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Contradictions of marital interactions among bereaved parents

Paige Whitney Toller, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The purpose of the present study was to investigate communication among bereaved parents after the death of their child. The first research question guiding the present study was what dialectical contradictions do bereaved parents experience when communicating with each other after their child's death? The second research question was how do bereaved parents communicatively negotiate or manage the dialectical contradictions they experience? The third research question of the present study was how do bereaved parents negotiate their parental, personal, and marital identities following the death of a child? Interviews with 47 bereaved parents (31 females, 16 males) were conducted yielding 1,210 pages of single-spaced interview transcripts. A qualitative interpretive paradigm guided the study and data analysis. Using relational dialectics theory, the researcher identified four contradictions that characterized bereaved parents' communication. All the participants experienced the need to communicatively manage the tensions of grieving together-grieving apart, openness-closedness, moving forward-holding on, and presence-absence. Parents managed these contradictions using a variety of communication strategies identified within relational dialectics theory. In the present study the researcher also identified three additional contradictions that related to changes in bereaved parents' identities following the death of a child, which were feeling like a parent-not having the child to parent, feeling like an outsider-feeling like an insider, and relational gains-relational losses. Parents engaged in a variety of communication behaviors in order to manage and negotiate these identity tensions as well. The findings of the present study shed light on how bereaved parents experienced and managed a variety of dialectical tensions following their child's death. In addition, the present study also extends relational dialectics theory to the context of parental bereavement. Implications for both researchers and bereaved parents are discussed, particularly as to how the findings of the present study can be used to help bereaved parents better cope with and communicate about their child's death with each other and with members of their social network. ^

Subject Area

Speech Communication

Recommended Citation

Toller, Paige Whitney, "Contradictions of marital interactions among bereaved parents" (2006). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3208088.