The Processes Distinguishing Stable From Unstable Stepfamily Couples: A Qualitative Analysis


École de service social, Université Laval, Pavillon Charles-De Koninck, Bureau 6427, 1030 avenue des Sciences-Humaines, Québec City, Québec, Canada G1V 0A6 (


Second marriages are known to be more fragile than first marriages. To better understand the factors that contribute to this fragility, this qualitative study compared stepfamilies that stayed together with those that separated by collecting interview data from one adult in each of the former (n = 31) and latter (n = 26) stepfamilies. Data were analyzed using a general inductive approach. The analysis allowed us to identify key processes that contributed to stepfamilies staying intact or breaking up. We found that the way in which families approached problems and the strategies they employed had more influence on stepfamily survival than the nature, number, or intensity of these problems. We also outlined the role of certain elements related to family context, such as the custody of children from former unions, intrafamily communication, and each person's particular characteristics. With regard to practitioner intervention, the results highlight the importance of examining the way in which couples deal with their problems, the strategies they employ, and the effectiveness of the strategies.