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Respondent 1 (“T”)

Three problem topics


correcting our children’s behavior*

“dealing with ex”*

unfinished topics/embedded issues


large family size affects marriage*

distribution of money*

no closure to old problems

T cited co-parenting as irresolvable for the couple because they evolved to arguing with each other over “parenting styles” and could not “resolve the real issue,” of agreeing upon how to correct the child’s behavior. T referred to problems correcting children’s behavior in the context of stepparenting. This included consequences to their marriage when one parent “sided” with their own biological child. Large family size was cited as a stressor in their marital relationship because it affected the time they spent together as a couple. Although this is not unique to the stepfamily experience, she felt that adding the families together was more time consuming than they imagined. The respondent perceived this as a stressor related to stepfamily life.

Similarly, the need to “deal with an ex-spouse” occurs in non-stepfamilies. This respondent, though, believed that the relationship with her husband’s ex-spouse kept her stepchildren from developing a sense of family with T and her son. She interpreted this as an irresolvable problem uniquely related to stepfamily issues.

T cited two problems that were not entirely attributable to stepfamily status: unfinished topics and lack of closure to old problems. The interview data did not clearly support that all of these were related to stepfamily status; however, many were attributable, including those related to her husband’s threat of divorce. T’s relationship endured chronic problems with her stepchildren’s mother, who seemed to create alliances with T’s stepchildren against T. Coalitions between T’s spouse with his children were also a chronic stressor for the stepcouple. Therefore, this couple’s unfinished topics and lack of closure to old problems were considered partially related to their stepfamily


Three problem topics

2 (“J”)



Irresolvables lack of communication

Her “disrespectful” children* Communication J perceived that most, if not all, of her marital problems were related to a pervasive lack of communication with her husband. She viewed this partly as a result of his anger about an auto accident in which they had been involved. She described a scenario wherein her husband seemed upset at her biological son, who accused her husband’s son of breaking a videogame component. This lead her husband, angrily and reluctantly, to travel with J to the store to purchase a replacement. Enroute, he seemed angry and later withdrew. On the way home, they were involved in a devastating accident. J’s story clearly connected stepfamily issues to the auto accident, and an element of blame underscored the source of this family’s devastation.


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