Communication Studies, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Applied Communication Research 46:5 (2018), pp 561–582.



Copyright © 2018 National Communication Association. Published by Routledge/Taylor & Francis. Used by permission.


Challenges and conflicts experienced by stepfamilies are well documented, but researchers are increasingly focused on communication processes that facilitate resilience in these relationships. In other contexts, communicating forgiveness has been linked to relational healing after transgressions or adversity. In the current study, the researchers sought to understand how stepchildren talk about the role of forgiveness in the development of positive adult stepchild–stepparent relationships. Data were drawn from interviews with adult stepchildren who have a positive relationship with a stepparent. Following an interpretive analysis, the researchers identified five themes representing the ways forgiveness was conceptualized and enacted in these positive stepchild–stepparent relationships: forgiveness as (a) healing family connections, (b) explicit negotiation, (c) maturation and acceptance, (d) a response to vulnerability and compassion, and (e) evidence of relational growth. Theoretical and practical applications for understanding and fostering resilient stepfamilies and the role of forgiveness are discussed.