Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Human Development and Family Studies

Committee Chair(s)

Kay Bradford (Committee Chair), Ryan B. Seedall (Committee Co-Chair)


Kay Bradford


Ryan B. Seedall


W. David Robinson


Sarah Schwartz


Elizabeth B. Fauth


Despite the commonly held idea that families develop, there is not a theory in common use within the family science field that is developed specifically for the study of the development of the family. Family development theory, developed in the post-World War II era, was used previously, but an inability to be adapted to contemporary families and a lack of scientific utility have kept it from use. Additionally, research on how families develop has not considered how relationships may develop over time.

In this dissertation, I seek to address these holes in the family studies field. I do this over the course of two different chapters. The first of these chapters is theoretical in nature, and is a reconceptualization, or update, to family development theory. The other chapter focuses on the analysis of data to investigate the way that relationships may develop over time, with a focus on healthy marriages. In the empirical study, using a publicly available data set, I tested to see if a measure of marital satisfaction can be used across time and cohort. In other words, I tested to see if the measure captures marital satisfaction the same way for individuals married in different decades, and if it holds across twenty years of marriage.

The findings from the study support the use of the reconceptualization of family development theory and highlight the developmental nature of couple relationships. The influences of the trajectories of relationships are identified, and issues regarding the measurement of relationships discussed. Benefits are expected to extend beyond the immediate findings as interventions are created or improved as the result of the field of family science approaching the study of couple development in new or novel ways.