult rejection
sensitivity 1.11 22.55 8.38 4.94
Dyadic adjustment 11.0 65.0 47.80 10.23
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 481
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
The questionnaires used in this research included the Adult
Rejection Sensitivity Questionnaire (ARSQ), the Revised Dy-
adic Adjustment Scale (RDAS), and the Participant Information
Form (PIF). The ARSQ and RDAS were presented in a coun-
terbalanced order. The PIF was used to provide information on
potentially confounding variables.
The Adult Rejection Sensitivity Questionnaire (ARSQ)
(Downey, Berenson, & Kang, 2006). The Adult Rejection Sen-
sitivity Questionnaire (ARSQ) was developed for studies of
adult samples. It was normed using a sample of 685 adults who
completed the questionnaire over the internet. Correlations with
other measures (self-esteem, attachment, etc.) were similar to
those found with the earlier student RSQ version. The ARSQ
has high internal reliability (alpha = .83), and all items on the
questionnaire had >.30 correlation coefficients. A high test-
retest reliability was noted as well (.83, p < .001).
The Adult Rejection Sensitivity Questionnaire (ARSQ) in-
cludes a list of 9 hypothetical situations. Each situation has two
questions for a total of 18 answers. Examples of these items are
1) After a bitter argument, you call or approach your significant
other because you want to make up; and 2) Lately you’ve been
noticing some distance between yourself and your significant
other and you ask him/her if there is something wrong. The first
question for each situation measures the degree of anxiety re-
garding the potential outcome on a 6-point scale ranging from 1
(very unconcerned) to 6 (very concerned). The second question
for each of the nine situations asks the participant to indicate
the likelihood of the other person responding with acceptance
on a similar 6-point scale. Anticipated rejection is noted by
lower scores. The score for each of the nine situations is calcu-
lated by weighting the expected likelihood of rejection by
how concerned or anxious the participant recorded his or her
response. The score on expectancy of acceptance is reversed as
a means of indexing the expectancy of rejection (expectancy of
rejection = 7 – expectancy of acceptance). Next, the reversed
score is multiplied by the score noted for the degree of concern
or anxiety. The total rejection sensitivity score for each par-
ticipant was determined by summing the rejection sensitivity
for each situation and dividing by 9 (the total number of situa-
Revised Dyadic Adjustment Scale (RDAS) (Busby, Chris-
tensen, Crane, & Larson, 1995). The Dyadic Adjustment Scale
(DAS) was originally developed by Spanier (1976, 1986) as an
instrument with four subscales measuring couples’ relationship
adjustment including: 1) consensus on matters of importance, 2)
dyadic satisfaction, 3) dyadic cohesion, and 4) affectional ex-
pression. In keeping with Spanier’s (1976) original intent, the
RDAS includes 3 subscales (14 items) of consensus, satisfac-
tion, and cohesion. Factor analysis provided evidence for the
construct validity of the revised version of the instrument
(Busby et al., 1995). Criterion validity was demonstrated by
discriminant function analyses. Internal consistency was high
(alpha = .79) (Crane et al., 1990).
Demographic questionnaire. The spouses of deployed mili-
tary personel also completed a demographic questionnaire on
potential covariates. These included gender, age, education,
number of marriages, number of children in household, number
of deployments and total months of current deployment.
Correlation Analysis
A Pearson correlation analysis was conducted (Table 2). The
Table 2.
Matrix of pearson’s correlation coefficients.
RDAS ARSQ Age Education
Number of
Child Age
Total Time
ARSQ –.52
Gender .06 .05
Age .03 –.00
Education –.07 –.04
Times Married –.07 –.09 .35 .04
Current Marriage
Length –.10 –.03 .39 .12 –.12
Times Spouse
Married .05 –.06
.41 .14 .34 –.08
Number of
Children –.06 –.02 .27 –.32 .01 .38 –.01
Average Child
Age .11 –.04
.69 .18 .29 .36 .20 .46
# of
Deployments –.27 .08 .34 .17 .31 .09 .23 .02 .12
Separations –.11 –.02 .06 .20 .16 .10 –.08 .03 .17 .10
Total Time
Separated –.20 .07 .19 .25 .20 .14 .19 –.05 .07 .71 .42
ation .04 –.005 –.09 .08 –.05 .01 –.12 –.14 –.09 –.11 .05 .10
p < .05 for those coefficients in bold; RDAS = Revised Dyadic Adjustment Scale; ARSQ = Adult Rejection Sensitivity Questionaire.
