Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Donald A. Williamson


Bulimia is an eating disorder characterized by episodic binge eating and other related symptomatology. Previous research suggests that bulimics experience interpersonal problems particularly in the areas of conflict resolution and in their satisfaction with their roles within their families and marriages. The present study compared 12 bulimic couples to 14 maritally distressed couples and 15 normal control couples on measures of relationship satisfaction, conflict resolution styles, and beliefs about intimate relationships. In addition, couples' communication styles were analyzed based on their participation in an analogue conflict situation. Results of this study provided support for the contention that bulimics experience dissatisfaction with their interpersonal relationships and that they demonstrate deficient conflict resolution skills. Bulimics reported global relationship dissatisfaction with their marriages similar to the dissatisfaction felt by couples seeking marital therapy. However, bulimics' spouses were not as dissatisfied with their marriages as were the maritally distressed males. Bulimics were also similar to females in distressed marriages in their reported use of few problem-solving skills and withdrawal during conflict. Analyses of the analogue conflict discussions, however, did not confirm the presence of these self-reported communication deficiencies. In terms of beliefs about intimate relationships, bulimics and maritally distressed females subscribed to the dysfunctional belief that "Partners cannot change." These results suggest that clinicians working with bulimics need to be aware of the potential for marital problems in this population and to integrate some form of couples therapy or conflict resolution skills training in their treatment packages. The impact of such treatment components on the course of the bulimic's eating disorder and its treatment is a topic for future research. Although the results of this study lend support to previous clinical observations of bulimics, these data must be accepted with caution due to the small sample size and the selection bias inherent in the use of volunteer participants.