The Relationship Between Attachment, Couple Conflict, and Recovery from Conflict

Nathan C. Taylor, Utah State University

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Researchers have begun to utilize advances in technology to complement self-reports in an effort to understand intrapersonal and interpersonal factors that are involved in conflict. The objective of this study was to use skin conductance to measure physiological arousal during and after couple conflict to provide clarity to the association between attachment styles, physiological reactivity to conflict, and recovery from couple conflict. Ten couples (n = 20) were connected to skin conductance equipment while engaging in a 10-minute conflict task, and a distraction task and discussion that was used to represent recovery from conflict. The t-tests results showed that the difference from baseline scores for gender and attachment styles were not significant. Bivariate correlation analysis was used for descriptive variables and attachment and physiological arousal. Multiple regressions were used to analyze skin conductance difference scores with attachment avoidance and anxiety. Results showed that attachment anxiety was associated with greater physiological reactivity during the conflict and recovery portions of the study. These findings are the first to link attachment anxiety and physiological reactivity with the use of skin conductance as a measure of physiological arousal. The results from the multiple regressions for avoidant attachment were not significant. The implications for the study include a methodology for future researchers to follow to study attachment, conflict, and recovery from conflict. Clinical implications are also present in that the study highlights the importance of assessing for attachment styles when working with couples to better understand physiological reactions during and after conflict, and emphasizes the utility of biofeedback devices to facilitate emotional regulation. Research implications are also discussed.