Study: Everyday Conversations Shape Stepparent/Stepchild Relationships

Stepparent/stepchild relationships can be difficult to navigate, but new research shows that simple conversations can go a long way toward improving those relationships.

The study by Paul Schrodt, professor and director of graduate studies at the Bob Schieffer College of Communication at Texas Christian University, surveyed young adult stepchildren and asked questions about their relationship with their stepparents. It found that the seemingly mundane conversations that people in close relationships have regularly, or “everyday talk,” positively influence their relational satisfaction with the relationship. 

Schrodt used relational framing theory (RFT) to understand this influence. RFT says that individuals interpret interpersonal communication in a way that supports their assumptions about their relationship with the communicator. Affiliation-disaffiliation frames make sense of the amount of solidarity with or appreciation for the other person, while dominance-submissiveness frames help individuals understand the amount of control or influence they have over the other person (or that the other person has over them). Everyday talk improves the affiliation-disaffiliation frame by helping stepparents and stepchildren better respect and relate to one another.

“Because everyday talk cultivates a level of esteem and respect within the relationship, stepchildren are more likely to draw positive relational inferences and experience closer, more satisfying relationships with their stepparents,” says Schrodt. “Although the relational frames that stepchildren use to make sense of their stepparent’s everyday talk are central to a stepchild’s satisfaction, this study shows the importance of stepparents building an affiliation-disaffiliation frame in their stepchildren through seemingly mundane, everyday conversations."

A key concern for stepparents is understanding how involved they should be in their stepchildren’s lives, but seemingly simple talks can improve this complex, crucial relationship.

"By engaging in these types of conversations, stepparents and stepchildren may further enhance their relationship, a relationship that is central to the successful development and adaptation of the stepfamily,” he says.

The study, titled “Relational frames as mediators of everyday talk and relational satisfaction in stepparent-stepchild relations” was published Jan. 28, 2015 in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.


Source Contact Information

Texas Christian University
Professor of Communication Studies and Director of Graduate Studies
817-257-5674 (office)