Communication Studies, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Family Communication 14:2 (2015), pp. 95-112; doi: 10.1080/15267431.2015.1013109


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Couples who cohabit and then become engaged often participate in nontraditional living arrangements and traditional marriage proposals. Because understandings of tradition and nontradition are constituted in discourse, we employed relational dialectics theory to examine the interplay of competing discourses in the talk of married participants who cohabited before engagement. Through retrospective interviews, we investigated the discursive struggles in participants’ talk across three contexts: pre-engagement cohabitation, the marriage proposal ritual, and the (re)telling of the proposal story to friends and family. Analysis of participant interviews illustrated three discursive struggles: (a) pragmatism and risk in cohabitation, (b) romance and partnership in the proposal ritual, and (c) privacy and revealment in the proposal ritual and (re)telling. We discuss how tradition and nontradition interplayed to redefine the engagement tradition, create new discursive meaning, and constitute couples’ shared identities.