Stepfamily adaptability and cohesion: A normative study

Hope Brown Chollak, University of Pennsylvania


Adaptability and cohesion are two broad stroke dimensions by which families can be assessed. However, the norms generated by studies of cohesion and adaptability in nuclear families may not apply to stepfamilies because of their dramatically different structural, cultural, and dynamic characteristics. Forty-seven stepfamily couples of four different structural forms, (stepmother/biological father, stepfather/biological mother, biological-stepmother/biological-stepfather, and stepfamilies with an "ours" child) were compared with 48 nuclear family couples on the dimensions of cohesion and adaptability. The volunteer couples had been married at least 2 years, and had at least one child between 2-18 years. Participants completed the perceived and ideal versions of FACES III, the Family Adaptability and Cohesion Evaluation Scales, 3rd revision (Olson, D., Portner, J., & Lavee, Y., 1985) and a Demographic and Family Structure Questionnaire. Analysis of variance of mothers' and fathers' mean scores yielded no significant difference among any of the family types on the adaptability dimension. All groups' perceived scores fell into either the Structured or Flexible range on Olson's Circumplex Profile, and all groups identified Chaotic or extreme adaptability as the ideal form of functioning. On cohesion, however, there were significant differences among the group means. A Scheffe post hoc comparison test indicated that stepfamilies do not differ significantly among themselves, but that mothers in all stepfamilies and fathers in the SF/BM and BSM/BSF families perceive cohesion at a significantly lower rate than nuclear family mothers and fathers. Mothers and fathers in stepfamilies scored in the Disengaged and Separated ranges, and parents in nuclear families scored in the Connected range. Parents in all families scored in the Connected range for ideal cohesive functioning. Mothers and fathers in the BSM/BSF families and mothers in OURS families identified the greatest difference between ideal and perceived cohesive functioning. Discussion follows which links these results to studies in the stepfamily literature, identifies the limitations of the study, yet validates the advisability for stepfamily members of accepting a normative definition of cohesion which fits their structure and potentiates optimal relationship development over time.

Subject Area

Academic guidance counseling|Psychology

Recommended Citation

Chollak, Hope Brown, "Stepfamily adaptability and cohesion: A normative study" (1989). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9004776.