Online Social Support: Buffering Deployment Stress Among Marine Corps Spouses

Linda Desens

Major Professor: Gary L. Kreps, PhD, Department of Communication

Committee Members: Dr. Xiaomei Cai, Dr. Carla Fisher

Research Hall, #162
April 10, 2013, 10:00 AM to 07:00 AM


During recent years, Marines, along with the other Services, have experienced a heightened operational tempo where deployments are more frequent with limited time at home.  The stresses of deployment on the non-deployed spouse can not only affect her own health and well-being, but also the health and well-being of her children and the deployed service member.  Online social support through weak tie networks can serve as a buffer against these deployment stressors. 

This study examined the types of social support messages that were enacted on discussion boards for significant others of service members as a means of coping with deployment stress across all phases of deployment. Using content analysis, findings showed that information, emotional, self-esteem, and network support were enacted throughout the different phases of deployment in varying frequencies.  Information and emotional support were the most frequently “requested” and “provided” categories of social support, particularly during the pre-deployment and deployment phases.  The lowest frequency of social support, both requested and provided, was during the post-deployment phase.

Using the case study method, this study examined how Marine Corps spouses used online social networks to seek social support during each phase of the deployment cycle and the types of social support sought.  The results showed that the spouses used their online social network predominantly for information and emotional support during the deployment phase.  The pre-deployment phase was used to establish their online social networks.  Most of the spouses decreased or discontinued their participation in their online social network during the post-deployment phase. Finally, the study examined how Marine Corps spouses evaluated social support provided in online social networks. The spouses reported both positive and negative evaluations. The findings from this study have implications for Department of Defense programs, policy, outreach, and resourcing.