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Design of the Study

This study explored whether stepcouples experience attachment injuries; and if so, whether the nature of the attachment injury is directly attributable to issues arising specifically from stepfamily life. To do this, interviews were conducted with individuals who are part of a stepcouple. A stepcouple is defined as a married or cohabiting couple where at least one of the adults is a parent of at least one child. From the interview transcripts, attachment injury markers were identified and analyzed. These markers were subjective, in that they occurred in the context of written or spoken communication, and were defined by individual experience; therefore, this inquiry lent itself to the qualitative format. This study was a multiple-case qualitative study design, using theoretical and selective sampling (Strauss, 1987; Yin, 1989).

Multiple-case study can be particularly useful when searching for replication of results across several case studies (Yin, 1989). In this study design, each case was examined individually for markers of attachment injury; then each was scrutinized for any markers of attachment injury directly attributable to factors unique to stepfamily formation and maintenance. Using the replication approach, the cases were then compared for cross-consistencies, to determine what the cases have in common in terms of attachment injury markers and their relationship to “step” status (Yin, 1989).

This study used selective sampling, as the inquiry pertained only to the stepcouple experience. The purpose was to investigate whether or not markers of attachment injury were present in stepcouples’ relationships, and whether these markers were attributable to stepfamily problems. Strauss’s (1987) definition of selective sampling allows for participant selection based on a predetermined criterion, in this case identity as part of a stepfamily.

Participants and Recruitment Process

Participants were individual adults in a committed (“stepcouple”) relationship forming a stepfamily. A stepfamily was formed when at least one of the partners had one or more offspring. This offspring could be minor or adult, with arrangements as resident of the stepcouple’s home, visitor or any combination.

Individuals, married or unmarried and cohabiting in a stepcouple relationship, who had been married or cohabiting for at least one year, were considered for inclusion in this study. Only cohabiters who stated plans to marry their current partner were included. This criterion was based on findings by Brown and Booth (1996), who note that the effects of specific stressors, including past relationships, children and stepchildren, are similar for married couples and cohabiting couples that plan to marry. The criterion of a one-year relationship indicated a couple committed to contemplating their challenges as a couple. The one-year time period falls well within the averages for relationship duration. Current figures indicate marriages last an average of seven years (Gamache, 1994) and


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