approximately 90% of cohabitors have ended their relationship within 5 years (Brown & Booth, 1996).
Purposive and snowball sampling were used to select the cases. This allowed selection relative to stepfamily membership, and for recruitment by “word-of-mouth” (Nelson, 1996, p. 455).
Individuals were recruited for participation through the Stepfamily Association of America (SAA) website. The SAA is a national association that offers online support, education, research, web and print literature, therapeutic information and training related to various aspects of stepfamily life. The site supports stepfamilies, therapists, researchers and educators. SAA offers two possible places for research recruitment: a message board called “Forum,” and a page called “Research Opportunities.” The use of this site for recruitment allowed the possibility of nationwide participants, who were recruited through the Forum and the Research page (see Appendix A).
Individuals interested in participation were asked to respond to the researcher by email. Each respondent was asked to review and acknowledge a document pertaining to informed consent and confidentiality (see Appendix B). As this was to be transmitted online, acknowledgement of consent and confidentiality by typing one’s name and date replaced the written signature on the informed consent form.
Each individual was then asked to complete a screening questionnaire, also provided by email (see Appendix C). The criteria for exclusion were: any relationship of less than one year’s duration; a cohabiting relationship wherein there was no clear, current intention to marry; and a score of less than 5, on a scale of 1-to-10, regarding perceived threat of relational problems to the couple’s relationship.
Once an individual had contacted the researcher, completed and returned the consent form and screening questionnaire, the researcher contacted selected participants via email to schedule the interview. Both the consent form and the email requesting an interview noted that the interview would take up to approximately two hours, with possible follow up questions once the data were reviewed. Please refer to Appendix D for the core interview questions and their rationales for inclusion.
The interviews were conducted through an on-line, interactive modality. The preferred communication method for the interviews was instant messenger, as it was considered to be more readily interactive; however, when this was not possible due to system incompatibilities between respondent and researcher, email was used instead. In either format, the text was saved into a text file for analysis.
Following the guidelines of formal case study research, the questions were descriptive, specifically designed to provide rich illustration of stepcouple problem experiences (Moon & Trepper, 1996). This study used both an “open-ended” question format, and “focused” interviewing principles (Yin, 1989, p. 89). This interviewing format allowed the participant to elaborate on relevant points, while simultaneously exploring for signs of attachment injury, and their relationship to the “step” status and stepfamily factors.