Exploring Similarity and Stability of Differentiation in Relationships: A Dyadic Study of Bowen's Theory


Bowen family systems theory, maturity, emotional reactivity


Bowen family systems theory (BFST) identifies differentiation of self as a crucial characteristic that relates to one's individual and relational maturity. Bowen theorizes that an individual's level of differentiation typically remains static over time and that individuals select and pair in relationships with others who have similar levels of differentiation. This study aimed to test the hypotheses of BFST by using components of differentiation of self, emotional reactivity, and emotional cutoff, in dyadic structural equation modeling. Specifically, a longitudinal dyadic confirmatory factor analysis and structural equation longitudinal panel model were two analyses utilized to statistically test the dyadic nonindependence and stability of emotional reactivity and emotional cutoff across time. Results indicated mixed support for Bowen's assumptions regarding similarity (nonindependence) and stability. That is, small levels of nonindependence and significant stability paths across time were found. Theoretical implications and considerations for future research are discussed.

Original Publication Citation

*Handley, V. A., Bradshaw, S. A., *Milstead, S. A., & Bean, R. A. (2018). Exploring similarity and stability of differentiation in relationships: A dyadic study of Bowen’s theory. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


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Journal of Marital and Family Therapy




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Family Life

University Standing at Time of Publication

Associate Professor