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Interactions Within Stepfamilies

Because the differences in adjustment between members of stepfamilies and members of other types of families are generally small in magnitude, researchers have turned their attention to factors that are associated with positive adjustment in stepfamilies. Several researchers have found that interaction patterns in stepfamilies are similar to those in first-marriage families. In particular, many long-term stepfamilies function quite similarly to first-marriage families (Coleman, Ganong, and Fine 2000). In contrast, several studies have found that members of stepfamilies report that their families are more stressful, less cohesive and adaptable, and have less positive relations between stepparents and stepchildren. These contrasting findings may be explained by the length of time that the stepfamily has been in existence. Newly formed stepfamilies may have more problematic interaction patterns than do first-marriage families; however, if the stepfamily remains intact for several years, interaction patterns may become similar to those in first-marriage families.

In what ways are interactions within stepfamilies related to the adjustment of stepfamily members? Most studies have found that the same types of family interaction patterns that are conducive to positive adjustment in first-marriage families also facilitate well-being in stepfamilies. For example, Fine and Kurdek (1992) found that the adjustment of young adolescents in stepfamilies was more positive to the extent that they characterized their families (and not just their parents) as providing high levels of supervision, warmth, and order, and low levels of conflict. However, there is also some indication that, particularly in recently formed step-families, family members' adjustment is facilitated by somewhat less cohesiveness than is the case in first-marriage families (Waldren et al. 1990), indicating that the lower levels of cohesiveness in step-families relative to first-marriage families may be adaptive.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Theory & Types of FamiliesStepfamilies - Parenting Roles, The Stepparent Role, Clarity Of The Stepparent Role, Adjustment In Stepfamilies, Stepparent Role And Adjustment