The Dialectic of Marital and Parental Relationships within the Stepfamily

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Building on the theoretical and research traditions of Jules Henry, Salvador Minuchin, Jay Haley, and Gregory Bateson, this study presents an analysis of metacommunicational statements taken from interviews with nine stepfamily couples regarding their experiences in building a stepfamily. Interviews were conducted with each spouse individually and with each couple jointly regarding the issues related to reorganizing their stepfamily. Analysis of the metacommunicational statements from the transcribed interviews revealed a “relationship dialectic” between the freely chosen marital relationship and the not‐so‐freely chosen stepparent relationship. The interview data revealed two relational tasks that the stepfamily couples attempted to accomplish in an effort to manage that dialectic. The first task was to establish the solidarity of the marriage in the minds of the children. This was attempted through clear statements to the children regarding the priority of the marriage and through efforts at maintaining direct communication between the mates so as to present a “united front” to the children. The second task was to use that marital solidarity to establish the credibility of the stepparent as an authority in relationship with the stepchildren. The implications of the findings are explored relative to the structure of stepfamilies, to the function of metacommunication within stepfamily reorganization, and to the role of metacommunication in human communication theory.

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Communication Monographs, v. 57, issue 1, p. 44-61