Climbing the mountain: A qualitative study of the intimate relationship as a vehicle for personal and spiritual growth

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Child and Family Studies


Eleanor D. Macklin.


psychology, cellular biology

Subject Categories

Psychiatry and Psychology


A qualitative design was used to explore the relationships of couples who view personal or spiritual growth as a central purpose of their relationship. Eight couples who were identified as having a growth-oriented view of their relationship via a screening questionnaire were interviewed separately and together about their relationship and were observed while discussing a current area of conflict.

Participants were found to have developed growth models out of their attempts to make sense of the dissatisfaction and struggle they experienced in relationship. While having a growth model of relationship seemed to have assisted these couples in dealing with their relational conflict, it did not appear sufficient to ensure that they achieved the degree of growth desired.

Each of the eight couples demonstrated extensive repertoires for dealing with conflict, but there was considerable variation in how they approached conflict in their relationship. A typology based on a metaphor of climbing a mountain was used to depict the developmental and stylistic differences among them. Self-awareness, self-confrontation, and self-validated intimacy appeared characteristic of those who had reached higher levels of personal and relationship development. The findings support a recommendation that couples seeking growth within the context of their intimate relationship focus less on reciprocity models and more on models which emphasize toleration of anxiety and increased differentiation of self.


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