Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Psychology



First Advisor

Trish Morokoff


The purpose of this study was to reconceptualize emotional closeness in women's relationships through the introduction of a model of healthy emotional reliance (HER). This study intended to develop and validate a psychometrically sound measure of female healthy emotional reliance that will provide a means by which to measure a re-conceptualization of the healthy portions of merger in female couples. The original focus of merger, based on psychoanalytic theory, has been pathological. More recently it has been to some extent re-conceptualized as a healthy and functional emotional closeness. The combination of functional and dysfunctional components of merger has led to confusion in the literature. It is, therefore, the aim of this investigation to re-conceptualize the functional components of merger as healthy emotional reliance while reserving the dysfunctional components for the original term, merger. This approach was grounded in social constructivist theory and feminist ego psychology, which emphasizes the role of gender-socialization on women's and men's self-concepts, behavior and personality traits. This investigation includes development of a scale to measure healthy emotional reliance and determined some predictors of subscales. A nationwide and geographically diverse female sample of 368 participants with an age range of 18 to 81 years completed an online survey including the newly constructed measure of healthy emotional reliance. Participants were recruited through a chain (snowball) method.

Principal Components analysis was used to determine whether four hypothesized hierarchical components (Interdependence, Emotional Autonomy, Differentiation and Satisfaction) originally thought to underlie a single construct of healthy emotional reliance, would characterize the data. However, what emerged was a multidimensional model comprised of three separate components (two of which were re-conceptualized upon further consideration of their content): Interdependence, Attachment and Negative Dependence and therefore, no total scale score representing the single construct of healthy emotional reliance emerged. Internal consistency estimates using Cronbach's alpha suggested high reliabilities for each of the three subscales.

Validity hypotheses testing using bivariate correlations, showed a significant positive correlation between Interdependency and the Healthy Dependency sub-scale of the Relationship Profile Test indicating high levels of interdependency associated with high levels of healthy dependency. Due to the change in conceptualization of Component 2, Attachment (originally Lack of Emotional Autonomy) and Component 3, Negative Dependence (originally Lack of Differentiation), it is difficult to assert construct validity claims. However, Negative Dependence and the Destructive Overdependence subscale of the Relationship Profile Test showed a significant moderate positive correlation indicating that the Negative Dependence subscale is measuring something like destructive overdependence which is defined by Bornstein and Languirand (2003) as maladaptive and inflexible dependency.

The three subscales correlated with each other in interesting ways. Interdependency was moderately positively related to Attachment suggesting that as attachment increases so does interdependency. A modest negative correlation between Attachment and Negative Dependence indicates that Attachment is inversely related to negative dependence such that an unhealthy or over-dependency does not facilitate attachment. Thus, Attachment is somewhat related to the lack of unhealthy dependency. The results of this study suggest that autonomy and attachment are not polar opposites on the same dimension, but rather encapsulate two separate dimensions towards which one can be strongly orientated simultaneously.



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