Applying relational turbulence theory to adult caregiving relationships

Leanne K. Knobloch, Linda O. Nichols, Jennifer Martindale-Adams

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Although the quality of the relationship between caregivers and care recipients predicts the well-being of both people, gaps exist in understanding the interpersonal dynamics of adult caregiving. We introduce relational turbulence theory as a conceptual framework for understanding how caregivers and care recipients relate to each other. We searched for research on relational turbulence theory as well as research on the relationships of adult care partners. Then, we integrated the two bodies of work. Our review suggests initial support for the theory's three central tenets: (a) transitions, including the transition to caregiving, are key periods within relationships; (b) relational uncertainty and interdependence are relationship parameters that complicate relating during transitions; and (c) relational turbulence predicts outcomes. Recommendations for practice include (a) helping care partners focus on relationship continuity, (b) gearing clinical services toward both people, (c) educating them about relational uncertainty and interdependence, and (d) teaching them communication strategies for diminishing relational turbulence. Making care partners aware of interpersonal challenges may bolster relationship satisfaction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)598-606
Number of pages9
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 15 2020


  • Caregiving
  • Communication
  • Interdependence
  • Relational uncertainty
  • Transitions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Gerontology


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