Communication Studies, Department of


Date of this Version



Communication Studies 57:4 (December 2006), pp. 381–400.

doi: 10.1080/ 10510970600945923


Copyright © 2006 Central States Communication Association; published by Routledge/Taylor and Francis. Used by permission.


This study was an analysis of the kinds of residential parent-stepparent-stepchild triadic communication structures expressed in interviews with 50 college-aged children from established stepfamilies. In an interpretive analysis of the interview transcripts, four communication structures were identified. In the linked triad the stepchild relied on indirect communication with the stepparent through his or her residential parent. The outsider triad was characterized by the stepchild communicating primarily with the residential parent with limited awareness of interdependence with the stepparent. In the adult-coalition triad the stepchild perceived that the residential parent and stepparent had formed a coalition, leading to cautious and distrustful communication with both adults. The complete triad featured the stepchild experiencing a “real family” with open communication with both the residential parent and the stepparent. Contributions of studying stepfamilies from the perspective of triadic communication structures versus stepfamily dyads are discussed.