A longitudinal examination of stepfamily cohesion from a normative-adaptive perspective

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

First Committee Member

Margaret Crosbie-Burnett - Committee Chair


Family scholars and clinicians have identified family cohesion as an important variable in assessing stepfamily functioning. However, the empirical literature provides little clarification as to the levels of cohesion associated with positive stepfamily outcomes. The purpose of this study was to examine changes in family cohesion in remarried families, the relationship between cohesion and family happiness, and to identify whether the quality of the step relationship was associated with cohesion and its potential changes over time. Longitudinal data spanning five years were gathered utilizing the Stepfamily Adjustment Scale (SAS) and the Family Adaptability and Cohesion Scale (FACES III) with a sample of 103 Midwestern stepfamilies with adolescents at Time 1 and 57 of these same stepfamilies at Time 2.The results appear to provide empirical support to what other theorists and practitioners have suggested that well functioning or happy stepfamilies can have low levels of cohesion. Stepfamily cohesion, after five years of remarriage, was predicted by perceptions of family happiness at Time 1 for the biological parent and the stepparent, and perceptions of the quality of the step relationship at Time 1 for the biological parent. Increases in stepfamily happiness over the five years of the study were predictive of higher stepfamily cohesion at Time 2. For the stepparent and the adolescent, increases in the quality of the step relationship were predictive of higher cohesion at Time 2. In addition stepfamily members reporting a high degree of quality in the step relationship were significantly happier in their stepfamily overall than those stepfamily members who reported low quality in the step relationship at Time 1 and Time 2. The results of this study suggest that while levels of cohesion in these stepfamilies with an adolescent may be low, the quality of the step relationship is significantly related to overall stepfamily cohesion and happiness. Implications of the findings for family theory, research and practice are also discussed.


Psychology, Social; Sociology, Individual and Family Studies

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