Couple Communication in Stepfamilies


  • The research reported in this paper was supported by the grants “Promoting stepfamily relationship satisfaction and stability” from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia to Jan M. Nicholson, Matthew R. Sanders, and W. Kim Halford, and “Prediction and promotion of marital satisfaction and stability” from the Australian Research Council to W. Kim Halford and Matthew R. Sanders. We thank Brett Behrens, Kathy Eadie, Jill Charker, Lucy Blowers, Julia Long, Natalie Loxten, Trish O'Rourke, and Maddy Phillips for research assistance.

concerning this article should be addressed to Dr. Kim Halford, School of Psychology, M 24 Mt. Gravatt Campus, Griffith University, QLD 4111, Australia. E-mail:


Effective communication is assumed to help sustain couple relationships and is a key focus of most relationship education programs. We assessed couple problem-solving communication in 65 stepfamily and 52 first-time-marrying couples, with each group stratified into high risk and low risk for relationship problems based on family-of-origin experiences. Relative to partners in first-time couples, partners in stepfamily couples were less positive, less negative, and more likely to withdraw from discussion. Risk was associated with communication in first-time but not stepfamily couples. Stepfamily couples do not exhibit the negative communication evident in high-risk first-time-marrying couples, and available relationship education programs that focus on reducing negative communication are unlikely to meet the needs of stepfamilies.