The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Stepparenting Issues and Partner Relationship Outcomes Across Gender: The Role of Clear Communication

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 3:30 PM
Nautilus 4 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Garrett T. Pace, BS, Graduate Research Assistant, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT
Kevin Shafer, PhD, Assistant Professor, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT
Todd M. Jensen, BS, Graduate Research Assistant, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT
Purpose: Stepfamilies are commonplace in modern society and can be complex, particularly regarding relationships associated with them. Parents and children adapt to stepfamily formation and living without the assistance of clear norms, which regulate traditional family attitudes and behaviors. Partially due to this lack of norms, one challenge that couples face is the role of stepchildren and stepparenting, which can be associated with decreased couple relationship quality. Interestingly, the most common issue couples in first marriages report arguing about is money; and for couples in stepfamilies—conflicts regarding children. Little is known about mediating factors in regards to stepparenting issues and partner relationship outcomes such as satisfaction and stability. Identifying the extent to which certain behaviors and attitudes between couples function as protective factors is needed in modern stepfamily research. Also, men and women tend to experience stepfamilies differently and exploring variation in stepfamily experiences across gender is an important topic.  The purpose of this study was to identify 1. the extent to which stepparenting issues were associated with partner relationship satisfaction and stability; 2. whether clear sending communication between partners acted as a protective mediator; and 3. gender differences within and between constructs.

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.