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J Fam Psychol. 2008 Apr;22(2):222-30. doi: 10.1037/0893-3200.22.2.222.

Ambiguous absence, ambiguous presence: a qualitative study of military reserve families in wartime.

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  • 1Southeast Missouri State University, Department of Human Environmental Studies, Cape Girardeau, MO 63703, USA.


The "Global War on Terrorism" has resulted in reservists being deployed at an ever-increasing rate. However, because reservists and their families are unaccustomed to deployments, many families may experience boundary ambiguity, a state in which family members are uncertain in their perception about who is in or out of the family and who is performing which roles and tasks within the family. This qualitative description study examined boundary ambiguity in military reserve families over time. A sample of 34 reservists, spouses, and parents was interviewed 7 times within the 1st year of the reservists' return from Iraq. During deployment, all family members experienced boundary ambiguity. Gathering information and attending a family support group provided some relief for families. After the reservists returned, couples as well as those who had experienced additional life events or losses experienced the highest levels of boundary ambiguity. However, this boundary ambiguity dissipated over time, as families tended to restabilize once the reservists had returned to work and a routine had been established.

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