Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type





Family Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Donna R. Smith


Low-income Caucasian married parents described lifespan processes and conditions that contributed to their individual assessments that their marriage was healthy. Spouses participated in an interview together, followed later by an individual interview with each. Interview scripts referenced the study‘s primary research questions which sought their reflections on (a) external conditions that they considered to be important to their development, and (b) personal thoughts, emotions and behaviors they deemed relevant to the success of their marriage. A third research question called for integration of participants‘ reflections into a cogent grounded theory regarding successful low-income marriages. Analysis incorporated grounded theory methods, and those procedures were assisted by computer software such as NVIVO 7.0 ® and Microsoft Excel ®. This work revealed a developmental systems theoretical framework that posits that individuals‘ developmental factors gave rise to certain personal actual qualities, and also had affect upon the qualities individuals desired and perceived in their partner. Qualities desired and perceived in their partner may have greater or lesser priority to a spouse depending upon the range of acceptable variance that the spouse assigns to any given quality. While several high-priority qualities emerged from the words of the twenty spouses who participated, four high-priority qualities emerged as fundamental to the success of the marriage: (a) being loving, (b) being committed, (c) being appreciative, and (d) being child-centered. Four abstract sets of developmental factors, assigned the term synergists, strongly promoted these qualities among study participants: (a) a sensitizing experience, (b) a partner-as-rescuer mindset (PARM) preceded by a person‘s adverse history, (c) influences from one or more parents, and (d) religious influences. These findings provide a foundation of information critical to those researchers and practitioners interested in the quest toward an increase in successful marriages among households whose income falls within 200% of the published guideline for poverty as determined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.