Adult Attachment Styles and Romantic Relationships

In 1987, the Attachment Theory extended to include the bonds between adults and their romantic partners; the extension includes the concept of the secure, the anxious-preoccupied, the dismissive-avoidant, and the fearful-avoidant attachment styles. Current research, in the form of cross-sectional and longitudinal studies, predicts adults exhibit attachment styles during the forming, maintenance, and separation process.

The research utilized the experiences in close relationships inventory and the relationship maintenance questionnaire to find their conclusion. The findings concluded the association among the adult attachment features like closeness, safe haven, and secure base develop over time during the forming, maintenance, and separation process. In addition, the conclusion display the effectiveness of both clinical and non clinical exposure treatments in the growth and preservation of the secure attachment style behaviors utilized in romantic relationships. Keywords: attachment styles, romantic relationships, partners, adults, secure, insecure Adult Attachment Styles and Romantic Relationships

More than half of the world’s adults are involved in a romantic relationship. The most common romantic relationship includes the sexual dating relationship, the domestic partnership, or the marriage.

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The adults or partners involved in these relationships inevitably reach a point of conflict. How the relationship partners react to the conflict displays whether the partners are acting as a securely attached person or an insecurely attached person. The securely attached adult portrays a happy person when dealing with relationship issues. Whereas, an insecurely attached adult is an unhappy person when dealing with relationship issues. Adults should strive for the secure attachment style for the best satisfaction level, commitment level, and ability to adapt to change in their romantic relationship.

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In 1952, John Bowlby originally designed the Attachment Theory to explain the bond between a child and people serving in the caregiver capacity (Feldman, 2011). Many theorists began noticing attachment influences the entire human experience. In 1987, Cindy Hazan and Philip Shaver officially applied Bowlby’s views on attachment to include the bonds between adults and their romantic partners (Nudson-martin, 2012). Hazan and Shaver viewed attachment in adult romantic relationships as a powerful part of an adult’s emotional life, and many of the most secure and insecure behaviors arise during the maintenance of the romantic relationship. Hazan and Shaver noticed the behavioral patterns between a child and its caregiver was similar to the behavioral pattern between an adult and its romantic partner. Similarities like a desire to be close to the attachment figure and using the relationship as a safe haven to explore the world; consequently, Hazan and Shaver used Bowlby’s concept of attachment styles to categorize the behavioral patterns adults display in different stages of their romantic relationships (Pittman, 2012). Hazan and Shaver developed four adult attachment styles, secure and three insecure types. The adult attachment styles they developed are the secure, the anxious-preoccupied, the dismissive-avoidant, and the fearful-avoidant. The first attachment style is the secure type which corresponds with the secure attachment style in children.

The secure adult is warm a responsive in their interactions with their romantic relationship partner. Secure attached adults tend to have positive views of themselves, their partner, and their relationship. The securely attached adult fells comfortable with intimacy and independence. Their relationships are characterized by greater longevity, satisfaction, trust, commitment, and interdependence (Mikulincer *& Shaver, 2012) Secure adults have a tendency to be more satisfied in their relationships than insecure adults. The first insecure attachment style is the anxious-preoccupied, which corresponds to the anxious-ambivalent attachment style in children. The anxious-preoccupied adult seeks high levels of intimacy, approval, and responsiveness from their romantic relationship partner. The anxious-preoccupied adult values intimacy so much they become overly dependent on their relationship partners. They do not value themselves, and blame themselves for their partner’s lack of responsiveness. People who are anxious or preoccupied with attachment may exhibit high levels of emotional expressiveness, worry, and impulsiveness in their relationships (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2012). The anxious-preoccupied person is clingy and has low self esteem. Low self esteem and impulsiveness is likely to lead to depression or suicide. The second insecure attachment style is the dismissive-avoidant, which corresponds to the avoidant attachment style in children.

The dismissive-avoidant adult desires a high level of independence from themselves and their relationship partner. They view themselves as self-sufficient, invulnerable to feelings associated with being closely attached to their partner, and close relationships as relatively unimportant. The dismissive-avoidant adult tends to avoid intimacy because their partner is less important. An adult with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style tends to suppress and hide their feelings (Juhl, Sands, & Routledge, 2012). The dismissive-avoidant style is characteristic of young male adults in the dating stage (Poulsen, Holman, Busby, & Carroll, 2013); the young male experiences the lack of responsiveness and the carelessness of other’s feelings. The dismissive-avoidant adult lacks responsiveness and is an ego-maniac. Being, an ego-maniac is likely to lead to dissatisfaction with everyone else. The third insecure attachment style is the fearful-avoidant, which also corresponds to the avoidant attachment style in children.

