Communication Studies, Department of


Date of this Version



Carr, K. (2012). Examining the role of family and marital communication in understanding resilience to family-of-origin adversity. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE.


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Communication Studies, Under the Supervision of Professor Jody Koenig Kellas. Lincoln, Nebraska: August, 2012

Copyright (c) 2012 Kristen Carr


Resilience, or the “successful adaptation to adversity,” is often investigated as an individual response to stressful experiences (Zautra, Hall, & Murray, 2010, p. 4). After the experience of stress or adversity, most people seek to return to some degree of normalcy, but their ability to do so varies widely. To understand this variation in individuals’ responses to adversity, most researchers have focused on resilience as a process that occurs within individuals, rather than between them. However, in the current study, resilience is positioned as an interpersonal process as well as an individual one, in that people interpret and respond to adversity through their communication with others. Specifically, this study examines how resilience varies as a function of individual, familial, and marital qualities after the experience of family-of-origin adversity.

Participants in the current study included 201 married individuals who reportedly experienced significant adversity in their families of origin. All participants completed an online questionnaire about their family of origin, individual characteristics and resilience, and their current marital relationship. Results indicated that individuals’ family functioning (as measured by the circumplex model) was the strongest predictor of resilience, such that individuals from families characterized by a balance between cohesion and flexibility, open communication, and an overall sense of satisfaction with the family were most resilient. Individuals’ from families with more adversity characterized their families as less functional in terms of their cohesion, flexibility, and overall satisfaction. In contrast to the significance of family functioning, individual characteristics and the marital environment were both unrelated to resilience when considered separately, but a significant interaction effect emerged when individual characteristics and the marital relationship were considered together. Specifically, individuals who were lower in optimism and efficacy were more likely to be resilient when they were in a close and highly supportive marital environment. Theoretical and interdisciplinary implications of these results are discussed in addition to suggestions for future resilience researchers.

Advisor: Jody Koenig Kellas