Stepparenting Issues and Partner Relationship Outcomes Across Gender: The Role of Clear Communication
Method: Secondary data were from the Relationship Evaluation Questionnaire (RELATE), an online survey about relationships. Respondents (n = 581) completed RELATE after being referred by a friend or therapist, as part of a college course, or by finding it on the Internet themselves. Stepparents were cohabiting (44%), married (17%), or remarried (39%). Most respondents were women (62%), Caucasian (82%), and had a bachelor’s degree (51%). In addition to covariates, four latent constructs were used (i.e., stepparenting issues, clear sending communication, relationship satisfaction, relationship stability). Data were analyzed using structural equation modeling and multiple group analysis.
Results: The final model had adequate model fit, χ2 (443) = 744.93, p < .001; TLI = .95; CFI = .95; RMSEA = .03. Stepparenting issues were moderately negatively associated with all outcomes. Clear sending communication functioned as a strong indirect link between stepparenting issues and relationship satisfaction (standardized beta = .68, p < .001) and relationship stability (standardized beta = .48, p < .001). The model explained approximately 65% of the variance in relationship satisfaction and approximately 45% of the variance in relationship stability. Group comparison analysis revealed no significant gender differences in the structural portion of the model. Partial and no measurement invariance were identified for stepparenting issues and relationship stability, respectively, with women reporting significantly more on both.
Implications: This study identified differences and similarities between men and women in stepfamilies, using a large sample and rigorous statistical methods. These findings suggest that stepparents in our sample essentially experienced our variables similarly. In addition to generating knowledge, this study is useful for family practitioners who can make clear sending communication between partners in stepfamilies a focus of treatment when consumers desire a more stable and satisfying relationship. Additional protective factors for stepparents and more gender disparities in stepparenting need to be identified in future research.