Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Always Single and Single Again Women: A Qualitative Study

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Always Single and Single Again Women: A Qualitative Study

Article excerpt

What is it like to be a single woman today? Are the experiences of women who have always been single different from those who find themselves single again after having been married? How can family therapists promote the development of single women both individually and relationally? The purpose of this phenomenological, multiple-case study was to investigate perceptions of being single among heterosexual single women between the ages of 30 and 65. Nine focus group interviews and a semistructured, mailed questionnaire were used to collect the data. Constant comparative analyses were used to develop the findings. The findings were organized around the most salient theme that emerged from the analyses: single women have unresolved or unrecognized ambivalences about being single. This overarching theme was supported by three subassertions: (a) single women are aware of both the advantages and the drawbacks of being single; (b) single women are ambivalent about the reasons for their singleness; (c) although content with being single, many women simultaneously experience feelings of loss and grief. Implications for the clinical practice of family therapy and future research on single women are discussed.

Single women are living on the cusp of change (Anderson & Stewart, 1994). Stereotypes of spinsters and old maids are outmoded, but there are few new descriptions of the single woman. Anderson and Stewart (1994) note that the media dichotomously depicts single women as "pathetic leftovers from the marriage market," unhappy and desperate, or "power-obsessed barracudas bent only on greedily acquiring the empty rewards of money and fame" (p. 14). Even the popular Cathy cartoon reflects the dual images of stigma and glamorization (Lewis, 1994). Schwartzberg, Berliner, and Jacob (1995), in Single in a Married World, have started looking at where adult singlehood fits into the life cycle framework. However, more work is needed to develop a complete understanding of the single life style.

The field of family therapy has not kept abreast of the changing lives of single women. Both in clinical practice and in research, there is a significant gap in understanding one of the fastest growing life-stage populations. As a result, there has been a persistent call by family therapists for more research on issues relevant for single women (Sprenkle, 1993, 1994; Sprenkle & Lyness, 1995). The study presented here is one step toward filling that gap. The purpose of the study was to understand the experience of being a single woman in midlife (ages 30-65) from the perspective of women themselves and to investigate their perceptions of familial influences on their images of themselves as single women. Qualitative methods were utilized because the area of investigation was new and the focus of the study exploratory and phenomenological (Boss, Dahl, & Kaplan, in press; Moon, Dillon, & Sprenkle, 1990). This paper presents the most salient themes from the study and discusses clinical implications of the research.


A computer search was made of Psych Lit and Sociofile from 1974 to 1995. There were slightly more than 300 entries in the two databases on "single women." Most of the articles were on very specific subpopulations, such as mentally disturbed low income single mothers (Sands, 1995). Many of the articles dealing with the social and adjustment issues of being single used college women as subjects (Sarch, 1993; Tanfer & Cubbins, 1992). Other articles showed up only because single women were part of the sample (Shore, McCoy, Toonen, & Kuntz, 1988); these papers offered little information of significance to family therapists about single women's issues. One professional journal devoted a special issue to "Spinsterhood" (Watkins, 1984), but the information is somewhat dated since it was published 12 years ago.

No articles were found for "single women" with the subcategories of "family therapy" or "supervision. …

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