Debbie Barrett, PhD

Class of 2010


Secrecy and strained relationships: Moving to a same-sex stepfamily (2010)

Debbie Barrett

This qualitative study explored the subjective experiences of 20 participants who as children transitioned from living with heterosexual parents to living in a same sex stepfamily following parental disclosure of homosexuality and subsequent divorce. This researcher used grounded theory procedures to analyze data gathered from participant interviews, interpreting the findings using object relations psychoanalytic theory. Chaos and strained family relationships stemming from marital distress in the intact family continued and intensified already deteriorating participant and parent relationships. The quality of ongoing parental ministrations mitigated participants’ reactions to post-divorce circumstances. As adults, many participants questioned the permanency of their relationships or held back from fully engaging with others. Although parental secrecy and ambiguity about being gay or lesbian flourished, participants’ defenses were heightened to keep parental sexuality repressed. Even though participants did not talk about their gay or lesbian parent or stepfamily for some time, developmental factors contributed to a relaxation of defenses and allowed them to reflect on their past. Participants’ basic sense of themselves and their parent was not altered by the parent’s changed sexual orientation and the participants did not wish for return of the parent’s original heterosexual orientation. In concluding, there is a presentation of clinical implications and recommendations for future research based on the findings.