four major markers for attachment injury. The markers were analyzed in context for whether or not they were uniquely attributable to stepfamily problems. The following is a review of the descriptors for each attachment injury markers.
Irresolvable Problems: These were described using extreme language, such as the use of “always” or “never” to describe events; recurrent arguments that were unresolved; and a sense that a problem was pervasive and chronic, with a multi-layered quality affecting its resolvability.
Change of Belief About Partner: These descriptors denoted a change in how one viewed the partner over a prolonged period of time. These were conveyed through terms suggesting a respondent’s sense of betrayed trust; events that caused the respondent to question her partner’s dependability in their relationship; a change in the way the respondent thought about her partner (perception); a change in the way respondents described feeling about their partner or relationship; instances of lying and suggestions of manipulation; a dichotomous view of the families that suggested they were not “blended,” but remained two separate families; and a process wherein one partner displayed rejection of the stepchildren, invoking protection of the child that challenged the couple bond.
Abandonment and Detachment: Descriptors included incidents suggesting rejection of, or by, the respondent’s partner; coalitions formed that cast the respondent in the “outsider” role within the stepfamily; a relationship cycle of pursue/withdraw, that suggested repeated attempts at outreach by one partner, and withdrawal by the spouse; a completely withdrawn, non-responsive partner; and threatened divorce, as well as actual separation.
Pivotal Events: These described precipitous and significant events that could be conceived to have altered the couple’s bond; there was a “before/after” interpretation of the impact on the relationship, so that the pivotal event was one that signaled change in the quality of the relationship.
The respondents in this study experienced markers of attachment injury through a variety of problems in their stepcouple relationships. Their disagreements shared the common factors of stepchildren, some complicated by the involvement of ex-spouses, others by that of in-laws (husband’s family), or both. Typically, these factors were problematic because of the respondents’ perceived lack of emotional support by their spouses, especially as it related to coalitions with or about their stepchildren. This process was a challenge to the attachment bond for these stepcouples.
The following summarizes the events or processes of the respondents’ reports of the attachment injury markers:
The interview data for “Irresolvable Problems” focused on recurring arguments about co-parenting children, the interference of ex-spouses, the way that they argued over children (i.e., arguing about arguing), and the rejection of self and children by the spouse’s family.
The data for “Change of Belief About the Partner” centered on the respondent’s spouse being perceived as undependable (i.e., in not standing up to his ex-spouse or his family, or as a co-parent), dichotomy (i.e., not attaining a sense of “we-ness” in the stepfamily), protection of one’s emotionally rejected child, or mistrusting the motives of