Strengths and Risk Factors for Romantic Relationships: Perspectives of African American Women

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Child and Family Studies


Ambika Krishnakumar


Social exchange theory, Romantic relationships, African American women

Subject Categories

Psychology | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies


Using an ecological model of the social exchange theory (Lewis & Spanier, 1979) and an Afrocentric perspective, a mixed method investigation was conducted to examine how well the cultural construct of a "Strong Black Woman", relationship risks (parenting daily hassles, lack of trust, and economic hardships) and relationship strengths (spirituality, gender role adaptability, effective relationship communication) predicted African American women's romantic relationship satisfaction. A mixed-method approach was used to examine the relationships among these key constructs. Quantitative data included 150 married and 47 cohabitating African American mothers from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, with children in the home between ages 0-5 years. Women were between ages 18 and 45 and had been in their relationships between 1 and 19 years.

Findings indicated that a lack of trust predicted lower romantic relationship satisfaction over and above cultural and demographic characteristics of the couple. Relationship strengths weakened the relationship between stress and romantic relationship satisfaction. Telephone interviews with 10 married African American women supported the quantitative findings and in addition revealed African American women's commitment to the ideals of romantic relationships, trust, communication and spirituality contributed to romantic relationship satisfaction. These findings indicate that although there are barriers to healthy relationship formation and development, African American women highly valued relationships and family life and employed culturally specific strengths to overcome challenges.


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