resolved or left unresolved, by the formation of coalitions, that often need to be corrected by placing the stepcouple as a united front, with appropriate input from the children’s biological parents.
The respondents in this study illustrated the problems that result from weakly forged stepcouple bonds, unresolved conflicting loyalties, and the effects of loss. Attachment theory provides a context for understanding these problems, in terms of attachment injury, and also for their remediation, by encouraging the exploration of traumatized attachment bonds and their repair.
The findings in this study are important in clinical practice for several reasons. They provide a context of attachment theory and attachment injury for relational problems in stepcouples. This suggests the attachment model would provide a relevant and significant therapeutic approach.
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is a therapeutic model that specifically addresses attachment injury (Johnson, 1996). This therapeutic model is based on attachment injury, a framework that presumes that it is the meaning, rather than the content, of the injurious event, as it is experienced by the individual reporting the injury, that is crucial to determining that attachment injury has occurred (Johnson, et al., 2001). The EFT model lends itself to the stepcouple population in its approach to repairing the couple bond through the context of each individual’s experience. This could be especially helpful in stepcouples, who may have widely divergent experiences. For example, one of the couple may be a biological parent, but not a stepparent: There may be incidents challenging the stepcouple bond that are unimaginable, or even undetected, by a partner who is not in the “step” role.
Applying the EFT model, for example, L (Respondent #4) and her husband, T, would work in therapy toward understanding themselves and each other regarding feeling abandoned when they perceive rejection from their partner. They each seem to experience rejection differently. L feels unsupported and abandoned when her husband maintains coalitions with his children and his parents, excluding his wife as he attends family events without her. T feels abandoned by L’s outrage and her choice to remain at home for the holidays rather than accompany him to his parents with his children. The therapy would address abandonment experienced by each, for increased self-awareness and that of the partner; ideally, the irresolvability dissolves with increased understanding of the partner.
Stepfamilies typically are based on a foundation of loss. Stepcouples begin with a history of loss for at least one person in the relationship. This creates impact throughout the stepfamily, but is most effectively addressed first with the stepcouple. For each respondent in this study, the stepcouple bond was challenged or weakened by factors external to the couple. This created coalitions that placed one of the couple on the “outside.” Coalitions suggest abandonment, another form of loss. The blame, anger and frustration that evolve from this loss would likely respond to a therapeutic model, such as EFT, that addresses the feelings of loss and abandonment. EFT’s focus on issues of