family members were good people, and that she and her husband were motivated to seek professional stepfamily counseling in order to resolve their stepfamily problems.
Pivotal events were those that changed the perceived quality of the respondents’ relationships. These events supplied the emotional chasm dividing the way their relationship was experienced before the Pivotal Event, and how it was different after the event. In this study, Pivotal Events are negative experiences. The event itself is a problem, and yields related further negative events.
The following summarizes the Pivotal Events revealed through the respondents’ interviews. Each event is placed in the context of its relationship to stepfamily factors.
Respondent 1. T’s pivotal event involved two stages, her husband’s filing for divorce and then his almost immediate request for reconciliation. Her husband filed for divorce for several reasons. Their relationship felt overwhelmed by the factors of their stepfamily formation: T described many contributing factors, including stepparenting, and the outside influence by her stepchildren’s mother. T also cited “old hurts,” consisting of mounting unresolved problems that they did not know how to resolve. Eventually their communication evolved to arguing about how they argued.
T’s husband ‘s immediate request for reconciliation puzzled her. It was a pivotal event in that it marked the beginning of confusion about her husband’s motivations to return to their marriage. Her repeated entreaties for him to enlighten her continued unanswered. The event was defined by his refusal to communicate about a matter of great importance to his spouse, and increased in significance each time he refused to discuss his reasons for reconciliation.
Respondent 2. J’s pivotal event occurred the first time her husband left their home in anger, and remained away for considerably longer than seemed appropriate to the circumstances. J perceived this as “being left” though she had asked her husband to leave their home. She had suggested he leave for a few days “to cool off” after a temper outburst. The event became pivotal to her when he did not return. She recalled that her “trust began to erode” after the first time he left, significant due to his prolonged absence. This event affected J after that, as she reported feeling increasingly insecure about her marital bond every time her husband left, or would ask her to leave with her children. This pivotal event is not clearly attributed to stepfamily issues, as J could not recall the exact events related to the separation or absence. She had noted they were experiencing numerous problems, some directly related to stepfamily problems, but others not clearly related.
Respondent 3. D described a point in time, early in her marriage, where she declared her intention to leave her marriage. She had felt rejected by her stepchildren, particularly her oldest stepchild, who had arranged coalitions with her younger siblings with the approval of their mother, and “no opinion” from their father. D felt unsupported by her husband and finally told him “I wanted out of the marriage.” This was the event that activated her husband; however, the result of her threat ultimately was a reinforcement of coalitions that maintained D as an “outsider” in her stepfamily. Her