Defense Date


Graduation Date

Summer 1-1-2016


One-year Embargo

Submission Type


Degree Name



Community Counseling


School of Education

Committee Chair

Lisa Lopez Levers

Committee Member

James Henderson

Committee Member

Moni McIntyre

Committee Member

Debra Hyatt-Burkhardt


definition, lived-experience, marriage, same-sex


The purpose of this study was to interpret the lived-experiences of some individuals who viewed their long-term committed relationships as a marriage. This was done in order to begin to reveal the underlying meaning of marriage for some people in 21st century America. This hermeneutic phenomenological study used Bowlby’s (1969, 1982) Attachment Theory and Bronfenbrenner’s (1979, 2005) Bio-ecological Model of Human Development to explore how married individuals bond with each other and adjust to their bio-ecological environments. Van Manen’s (1990) Lived-Existentials were also used to interpret how these participants oriented to their lived experiences and interpreted their life stories.

Prior to the landmark Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruling in favor of national marriage equality, some members of society argued against marriage equality for gay people. Recently, a few presidential candidates have threatened to overturn the ruling. Consequently, the debate over what marriage is and who deserves to be legally recognized as married has resurfaced in the national conscience. Although the Internet provides several interpretations of marriage, this study explores the deeper underlying meaning that some people place on their marital relationships, by hermeneutically interpreting their lived-experiences.

For this qualitative study, 12 persons (9 heterosexual and 3 homosexual) were interviewed about their marital relationships prior to the June 26, 2015 SCOTUS ruling on marriage equality. A Facebook social media page was created to solicit and inform potential participants of the study. Face-to-face and telephone interviews were conducted and audio recorded. The results were summarized into four themes: The Freedom to be Vulnerable with One’s Spouse; Communication beyond Words: Developing the Spiritual Connection; Safety; and Marriage as Union: Merging two into one.

Understanding the lived-experiences of persons engaged in what they describe as marital relationships, regardless of their sexual orientation, is essential to revealing the underlying meaning placed on marriage, which many feel is an expression of one’s humanity. This understanding helps to assist members of the helping professions break down potential barriers that may lead to mental and physical health issues for their clients. The researcher offers suggestions for continued research in this area.