Date of Award

Winter 2023

Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Psychology, PhD


School of Social Science, Politics, and Evaluation

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Allen Omoto

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Jason Siegel

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Becky Reichard

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Cynthia Sikorski

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2023 Karen Tannenbaum


Deployment, LGBT, Military, PCS, Romantic relationship

Subject Categories

Psychology | Social Psychology


Military life comes with a host of challenges for romantic relationships. Romantic partners withstand the pressures of deployment and geographical relocations (i.e., military transitions) to support their service members’ careers and play a critical role in swaying service members’ decisions to remain committed to the military beyond contractual obligations. Prior work has primarily focused on experiences of heterosexual dyads, with scant literature elucidating experiences of sexual minority military personnel in same-gender romantic relationships. Informed by work-family conflict and stress spillover, this research effort used a mixed-methods sequential explanatory approach to explicate how military transition-related stress (TRS) affects romantic relationship quality, the association between romantic relationship quality and military commitment, and whether Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community connectedness influences these associations among sexual minority military personnel in same-gender romantic relationships.

Study 1 leveraged archival quantitative cross-sectional self-report survey data from a subsample of military participants (N = 73) drawn from a broader landmark research project launched in 2015 on the experiences of sexual minority military personnel. Because the study was initiated in 2015, before transgender service members were permitted to serve openly in the military, study measures referred to the LGB community vs. the LGBT community. Study 1 tested a hypothesized moderated mediation model, where romantic relationship quality was expected to mediate the relationship between TRS and military commitment, and LGB community connectedness was hypothesized to moderate the mediation effect by buffering the effects of stress on romantic relationship quality. Correlation analyses revealed that TRS and romantic relationship quality were unrelated, and romantic relationship quality was significantly and negatively linked to military commitment. A significant moderation was found such that romantic relationship quality was higher when LGB community connectedness was higher – in that case, TRS did not affect romantic relationship quality. However, TRS was positively associated with romantic relationship quality when LGB community connectedness was lower. The mediation effect approached statistical support but was ultimately not significant. Study 1 suggested that service members may effectively compartmentalize stress due to work and their romantic relationship – finding other mechanisms to protect their romantic relationship from external stressors. Service members, especially those close to their partners, may be more easily influenced to leave the service if military life does not fit plans for the relationship or family growth. For those less connected to the LGB community, military couples may flourish when faced with stressful experiences. Although Study 1 findings showed promise for understanding same-gender romantic relationships in the military, more information was needed to elucidate emerging relationships between study variables.

Study 2 explained and extended Study 1 findings via semi-structured interviews conducted in 2023 with 14 sexual minority military personnel in same-gender romantic relationships. Participants described the mutual influence of family and military life, especially around military transitions, LGBT community connectedness, and military commitment. Using an Interpretive Phenomenological Approach, five themes encapsulated participants’ lived experiences: Relationship Strain and Career Progression; Stress Spillover; Minority Stress; LGBT Visibility and Acceptance in the Military, and Establishing Connections; and Relationship Dynamics and Growth. Study 2 suggested that the extent to which romantic relationships influenced military commitment varied by the degree to which partner goals and perspectives were valued. Military disruptions in romantic relationships extended beyond the transition itself; service members missed milestones, transitions negatively affected partner career aspirations, and transitions induced feelings of isolation or distress among partners. Participants shared experiences unique to the LGBT community concerning both individual wellbeing (e.g., discrimination) and romantic relationship quality, and opportunities for relationship growth and connection through novel experiences offered by military life.

This research is among the first empirical investigations of same-gender romantic relationships among active-duty service members, contextualizing the link between romantic relationship quality and military commitment. Taken together, research findings indicate that community connectedness is vital for some service members and their romantic partners, and that romantic relationships are significant influences on service members' decisions to remain committed to the military, with several unique challenges faced by sexual minority service members warranting increased attention. This project showcases strengths of mixed-methods research, with theoretical implications and policy changes to best support sexual minority military personnel and their romantic relationships.

Results elicit three recommendations for military policy and resources to support sexual minority service members and their families. First, the DoD may consider updating diversity, equity, and inclusion plans to mitigate challenges sexual minority service members and their families face while identifying best practices to work alongside local communities to remediate these challenges. Second, the DoD may consider addressing access to existing resources for sexual minority service members and their families, and especially social support resources. Finally, the DoD may consider evaluating military resources developed to prevent sexual-identity based discrimination. As one of the earliest investigations of experiences among sexual minority military personnel in same-gender relationships, this set of studies makes a critical contribution to the broader literature on military families and catalyzes future research efforts on sexual minority military families.