Intrafamily secrets in various family configurations: A communication boundary management perspective

John P. Caughlin, Tamara D. Golish, Loreen N. Olson, Jack E. Sargent, Jeff S. Cook, Sandra Petronio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although extant literature suggests that blended, single‐parent, and biological/adoptive (i.e., nuclear) families differ in terms of the boundaries that separate family members, little systematic research has compared such boundaries. The current investigation examined this issue by focusing on communication boundaries as indexed by intrafamily secrets. As expected, college students in blended families reported that their original parents and siblings were more likely than their stepparents or stepsiblings to know the family secret that they reported in this study. This suggests the presence of a relatively rigid communication boundary between original family members and stepfamily members. Interestingly, participants in blended families, single‐parent families, and nuclear families were quite similar in terms of: (a) the number of intrafamily secrets they perceived in their family, (b) the topics of the secrets they reported, and (c) the functions they reported being served by the secrets. Also, regardless of family form, there was an inverse association between participants’ family satisfaction and their perceptions of how many intrafamily secrets their family held. Overall, in contrast to the literature that often portrays blended families and single‐parent families as particularly problematic, these results suggest remarkable similarities across family configurations in terms of communication boundaries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)116-134
Number of pages19
JournalCommunication Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication


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