Attachment in Adults - Extending Attachment Theory

Extending Attachment Theory

John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth founded modern attachment theory on studies of children and their caregivers. Children and caregivers remained the primary focus of attachment theory for many years. Then, in the late 1980s, Cindy Hazan and Phillip Shaver applied attachment theory to adult romantic relationships. Hazan and Shaver noticed that interactions between adult romantic partners shared similarities to interactions between children and caregivers. For example, romantic partners desire to be close to one another. Romantic partners feel comforted when their partners are present and anxious or lonely when their partners are absent. Romantic relationships serve as a secure base that help partners face the surprises, opportunities, and challenges life presents. Similarities such as these led Hazan and Shaver to extend attachment theory to adult romantic relationships.

Of course, relationships between adult romantic partners differ in many ways from relationships between children and caregivers. The claim is not that these two kinds of relationships are identical. The claim is that the core principles of attachment theory apply to both kinds of relationships.

Investigators tend to describe the core principles of attachment theory in light of their own theoretical interests. Their descriptions seem quite different on a superficial level. For example, Fraley and Shaver describe the "central propositions" of attachment in adults as follows:

  • The emotional and behavioral dynamics of infant–caregiver relationships and adult romantic relationships are governed by the same biological system.
  • The kinds of individual differences observed in infant–caregiver relationships are similar to the ones observed in romantic relationships.
  • Individual differences in adult attachment behavior are reflections of the expectations and beliefs people have formed about themselves and their close relationships on the basis of their attachment histories; these "working models" are relatively stable and, as such, may be reflections of early caregiving experiences.
  • Romantic love, as commonly conceived, involves the interplay of attachment, caregiving and sex.

Compare this to the five "core propositions" of attachment theory listed by Rholes and Simpson:

  • Although the basic impetus for the formation of attachment relationships is provided by biological factors, the bonds that children form with their caregivers are shaped by interpersonal experience.
  • Experiences in earlier relationships create internal working models and attachment styles that systematically affect attachment relationships.
  • The attachment orientations of adult caregivers influence the attachment bond their children have with them.
  • Working models and attachment orientations are relatively stable over time, but they are not impervious to change.
  • Some forms of psychological maladjustment and clinical disorders are attributable in part to the effects of insecure working models and attachment styles.

While these two lists clearly reflect the theoretical interests of the investigators who created them, a closer look reveals a number of shared themes. The shared themes claim that:

  • People are biologically driven to form attachments with others, but the process of forming attachments is influenced by learning experiences.
  • Individuals form different kinds of attachments depending on the expectations and beliefs they have about their relationships. These expectations and beliefs constitute internal "working models" used to guide relationship behaviors.
  • Internal "working models" are relatively stable even though they can be influenced by experience.
  • Individual differences in attachment can contribute positively or negatively to mental health and to quality of relationships with others.

No doubt these themes could be described in a variety of ways (and other themes added to the list). Regardless of how one describes the core principles of attachment theory, the key insight is that the same principles of attachment apply to close relationships throughout the lifespan. The principles of attachment between children and caregivers are fundamentally the same as the principles of attachment between adult romantic partners.

Read more about this topic:  Attachment In Adults

Famous quotes containing the words theory, extending and/or attachment:

    We have our little theory on all human and divine things. Poetry, the workings of genius itself, which, in all times, with one or another meaning, has been called Inspiration, and held to be mysterious and inscrutable, is no longer without its scientific exposition. The building of the lofty rhyme is like any other masonry or bricklaying: we have theories of its rise, height, decline and fall—which latter, it would seem, is now near, among all people.
    Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881)

    The radiance was that of the full, setting, and blood-red moon, which now shone vividly through that once barely- discernible fissure,... extending from the roof of the building, in a zigzag direction, to the base. While I gazed, this fissure rapidly widened.
    Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849)

    Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible.
    Virginia Woolf (1882–1941)