Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair(s)

Renee V. Galliher


Renee V. Galliher


Melanie M. Domenech Rodríguez


Thomas Ledermann


Brian J. Higginbotham


Rebecca K. Blais


Research on stepfamily life in the 21st century reveals unexplored variables at every turn. This is important because around half of American adults report close step-relationships and the challenges and demographic and relational differences for different types of stepfamilies remains unexplored. The first of these studies explored data for 879 husbands and wives couples to explore how positivity, negativity, and sexual interest levels differ depending which of the couple, both partners, or neither had previous children. Wives reported higher levels of marital instability and positivity than husbands. Marital instability was linked with one’s own and one’s partners’ negativity, and inversely related to one’s own and one’s partners’ positivity and sexual interest. The marital instability of those with children was related with their partner’s negativity.

The second study investigated how the marital stability of different stepfamily configurations is related to difficulties associated with the social and family dimension, the role of the spouse, the role of a parent, and the role of a stepparent. Wives’ scores of marital instability and difficulties being a parent and stepparent were higher than husbands’ across remarriage types. Stepmothers reported the highest levels of parenting and stepparenting strain, especially stepmothers without children of their own. This implies stepfamily challenges can impact family-related stress and marital instability, with the most profound effects found for stepmothers with no biological children of their own.

We found that parents with children seem to be sensitive to negativity and sexual interest from their partners as a measure of relationship functioning. Stepmothers experienced higher levels of marital instability and difficulties associated with being a parent and a stepparent and this is especially true for stepmothers who did not have children of their own. These findings suggest couples may benefit from strategies that decrease negativity, increase positivity and sexual interest, and help manage the stresses associated with being a parent and stepparent, especially for stepmothers.



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Psychology Commons