Publication Date

Spring 2010

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Communication Studies

Advisor

Priya Raman

Keywords

father absence, fatherless daughters, fatherless women, fatherlessness, relational communication, romantic relationships

Subject Areas

Communication; Counseling Psychology

Abstract

The purpose of this thesis research was to understand the relationship between father absence and women's communication styles in romantic heterosexual relationships under social cognitive theory. Two studies were conducted using a multi-method research approach in order to triangulate the results. Seven fatherless women were interviewed to arrive at a better understanding of how father absence informed their romantic relational experiences. Specifically, the topics of relationship roles, self-disclosure, expression, and self-silencing in romantic relationships were examined in the interviews. Participants reflected on what growing up fatherless meant to them and whether or not this had any influence on the role they played (dominant, submissive, egalitarian), and how open or closed they were in their romantic relationships (from their own perspective). Open communication refers to whether or not individuals express their thoughts, feelings and needs as well as how often they express these thoughts to their partners. Questions were also asked to determine whether these women self-disclosed intimate details to their romantic partners or self-silenced themselves. An online quantitative survey (N=131) examined similar research questions and tested predictions based on the results of the first qualitative study.

The results from the interviews indicated that fatherless women consider themselves to be open, able to easily express themselves, independent and even dominant in their romantic relationships; yet despite holding these characteristics, these women remained in dysfunctional relationships for long periods of time. Further, when self-silencing did occur, it was because they did not want to not "push" their significant others away. There was also a tension between wanting to hold a dominant role in their romantic relationships and also being attracted to men who hold stereotypical male gender roles. Hence, there was a tension with agreeing or disagreeing with these socially constructed gender roles. In the second study, women who grew up fatherless had a significantly less happy childhood upbringing than those who had fathers. Also, in line with the results from the first study, fatherless women tended towards higher scores on self-disclosure, greater ease of expression, and lower scores on self-silencing. Significant associations were found between negative relationship with father and relational self-esteem, overall self-disclosure and overall self-silencing in romantic relationships. The respondents who had negative relationships with their fathers self-disclosed less in their romantic relationships and self-silenced more, hid their feelings more, and privileged their romantic partners in communication interactions. Taken together, findings from this triangulated study add to the nascent body of work examining and explaining the deleterious fallout from father absence on women's communication and other variables in their romantic relationships.