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J Glob Health. 2019 Dec;9(2):020407. doi: 10.7189/jogh.09.020407.

War can harm intimacy: consequences for refugees who escaped Syria.

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Mack Center on Mental Health & Social Conflict, School of Social Welfare, University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, California, USA.



Syrians seeking refuge have been exposed to atrocities and trauma beyond comprehension. This study examines how personal, interpersonal, displacement and war-related factors have impacted married refugees' intimate lives.


Data included 158 married Syrian refugee individuals who live in the host communities of Jordan. Refugees reported on their personal, interpersonal, current-displacement and past-war related experiences. Traumatic impacts were assessed using the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire (HTQ), K6 screening scale for serious mental illness (SMI), The War Events Questionnaire (WEQ), and Personal Assessment of Intimacy in Relationships (PAIR). Stepwise multiple regressions were used to determine the factors associated with refugees' intimacy-total score and its six dimensions.


Most refugees (94.2%) experienced war events, and 34% screened positive on the PTSD-HTQ scale. Overall intimacy scores were low, scoring M (±standard deviation) = 2.4 (±1.1) of a possible five on average. Intimacy scores were lower for refugees who screened positive on the PTSD-HTQ (M = 1.95 ± 65) compared to the ones screening negative, respectively (M = 2.23 ± 66). Furthermore, the higher the PTSD symptoms reported, the lower the couples' intimacy. PTSD and forced marriage were the strongest factors to predict decreased total-intimacy scores (β = -0.23, P = 0.002; β = -0.32, P < 0.001), and decreased scores on four dimensions of intimacy (emotional, sexual, intellectual and recreational). Whereas gender was the second strongest factor associated with decreased total-intimacy scores (β = -0.29, P < 0.001), and decreased scores on three dimensions of intimacy (emotional, social and anger), meaning that women reported suffering more than men from deteriorated intimacy in their marital relationships. Other displacement and war-related factors associated with intimacy were: decreased sexual intimacy associated with having been raped; increased intellectual intimacy associated with escaped from Syria with one's spouse; decreased recreational intimacy associated with the number of family members lived with; decreased sexual, emotional and total-intimacy scores associated with number of children; and years of education as a seemingly personal protective factor associated with increased intellectual and recreational intimacy.


Addressing Syrian refugees' intimacy issues in interventions is essential, as well as raising the awareness of stakeholders and community leaders to the negative impacts of PTSD, forced marriage, rape, and displacement difficulties endured by the already challenged and distressed married refugees.

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