partner, (non-resident biological parent). In fact, the challenges faced by stepcouples may work recursively to exacerbate their difficulties, or even prevent the development of their “united front.”
The new stepcouple, then, must factor in the losses and loyalty binds inherent in stepfamily formation. Further, they must cope with these problems in a sociocultural context of optimistic expectation that everyone will be one big, happy family.
Attachment theory provides a relevant framework for addressing stepcouples’ problems. Attachment theory normalizes adult attachment needs (Bowlby, 1988) and the resulting stress that arises when primary attachment bonds are threatened. The relevant clinical literature considers significant threats to the adult relational bond as “attachment injury” (Johnson, Makinen & Millikin, 2001). The literature notes the importance and usefulness of applying attachment theory to interventions for families experiencing life cycle transitions (Dankoski, 2001); however, the transitions experienced by a stepfamily have not been considered specifically.
This study will consider stepcouples’ problems through the lens of attachment bonds, as well as attachment injuries relevant to the experiences of stepcouples and stepfamilies. Were it to be shown that stepcouples experience attachment injury based on issues unique to stepfamilies, this would bear clinical significance in suggesting therapeutic interventions to strengthen the stepcouple bond.
Statement of the Problem
Demographers note the current and increasing prevalence of stepfamilies. Sources indicate that approximately twenty percent of families headed by a married couple are stepfamilies; further, the current rates of divorce and remarriage would indicate that over one-third of children in the United States will be stepfamily members prior to age 18 (Glick, 1989, as cited in Ganong & Coleman, 1994).
The above data, however, do not consider that stepfamilies may be formed through cohabitation. This study may include stepfamilies formed by cohabiting couples. Cohabiting couples in the United States comprise six percent (6%) of the total married/cohabiting population (U. S. Census Bureau, 2000). The issues that cohabiting couples face are similar to those of married couples, with respect to relational experiences and the effects on children (Brown & Booth, 1996). This study assumes, then, that the problems experienced by cohabiting couples with “stepchildren” would be similar to those of married stepcouples.
Stepfamilies also are formed following the death of a partner. The literature does not focus on this type of stepfamily. First, the incidence of widowhood in married adults prior to age 44 is relatively rare (Bramlett & Mosher, 2001). Also, there may be a mistaken sociocultural perspective that stepfamily formation due to partner loss through death presents fewer difficulties for the “blended family” members. The impact, however, of permanent loss due to death may actually create special challenges to stepfamily bonds. Overall, when considering the prevalence of stepfamilies, researchers and clinicians can achieve positive impact in addressing the difficulties encountered by