Date of Award

Winter 12-27-2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

First Advisor

Jane B. Abrams, DSW, LCSW

Second Advisor

John L. Jackson, PhD

Third Advisor

Kate C. Ledwith, DSW, LCSW


Today, nearly forty percent of Americans are a part of a stepfamily. With a divorce rate at nearly fifty percent for couples in their first marriage and the increasing rate of cohabitation among couples with children, stepfamily structures are more prevalent than ever. Stepfamily couples are under significant stress. With a divorce rate of nearly sixty percent, stepfamily couples are tasked with addressing the stepfamily integration process, parenting and step-parenting concerns, children’s wellbeing, and relationship with former partners and financial support to nonresidential children while simultaneously developing and maintaining a marital bond. African American stepfamily couples in particular experience unique challenges that are specific to their experience in the United States.

This dissertation explores the unique challenges and strengths of African American stepfamily couples. Twenty-one semi-structured interviews were conducted using qualitative methods and interpretative phenomenological analysis. The results of this study found that African American stepfamily couples feel stigmatized by their family structure, are less likely to identify with the term stepfamily, generally feel positive about their status as a stepfamily, and they believe that racial and society pressures have an impact on the prevalence and success of African American stepfamilies. This study expands upon literature on stepfamilies by providing specific insight into the familial experience of African American stepfamily couples through the lens of attachment theory and intergenerational trauma, and explores the impact of racial and societal factors. These insights could enable clinicians to better support African American adults within stepfamilies. While several important themes emerged from this qualitative study, additional research is needed to explore the marital bond of stepfamily couples and how they build and maintain their marital relationship and connection.


Copyright 2019 by

Clinkscales, Jennifer, J.

All rights reserved.

Included in

Social Work Commons