Research suggests that couples seek connection and equality within the marital relationship, yet they continue to struggle due to the continued impact of traditional gender ideologies (Coontz, 2006; Knudson-Martin & Mahoney 2009). The current body of literature reveals little about how specific relational negotiation practices contribute to attaining an equal and connected relationship over time. This study utilizes grounded theory methodology and a feminist social constructionist framework to explore how traditional gender constructs impact couples’ ability to negotiate connected egalitarianism within relationship over time.

The analysis of 68 interviews with two sets of couples—parents of children 5 years old and younger (i.e. short-term couples) and couples together at least 10 years with the oldest child aged 6-16 (i.e. long-term couples) —identified relational gender role ambiguity as a core dimension facing couples. The ambiguity resides in the desire to maintain connection in the relationship despite conflicting internal and external messages about traditional gender beliefs and shifting beliefs and practices that revolve around egalitarian ideals. Couples’ responded through four primary styles of relationship management: gendered disengagement, gendered reciprocity, relational disengagement, and relational reciprocity.

Results indicate the need for both partners to engage in explicit relational practices that promote reciprocal emotional connection. Overall, men describe increasing their relational awareness in the marital dyad, but women continue to maintain primary responsibility for the push towards relational awareness. Women raise men’s relational awareness primarily by increasing explicit negotiation practices. As a result, many men in the study report learning how to acknowledge and recognize the value of emotional connectedness for the health and longevity of relationship.

Findings provide important information about how couples are attempting to take evolving relationship ideologies and create a contemporary relational model that represents the connection couples seek to achieve. In addition, this study enhances the field of marriage and family therapy in ways to not only bring about more awareness for couples but assist in creating more connection and equality within marriage. Finally, these findings highlight that partner negotiation is necessary at all stages of relational development.

LLU Discipline

Marital and Family Therapy


Counseling and Family Sciences


School of Behavioral Health

First Advisor

Knudson-Martin, Carmen

Second Advisor

Baker, Winetta

Third Advisor

Guerrero, Amy Tuttle

Fourth Advisor

Huenergardt, Douglas

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Level


Year Degree Awarded


Date (Title Page)




Library of Congress/MESH Subject Headings

Marriage; Marital Therapy; Marital psychotherapy; Marriage counseling; Man-woman relationships; Interpersonal Relations; Couples Therapy;

Subject - Local

Marital Care; Connected egalitarian relationships; Marital relationships; Feminist social constructionist framework; Gender constructs



Page Count

124 p.

Digital Format


Digital Publisher

Loma Linda University Libraries

Usage Rights

This title appears here courtesy of the author, who has granted Loma Linda University a limited, non-exclusive right to make this publication available to the public. The author retains all other copyrights.


Loma Linda University Electronic Theses & Dissertations

Collection Website



Loma Linda University. Del E. Webb Memorial Library. University Archives