Communication Studies, Department of


Date of this Version

Winter 2002


Southern Communication Journal 67:2 (Winter 2002), pp. 160–179.

doi: 10.1080/ 10417940209373227


Copyright © 2002 Southern States Communication Association; published by Routledge/Taylor and Francis. Used by permission.


When a marital partner moves to a nursing home, how do community-dwelling spouses, labeled “married widows,” adapt and cope with changes in the relationship and their own marital roles? The first goal of this study was to explore the role additions and deletions for community-based wives whose husbands moved to a nursing home. The second goal was to examine how these women discursively represent their own self-identity and the relationship they have with their husband who is living in a nursing home. Data were drawn from in-depth, face-to-face interviews with 21 wives whose husbands resided in a nursing home. A qualitative/interpretive method was used to analyze role changes, and wives’ experiences were coded into the three couplehood categories. The Kaplan et al. (1995) “typology of couplehood” was used to categorize the perceptions of these wives in terms of feelings of: (a) no couplehood, (b) low couplehood, and (c) high couplehood. Results revealed instrumental and social roles that were added and changed for these wives. Wives’ experiences fell into Kaplan’s three couplehood types in about equal numbers. The study provides a description of the experiences of the women and their views of their husbands and marital relationships across each of the three couplehood types. One important implication is that not all women will experience this serious relational change in the same way. These findings point to the need for greater understanding of how marital partners, women and men, change their own identities and work to maintain marital relationships across the lifespan.