Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Marriage and Family Therapy

First Committee Member

Stephen T. Fife

Second Committee Member

Colleen M. Peterson

Third Committee Member

Gerald R. Weeks

Fourth Committee Member

Larry L. Ashley

Number of Pages



Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is a significant trauma that affects a person's self-concept and the ability to form healthy intimate relationships later in adulthood. Approximately 20% of adults who experience childhood sexual abuse go on to evidence serious psychopathology in adulthood (Harway & Faulk, 2005). Besides individual disturbances, CSA survivors struggle with many relational difficulties. These difficulties are usually most pronounced among their intimate partners (Reid, et al., 1995). According to attachment theory, attachment injuries are best healed in the context of a healthy, intimate relationship (Kochka & Carolan, 2002) (MacIntosh & Johnson, 2008). Conversely, the couple relationship may be a stumbling block and even an insurmountable obstacle to healing (Miller & Sutherland, 1999).

The purpose of this study is to increase understanding of the survivor's experience of what is helpful and what is counterproductive in their healing process within the construct of their couple relationship. This is a qualitative study employing phenomenological theory. Qualified participants were CSA survivors in a committed relationship of at least one year. 8 participants were interviewed using semi-structured interview questions. Results of the study yielded helpful themes of 1) a sense of safety and trust 2) acceptance and validation 3) open communication 4) emotional intimacy and the perception of being truly loved by their partner 5) support 6) empathy 7) freedom of choice and 8) positive growth with their partner. Themes of what was hurtful included 1) criticism and rejection 2) betrayal 3) disrespect of personhood 4) lack of choice 5) lack of communication 6) partner mistrust and 7) lack of growth.


Adult child sexual abuse victims; Adults survivors of CSA; Attachment behavior; Attachment disorder; Attachment theory; Childhood sexual abuse; Couples therapy; Interpersonal relations; Marriage counseling; Spouses of adult child sexual abuse victims; Trauma


Counseling Psychology | Marriage and Family Therapy and Counseling | Social Psychology

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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