Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2015

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Communication Studies

First Advisor

Afifi, Tamara D.

First Committee Member

Baxter, Leslie A.

Second Committee Member

Campbell, Mary E.

Third Committee Member

High, Andrew C.

Fourth Committee Member

Steuber, Keli R.


Research casts interracial romantic partners (IRPs) as deficient in their relational functioning compared to same-race partners due to the potential for increased relational conflict and stress. More relational stressors are likely to result in a higher need for social support from network members. Yet, interracial partners can maintain satisfying, thriving relationships and experience few racially motivated stressors, rendering support unnecessary at times. The dissertation explores the social resources IRPs use to maintain their interracial romantic relationships (IRRs) by examining processes of social support and strain among Black-White IRPs and their family members. In these processes, the researcher focuses specifically on support expectations, which are anticipations of the support individuals are likely to receive from particular others. The researcher conducted in-depth interviews with 32 IRPs and 30 parents of IRPs to understand support as a cohesive, long-term process involving participants’ support expectations and their violations, which could result in experiences of support and/or strain.

A grounded theory analysis of the interview data resulted in an inductive model of expectations for social support and strain. Three constructs influenced expectations for IRR involvement and support, including exposure to racial diversity, assessments of racial identifications, and cultural comparisons. Based on these expectations, participants came across three support paths after initiating support-seeking disclosure strategies. Their expectations for familial support were met, they received more support than they anticipated, and/or they received less support than expected. Encounters with these support paths resulted in support and strain for IRPs and their parents, however interracial partnerships largely experienced resilience whereas hardships befell familial ties. Taken together, the results contribute to theorizing about processes of support and their functionality in underrepresented romantic relationship forms.

Public Abstract

Most people seek support from others to reduce stressors and navigate complex life experiences. Dating outside of one’s race is thought to be particularly stressful and thus necessary for those taking part in this type of relationship to seek support. Expectations about the kind of support particular others, especially family members, are likely to provide can impact people’s communication about their support needs. People’s racial attitudes have become slightly more progressive over time, and families have increasingly diversified across racial lines. Because of these social trends, romantic partners of different races (interracial partners) have perhaps required less support from others in order to maintain happy, successful relationships. This study examines Black and White interracial partners’ expectations of support as well as the positive and negative consequences of their communication with family members about their romantic relationships.

“I said, ‘Grandma, he’s not Black.’ She’s like, ‘Oh I’ve been around. Been there, done that, child.’ I was like, ‘Grandma!’ So it was a shocker...” This quotation reflects a primary trend in participants’ stories about their expectations for support. Many people experience surprisingly positive messages from family who they thought would be less supportive. In spite of the kind of support they receive, interracial partners largely preserve satisfying, high-functioning romantic relationships. The absence of familial resources does not necessarily determine the triumph of mixed-race romantic bonds. This study could help family members more effectively seek and provide support and discuss important matters of race relations.


publicabstract, Expectations, Interracial Romantic Relationships, Social Support


xiv, 198 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 151-170).


Copyright 2015 Erin Ashley Brummett

Included in

Communication Commons