RDAS scores were negatively correlated with the ARSQ scores
(r = –.52), the number of military deployment separations (r =
–.27) and the total time separated (r = –.20). Higher rejection
sensitivity scores, more deployment separations and the total
time separated were associated with lower marital adjustment
The extent to which the zero-order negative correlation be-
tween the composite ARSQ and RDAS scores (r = –.52) was
influenced by the potentially confounding/mediating variables
was determined by partial correlation analysis. None of the par-
tial correlation coefficients decreased when the correlation be-
tween ARSQ and RDAS was controlled for gender, age, educa-
tion, times married, current marriage length, times spouse mar-
ried, number of children, average child age, deployment separa-
tions, other separations, total time separated, or current separa-
tion time. Thus, the negative correlation between ARSQ and
RDAS was not mediated by the potentially confounding vari-
Stepwise Multiple Linear Regression Analysis
The stepwise multiple linear regression analysis also con-
trolled for the potential confounding variables including gender,
age, education, times married, current marriage length, times
spouse married, number of children, average child age, other
separations, total time separated, and current separation time.
The t statistics indicated that these variables were not signifi-
cant predictors of the variability in the RDAS scores at p > .05
(Table 3).
The stepwise regression retained the ARSQ scores and the
number of military deployments in the model (Table 3). The t
statistics indicated that these variables were significant predic-
tors of the RDAS scores at p = .05. The R2 adjusted value indi-
cated that 34% of the variance in the RDAS scores was ac-
counted for by the ARSQ scores and the number of deploy-
ments. This proportion was statistically significant, indicated by
F(2, 89) = 24.57, p < .001, and reflected by a medium size ef-
fect according to the criteria of Cohen (1992). The negative
signs of the regression coefficients implied that greater rejec-
tion sensitivity and more deployments predicted a lower level
of marital adjustment.
This research suggests that rejection sensitivity affected mi-
litary spouses’ relationship adjustment. Further, the total num-
ber of deployments had a greater impact on relationship adjust-
ment than the immediate deployment separation. This finding is
consistent with those of Burrell et al. (2006) who reported that
military deployments were negatively related to marital satis-
Downey and Feldman (1996) noted that those who score
high on rejection sensitivity have a propensity to anxiously
expect rejection, readily perceive negative signals (both verbal
and non-verbal), and overreact to their spouses while in their
relationships. The spouses’ negative reactions can elicit further
rejection from their partners as a precursor to ending the rela-
tionship (Downey et al., 1998). Potential confounding variables
did not affect relationship adjustment in this study including
gender, age, education, number of marriages, number of chil-
dren in the household, or number of months currently separated
due to deployment. But the total number of deployments was
Table 3.
Stepwise regression analysis on marital adjustment.
β SE β Weights
t p
Intercept 4364.17332.66 13.12 <.000
Log Adult
–742.51119.28–.537 –6.23 <.000 1.03
Square Root #
Deployments–367.33169.69–.187 –2.17 .0331.03
Note: Adjusted R2 = .341, F = 24.57, p < .001.
significantly related to relationship satisfaction. Previous re-
search noted that military deployments were associated with
poorer marital outcomes (Karney & Crown, 2007; Sheppard et
al., 2010). The present study adds to that literature by suggest-
ing that both rejection sensitivity and the number of deploy-
ments were negatively related to relationship adjustment.
While this research documents rejection sensitivity among
military spouses, it is uncertain how much these findings would
vary across military units that differ in organizational structure
and mission assignments. In addition, this sample was not rep-
resentative of older military spouses. Future research is needed
to address how different military units, diverse cultures and
family structures are impacted and how couples who have di-
vorced following deployments have experienced rejection sen-
sitivity. Nonetheless, this research has provided further support
for the association between rejection sensitivity and relation-
ship adjustment.
We are indebted to the military family members who parti-
cipated in this study. We would also like to thank Drs. Martha
Pelaez, Gary Schulman, Anthony Greene and Henry Soper for
their assistance with this research and Lissette Medina for her
assistance with this manuscript.
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