Date of Award

May 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Marriage and Family Therapy


Rashmi Gangamma


Couple Therapy, Family Therapy, Qualitative Research, Transgender, Transgender Women, Trans-including Couples

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


In the field of couple and family therapy, limited literature on experiences of trans-including couples inhibits client care. Trans-including couples are subjected to experiences of marginalization within their communities and families. Transgender women including those of color are one of the most marginalized populations (Cornelius & Whitaker-Brown, 2017; Koken et al., 2009), experiencing high rates of abuse and negative mental health outcomes (Gamarel et al., 2014; Koken et al., 2009). Few studies focus on trans-including couples’ narratives of strength and fewer understand both partners’ experiences. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore emotional bonding and perceptions of fairness between transgender women and their cisgender partners. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis was utilized to answer the research question: What are the experiences of emotional bond and fairness between transgender women and their cisgender partners? This qualitative research was situated within frameworks of minority stress, romantic attachment, and contextual therapy theory. Seven couples of transgender women and their cisgender partners were interviewed. Questions included understanding contexts of transition and minority stress, and couples’ experiences with emotional bond and fairness in their relationships and families of origin. Findings were organized into four main themes: “The Context of Minority Stress; Negotiating Transition; The Feeling of Emotional Bond; and Negotiating Balance”. Experiences of interpersonal processes of emotional bond and balance of fairness were situated within the contexts of transphobia and difficult family of origin relationships. Processes of boundary creation, attunement and affirmations facilitating bonding, and balance of fairness were noted. Discussion focused on the partner relationship as an opportunity to construct resilient narratives. Recommendations for clinicians include prioritizing the couple subsystem as an avenue for building resilience against minority stress.


Open Access