Examining individual and joint sense-making in stressful relational narratives




LeFebvre, Leah Elina

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This dissertation examined individual and joint storytelling as a communicative process to explore relational turbulence about stressful events. Response to change in romantic relationships inherently involves a degree of instability as individuals alter their thoughts and actions. The instability and chaos that results when transitions impact interpersonal relationships is relational turbulence (e.g., Knobloch & Solomon, 2004). The theoretical focus is the relational turbulence model (RTM) that serves to illustrate the ambiguity and complexity embedded in relationship experiences and the negotiation of behavior. Examination of stories showcased the representational relational state (i.e., uncertainty) and cognitive activities (i.e., partner interdependence) present in the relationship. First, the dissertation further positioned the influence turbulence has on individual and relational communication to negotiate discomfort, negative emotions, and difficulties that ensued during transitions. Second, this study examined expressions individuals chose to highlight, through storytelling, that apply to relational turbulence mechanisms: relational uncertainty and interdependence. Third, this dissertation examined identity development and/or fluctuation as a byproduct of turbulence exhibited through stories exploring another potential relational turbulence mechanism. A review of literature discussed the theoretical framework for the relational turbulence model and storytelling content and structure. The exploration of stories and storytelling was reviewed as a means for investigating RTM, followed by analysis procedures outlining individual and relational storytelling processes. Results revealed 14 transitional events categories and 23 subcategories. Additionally, qualitative themes and subthemes that emerged for relational uncertainty, partner interdependence, individual and relational identity. Results for relational uncertainty triangulated previous scholarship while also identified two new themes. Partner interdependence results indicated more specificity in forms of partner interference and facilitation. Identity emerged as a third mechanism and preliminary investigation found static and dynamic forms. Quantitative results analyzed significant correlations and comparisons between narrative completeness in individuals' and relational partners' storytelling experiences. The dissertation highlighted how relational turbulence influenced the storytelling content and structure of individual and joint stories.



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