Feminist informed therapists view relational distress as a complex reflection of the influences of larger disempowering discourses resulting in gendered power inequalities in heterosexual couple relationships. These disempowering discourses often manifest in males’ socialization to maintain autonomy compared to females’ socialization to orient toward the needs of others (Silverstein, Bass, Tuttle, Knudson-Martin, & Huenergardt, 2006). The general purpose of this study was to bridge the gap between feminist informed theory and practice using the Socio-Emotional Relationship Therapy (SERT; Knudson-Martin & Huenergardt, 2010) Model to relieve relational distress in heterosexual intimate partners often caused by these competing discourses toward a relational orientation that promotes a mutual sense of empowerment and support. The first five chapters serve as the dissertation proposal followed by the results and discussion of the research study. Using a qualitative methodology, this study focused on exploring the construct of male engagement and its influences on experiences of empowerment. The aim was to perform two grounded theory analyses; (1) identify therapist interventions that invite and maintain male relational engagement, and (2) operationalize empowerment. Results of the analysis of a total of 28 sessions of 11 heterosexual couples operationalized male relational engagement as the ability to demonstrate commitment to one’s relationships and actively participate in the therapeutic process through exploring, acknowledging, and intentionally attending to the female partner’s experiences. Results also identified five therapeutic interventions that invited male relational engagement. They include: (1) attending to male’s sociocultural context, (2) validating male’s relational intent, followed immediately with, (3) highlighting the impact of male’s behavior on the female partner, (4) punctuating alternative relational interactions, and (5) demonstrating persistent therapist leadership (Samman & Knudson-Martin, 2015). Results of the analysis of a total of 21 sessions of 7 heterosexual couples operationalized gendered individual and relational empowerment. Additional results mirrored the work of Ward and Knudson-Martin (2012) and identified five therapist interventions that directly impacted both genders’ experiences of empowerment through: (a) devaluing female partner’s contributions, (b) allowing male partner to hijack therapy (see ChenFeng & Galick, 2015), (c) accepting male partner’s negative thoughts about female partner, (d) discouraging female partner’s elaboration of experience, and (e) assuming equal contribution and influence in couple interactions. Results from this study help therapists develop gendered power competencies that help identify, interrupt, and invite (Knudson-Martin, Wells, & Samman, 2015a) alternative ways of relating leading to empowering relational outcomes.

LLU Discipline

Marital and Family Therapy


Counseling and Family Sciences


School of Behavioral Health

First Advisor

Huenergardt, Douglas

Second Advisor

Distelberg, Brian

Third Advisor

Wilson, Elisabeth Esmiol

Fourth Advisor

Knudson-Martin, Carmen

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Level


Year Degree Awarded


Date (Title Page)




Library of Congress/MESH Subject Headings

Gender; Couples -- Psychology; Interpersonal Relationships; Grounded Theory;

Subject - Local

Feminist Informed Theory; Gendered Power Inequalities; Socialization; Heterosexual Relationships; Socio-Emotional Relationship Therapy; Relational Engagement



Page Count


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 and Dissertations

Collection Website



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