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Last updated February 14, 2001


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Marital Communication

Explanation of Theory:

By measuring three major factors, this theory suggests that married couples tend to cluster into three distinct groups along these dimensions - the traditionals, the independents, and the separates.

Theorist: Mary Anne Fitzpatrick

Date:  1988

Primary Article:

     Fitzpatrick, Mary Anne.  Between Husbands and Wives:  Communication in Marriage.
Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1998

Individual Interpretations:

Couples will engage in marital dimensions based on the characteristics of their relationship. They can also fluctuate from one to anther and may engage in more than one simultaneously.

Metatheoretical Assumptions:

There are multiple truths within this theory.
It does allow for free will because people can choose which type is most comfortable for them.  Oxiologically, this theory says that these behaviors will take place regardless of values and couples may mix the three types which is naturally more complex.


This is a scientific theory that makes predictions about marital dimensions based on three factors - ideology, interdependence and conflict.  This theory says that one dimension does not necessarily define a good or bad marriage.  What is best depends on the needs of the couple.

Ideas and Implications:

The traditional type of marriage according to Fitzpatrick would consist of conventional views and place more value on stability and certainty in role relations than on variety and spontaneity.  The couple would have strong interdependence and share much companionship.  Although they are not assertive about disagreement, they do not avoid conflict. The independent style of marriage tends to be more unconventional in it's views of marriage and does not rely on the other as much.  Although a couple may spend time together and share a great deal, they value their own autonomy and often have separate rooms in the house.  They may also have separate interests and friends outside the family. The third type of marriage, according to Fitzpatrick, is the separates.  These individuals seem to be ambivalent about their roles and relationship.  They may have a fairly conventional view of marriage, but they are not very interdependent and do not share much.


Wanda and Earl have been married for several years.  Throughout their marriage, their relationship has evolved.  At the beginning, they took on traditional roles of couples and spent a lot of time together.  But as time went by, Wanda and Earl pursued individual interests which is defined as more of a independent style of marriage.

Relevant Research:

     Kotler, T., (1985). Security and autonomy within marriage. Human Relations.

     Ragsdale, J. D., (1996). Gender, satisfaction level, and the use of relational maintenance strategies in marriage. Communication Monographs.

     Juni, S. and Grimm, D. (1994), Marital satisfaction as a function of dyadic gender role constellations.  The American Journal of Family Therapy.

Location in Eight (8) Primary Communication Theory Textbooks:

     Anderson, R., & Ross, V. (1998). Questions of communication: A practical introduction to theory (2nd ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press.  N/A

     Cragan, J. F., & Shields, D.C. (1998). Understanding communication theory: The communicative forces for human action. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. 292-293.

     Griffin, E. (2000). A first look at communication theory (4th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill. N/A

     Griffin, E. (1997). A first look at communication theory (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. N/A

      Infante, D. A., Rancer, A. S., & Womack, D. F. (1997). Building communication theory (3rd ed.). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press. N/A

      Littlejohn, S. W. (1999). Theories of human communication (6th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. 273-274

      West, R., & Turner, L. H. (2000). Introducing communication theory: Analysis and application. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield. N/A

       Wood, J. T. (1997). Communication theories in action: An introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. N/A