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Date of Award


Degree Type

Dissertation (On-Campus Access Only)

Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)

Committee Chair

Donald Fromme, PhD

Second Advisor

Miller Garrison, PhD


Steprelationships, particularly those involving stepchildren who are adolescents, seem to be the main cause of problems within the stepfamily and may even contribute to the potential risk of divorce. To better understand this phenomena this research project focused on collecting the subjective experiences of stepparents in nonclinical stepfamilies. 12 stepparents were interviewed using a semi-structured format. The protocol for these interviews posed three key questions which included: (a) "Tell me about your life before you were part of this stepfamily," (b) "Tell me about the dating/'getting to know the family' stage," and (c) "Tell me about,being a member of this stepfamily." Throughout the interview a three tier approach to collecting information was · used. Once the key questions were asked, the interviewer probed further for greater detail and depth of content. Information from these interviews was then divided into varying levels of themes. A focus group was conducted and three readers were designated to read over stepparents' interviews to ensure validity of themes selected by the researcher. Themes which emerged from the study included the overarching theme of "joining" and the four major themes: (a) Feelings about legitimate power, (b) Feelings regarding expectations, (c) Feelings about belonging and cohesiveness, and (d) Feelings about the role of stepparent. Within each of these major themes were a number of smaller or "mini" themes. From these themes evolved principles which relate to stepparents and stepfamilies in general. In order to conceptualize and integrate these principles into a more useful and meaningful context, they were then placed within the frameworks of Papernow's (1980) Stepparent Cycle and Einstein and Albert's (1986) Stepfamily Life Cycle.