How couples “do” gender and power in their marriages is a relevant topic for today’s couples. Despite social changes toward equality in many realms, gender continues to organize relationships in ways that give husbands more power than wives. However, some contemporary couples make conscious decisions to resist forces toward organizing according to stereotypical gender ideals and to “do” gender differently in their relationships. For couples in which one or both is a physician, power is also deeply embedded in the physician status, with families tending to organize around the physician’s demands. While these effects reinforce male dominance when the husband is the physician, they pull opposingly when the wife is the physician, which is increasingly common as greater numbers of women enter the medical profession. We do not know how forces of gender and physician status interplay and play out in physician marriages. This qualitative study uses a social constructionist feminist theoretical lens to examine data from 36 physician interviews to explore how gender and power organize physician family life. Using a grounded theory approach, we found that couples’ “undoing” gender was a core category around which three couple types emerged: traditional, gender-conflicted, and de-gendering. How couples manage gender and power depends on whether they continually counteract stereotypic gender roles, particularly by un-gendering their interactions. Among the couples in this study, even the most egalitarian ones, gender never gets completely undone; there are no cases in which women gain the kind of organizing power that men have. This study demonstrates how couples respond to societal pressures to conform with gendered expectations, from traditional couples, who continue to do gender in conventional patters, to gender-conflicted couples, who struggle with traditional ideals in the face of unconventional circumstances, to de-gendering couples, who adopt purposeful strategies to resist the societal pressures to conform to traditional gender ideals.

LLU Discipline

Marriage and Family Therapy


Counseling and Family Sciences


School of Behavioral Health

First Advisor

Knudson-Martin, Carmen

Second Advisor

Wilson, Colwick

Third Advisor

Esmiol, Elisabeth

Fourth Advisor

Fox, Curtis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Level


Year Degree Awarded


Date (Title Page)




Library of Congress/MESH Subject Headings

Interpersonal Relations; Marital Therapy; Identity (Psychology); Man-Woman Relationships; Gender Identity; Sex Role; Social Perception;

Subject - Local

Gender; Physician couples; Marital Equality; Relationships; Social Constructionist Feminist Theory; Grounded Theory; Gendered Expectations



Page Count

139 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