This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Stepparents participating in Couples Relationship Education and mental health: Differences at baseline and improvements over time




Elliott, Caroline

Type of Degree

Master's Thesis


Human Development and Family Studies


The current study involves a sample of 1,313 parents participating in couple relationship education (CRE) programs as part of a larger randomized control trial. Drawing on theoretical assumptions from Family Systems Theory and Family Stress Theory, the study examined baseline differences in levels of stress, depressive symptoms, and anxious symptoms between groups of parents, stepparents, and combination parents/stepparents and whether these groups benefit differently from CRE over time. In addition, pulling from the Stress Relief Hypothesis, this study examined a spillover of individual mental health functioning into couple/relationship quality. Findings from an analysis of variance revealed that stepmothers differ from combination mothers/stepmothers in levels of depressive symptoms at baseline. In addition, findings from a two way repeated measures analysis of covariance indicated a time x parent status interaction effect for stress for fathers, such that fathers and combination fathers/stepfathers report lower stress over time, and stepfathers report no changes. Findings from regression analyses revealed a spillover of stepmothers’ own stress reduction predicting their own enhanced relationship quality six months later as well as a spillover of stepfathers’ reduced depressive symptoms predicting their own relationship quality six months later; however, no spillover between partners was evident. Findings from this study support the need for continued examination into stepparent experiences, particularly between stepparents and combination parents/stepparents, in addition to potential gender differences within stepparent groups and the consideration of the role of mental health indicators in predicting positive relational outcomes following CRE.