Differentiation and Relationship Satisfaction: Mediating Effects of Alcohol Use

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Institution Granting Degree

The Ohio State University

Cedarville University School or Department


First Advisor

Suzanne Bartle-Haring

Second Advisor

Anastasia Snyder

Third Advisor

Keeley Pratt


Bowen Family Systems Theory, differentiation, distance regulation, alcohol use, couples


The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between differentiation and alcohol use and how these factors interact to influence relationship satisfaction in couples. Bowen Family Systems Theory suggests that alcohol and other substances are used as a distance regulator in relationships, but this idea has not been tested in a clinical sample. Using structural equation modeling with AMOS20, I tested 3 hypotheses. The first hypothesis was that couples with higher differentiation are less likely to use alcohol because they do not need it to regulate distance. I also hypothesized that couples who used more alcohol had lower relationship satisfaction. Finally, I hypothesized that alcohol acts as a mediator between differentiation and relationship satisfaction. The models produced a poor fit to the data, suggesting nonlinearity in the data. Therefore, repeated measures ANOVA was conducted and showed significant results, suggesting that alcohol served as a successful distance regulator. Results support previous findings that alcohol recovery can have a destabilizing effect on the family system because of the important function of alcohol use in intimate relationships. This study has important clinical implications because it provides a picture of the mechanism that underlies alcohol use in intimate relationships, which is a good starting point for planning and considering the effect of therapeutic interventions.