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“An Outsider in My Own Home”: Women’s Perceptions of the Markers of Attachment Injury in Stepcouple Relationships

Julia B. Sayre


This study examined stepcouple relationships through the framework of attachment injury. Specifically, this inquiry explored whether or not individuals who are part of a stepcouple describe relational experiences that are similar to the patterns of attachment injury; and if so, whether or not these experiences are directly attributable to stepfamily formation and maintenance. Attachment theory and existing research regarding both attachment injury and stepfamily formation contributed to the development of core interview questions. Using a multiple-case qualitative research design, interviews were conducted with five women who were both biological and stepmothers in a stepcouple relationship. The pattern matching method of data analysis was used to explore for markers of attachment injury in the stepcouple relationships. The context of the women’s stories, as well as direct questions, enabled consideration of the attribution of the attachment injury markers to stepfamily formation. The respondents in this study described experiences that matched the patterns of attachment injury. In each case, at least some of the markers for attachment injury were directly attributable to the relationship difficulties these women encountered in forming and maintaining their stepfamily. Patterns of attachment injury were identified that would not have occurred had the respondents not been part of a stepcouple. These findings hold implications for continued exploration of stepcouples and the mitigation of stepfamily problems through the theoretical framework of attachment and attachment injury.

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