Date of Award
Erin Willer, Ph.D.
Divorce, Emotion, Children
Although scholars have examined the impacts of divorce on children, there has been little research focused on how children communicatively manage and make sense of their emotions following the divorce. Theoretically, the communication field is lacking in the knowledge of ways in which children of divorce handle the emotions that can arise in their new family system. This dissertation consists of two studies. Study 1 included identifying the strategies that young adult children report using to manage their emotions regarding parents’ divorce and creating a new measure based on children’s reports of these management strategies. Young adults reported using verbal expression, nonverbal expression, and unresponsiveness as communicative strategies for managing their divorce-related emotions, providing three subscales for the new measure.
Study 2 involved applying the measure from the first phase in a study of divorce disclosures and young adults’ mental well-being. This study examined the relationships between parents’ divorce disclosures, young adults’ emotion management strategies, and their mental well-being in terms of their perceived stress, self-esteem, and mental health symptoms. Results indicated that the more frequently parents disclose about their divorce, the more likely young adults use verbal expression to directly state their feelings and thoughts when managing their emotions. While divorce disclosures and young adults’ mental well-being did not share a statistically significant relationship, all three strategies were meaningfully related to mental well-being. Thus, young adults’ mental well-being increases as they utilize verbal expression but decreases the more they use nonverbal expression (e.g., facial expressions and body language) and unresponsiveness (e.g., leaving the room or sitting silently). Finally, results indicated that emotion management strategies did not function as a moderator of the relationship between divorce disclosures and young adults’ mental well-being. Potential reasons for this are explored in Study 2.
These studies contribute to family communication research surrounding divorce. Whereas previous work on emotions has centered predominantly on the internal emotion regulation of feelings, the current project accounts for communication during the management of emotions in an attempt to better understand some of the difficulties children endure in divorced families and how they deal with those challenges.
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Shimkowski, Jenna, "Young Adult Children’s Communicative Management of Emotions About Divorce and Divorce Disclosures: Creating and Applying a New Measure" (2015). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 599.
Received from ProQuest