Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


Identity and Romantic Relational Meaning-making After Experiencing Intimate Partner Violence

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Lisa Hanasono (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Sandra Faulkner (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Lara Lengel (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Laura Landry-Meyer (Committee Member)


Within the United States, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men have experienced sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking from an intimate partner (CDC, 2018). Intimate partner violence (IPV) is associated with poor health, substance abuse, depression, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Additionally, the post-IPV period is linked with depressive disorders resulting in diminished self-esteem, lower levels of perceived social support, and reduced quality of life. There is a growing interest in understanding how post-IPV individuals recover from violent relationships and maintain non-violent romantic relationships. Although these studies highlight the complex and multidimensional ways in which post-IPV recovery occurs, the role of communication in the post-IPV recovery process and romantic relational meaning-making has yet to be explored. Therefore, Hecht’s (1993) communication theory of identity (CTI) was used as a sensitizing framework for this dissertation. To accomplish these research goals, I employed a qualitative approach, utilizing Charmaz’s (2014) grounded theory to conduct intensive co-constructed in-depth interviews with 22 post-IPV adults and were not currently in violent relationships. This dissertation identified several new understandings of post-IPV identity construction, management, and communication. In analyzing the personal, enacted, relational, and communal layers of post-IPV identities, this dissertation discovered particularly noteworthy findings. These include how IPV trauma can result in identity veils and four identity gaps, which emerged both during IPV perpetration and the post-IPV recovery process. These identity gaps included personal-personal, personal-enacted-relational, personal-relational, and personal-communal. Understanding how these gaps inhibited participants from fully communicating their post-IPV identities, this study explored how these gaps can be negotiated. Findings also include four essential elements to post-IPV romantic relational meaning-making: open and honest communication, safe and supportive nonverbal communication, control and choice, and it takes work. In addition to highlighting key theoretical implications, this dissertation detailed applied implications for three groups impacted by IPV: post-IPV individuals, informal post-IPV support networks, and formal IPV advocacy. Future directions for research are provided, as well. Overall, this dissertation found that although life and love after violence are incredibly complex and varied, it is filled with moments of resistance, resilience, recovery, and revival.