Attachment-Related Dynamics During a Positively Themed Couple Interaction: Implications of Anxiety and Avoidance.

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Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice






American Psychological Association

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Attachment style and adult intimate relationships have often been studied in the context of distress, such as couple conflict. Attachment anxiety represents an intense need for closeness and reassurance based on fears of abandonment, while attachment avoidance is typified by discomfort with emotional closeness and intimacy. Understanding these attachment-related processes in couples is important, although little research has looked at these dynamics in the context of positively themed interactions, where relational distress is much lower. In this study, we examined the interactions of 63 couples to understand the relationship between attachment style (anxiety and avoidance) and feelings toward partner, psychophysiological arousal, and linguistic process (positive, negative, and “we” language). The interaction was a discussion that commonly occurs in some form in couple therapy: how the couple met. Results revealed both men and women higher in attachment anxiety felt more positively toward their partner during the interaction. However, women with a male partner higher in attachment anxiety had higher levels of psychophysiological distress during the interaction. We also discovered a systemic relationship between anxiety and avoidance, with individuals higher in anxiety using more negative and less “we” language during the interaction, but only if their partners were higher in avoidance. Other findings involving age, gender, education status, income, individual distress, and relationship status were also found in the context of these positively themed interactions. We discuss implications of the findings for clinicians as well as future research needed to clarify and build upon our current findings.

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