The fearful-avoidant adult usually has experienced some type of emotional or physical abuse, and in turn do not trust their romantic relationship partners. The fearful-avoidant adult experiences mixed feelings. On one hand, they desire to have emotionally close relationships. On the other hand, they tend to feel uncomfortable with emotional closeness. These mixed feelings are combined with, an unconscious view of themselves as unworthy of responsiveness and trust from their partner, and the reverse is true (Juhl et al, 2012). The fearful-avoidant attachment style is also typical of the adults in the remarriage stage (Ehrenberg, Roberts & Pringle, 2012); the divorcee experiences the mixed feelings and the lack of trust. A mix of the other two insecure attachment styles, the fearful-avoidant adult has low self esteem and lacks responsiveness. Discussion

The secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant and fearful-avoidant attachment styles share both commonalities and differences. The issue of desiring a romantic relationship is common in the secure, anxious-preoccupied, and sometimes in the fearful-avoidant attachment styles, this meaning these attachment styles lend toward satisfaction in romantic relationships. While the dismissive-avoidant attached adult does not have the same feelings. Also, the desire to be in a relationship leads to the adult wanting to commit and faces; the adults desires to be in a relationship no matter what happens in the future. The issue of having low self esteem is a common problem in the anxious –preoccupied and fearful-avoidant attachment styles. The low self esteem arises when the adult feels there are unworthy of their partner’s intimacy. Due to this fact, the adults displaying these styles are less sociable. In this case, the adults with low self esteem have low satisfaction with themselves, which in turn leads to low satisfaction in their romantic relationship. The low self esteem adult can not fully commit, and can not endure changes. Their own issues lead to them not trusting the commitment and changes displayed by their partner. Additionally, there are commonalities in the issue of responsiveness or responding to the partner when they feel anxiety. The responsiveness issues are a part of all the attachment styles, however responsiveness can range from zero percent to one hundred percent.

The zero percent is the dismissive-avoidant attachment style, and the one hundred percent is the secure attachment style. The lack of responsiveness leads to the adult not caring about the outcome or commitment level of the romantic relationship. In addition, the adult that lacks responsiveness does not care about the changes that are likely to arise. A way for researchers to find an adult’s desire to be in a relationship, self esteem, and responsiveness is the strange situation. The strange situation is an observational technique to judge the partners attachment style (Selcuk, Zayas, & Hazan, 2010). The strange situation looks at the secure base and the safe haven. The partner and the relationship are the secure base and safe haven, respectively. The strange situation technique can also be used to change an insecure adult to a secure adult, once they are aware of their attachment style. Adults who appear secure in the strange situation, for example, tend to have a partner who is responsive to them. On the other hand, adults that display one of the insecure attachment styles in the strange situation has a partner who is insensitive to their needs, or inconsistent or rejecting in the love they provide (Edenfield, Adams, & Briihl, 2012). Essentially during the strange situation, the adult asks themselves the following fundamental question: Is the partner nearby, accessible, and attentive? If the answer is “yes,” he or she feels loved, secure, and confident.

Behaviorally, the adult is likely to leave their secure base and be sociable with their partner and others. However, the answer is “no,” the adult experiences anxiety, visual searching , active following, and vocal signaling .These behaviors continue until either the adult is able to reestablish a desirable level of physical or psychological proximity to the partner , or until the adult whines down. The anxiety behavior displayed is similar to those experienced during separation or loss (Heffernan, Fraley, Vickary & Brumbaugh, 2012). Similar questioning to the strange situation is asked in the experiences in close relationships inventory (ECR), and the relationship maintenance questionnaire (RM). Questions about the desire to be in a romantic relationship, and the likely behaviors displayed in that relationship marks the inventory and questionnaire) Edenfield et al, 2012). The ECR and the RM can be used to predict whether the relationship partner is securely attached or insecurely attached.

The research findings from the strange situation, the ECR, and the RM combined with the finding closeness, safe haven, and secure base occur over time developed effective clinical and non clinical exposure treatments. In this case, the insecurely attached adult can choose to be treated in a clinic or in the home close to the safe haven. In either case the use of adaptive skills will be utilized. Additionally, using adaptive skills will move an insecurely attached adult to and securely attached adult. Adaptive skills are skills a romantic partner uses in reaction to their partner’s behaviors. Adaptive skills promote emotionally available and appropriately responsive partners, as well as a partner capable of regulating both his and her positive and negative emotions (Feldman, 2011). The insecurely attach adult will utilize adaptive skills to counter act the other partner’s insecure behavior, in a way to exhibit secure attachment. Conclusion and future directions

In conclusion, most adults are in a romantic relationship, and behave and react in the relationship. Due to this fact, the adult gains either secure or insecure attachment to their romantic partner. The securely attached adult is warm and responsive to the ideals of commitment and their ability to adapt well to changes they will face in a romantic relationship. Additionally, the securely attached person displays increased levels of satisfaction in their romantic relationship. Romantic relationships having one or both partners exhibiting insecure attachment style, will find moving to a secure attachment beneficial to their romantic relationship. Especially, in the areas of satisfaction, commitment, and the different changes. The insecurely attached partners will find using adaptive skills in both clinical and non clinical exposure treatments helpful in developing a secure attachment. The most useful is experiencing long-tern exposure to the secure attachment style in the home. In the future, the concept can be applied to the area of work and higher education. Adults experience long term relationships with colleagues and professors.


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Adult Attachment Styles and Romantic Relationships. (2016, May 16). Retrieved from

Adult Attachment Styles and Romantic Relationships

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