How Romantic Relationships Influence Attachment Theory

Introduction

In the past two decades, several researchers have been interested in understanding how people develop, maintain, and finally end attachment bonds in close relationships. In this regard, attachment theory has been used to try to explain these relationships. Indeed, the approach has proved to be a valid and reliable framework for understanding how relationships work (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2012; Honari & Saneri, 2015). However, there is little research on how romantic relationships, in turn, affect attachment styles. Related to this point is the question of whether the continuity and stability, or the end of romantic relationships have any effect on one’s willingness to attach to others, and ultimately attachment styles. This is an important aspect of study as it will provide an insight into how adult experiences may overshadow the childhood ones. This research will examine how romantic relationships work among university students, and how in the end they influence a person’s attachment to others. The researcher expects to find university students’ attachment styles change over time as a result of their romantic relationships.

Objectives

The main objectives of this research study will be:

  • To investigate if the stability (or not) of a romantic relationship among university students has any effect on their attachment behaviors
  • To determine the impact of the end of romantic relationships on university students’ attachment

Research Questions

In relation to the objectives above, the research study will seek to answer the following questions:

  1. How does the stability and continuity or breakup of romantic relationships influence university students’ future attachment behaviors?
  2. Do people who have gone through breakups in romantic relationships remain attached to the people around them the same?

Literature Review

Research shows that peoples’ experiences in childhood significantly influence their personalities as they grow and towards adulthood. The experiences may include strong emotional relationships with their caregivers as well as other people around them, including parents and siblings. What is referred to as a ‘strong relationship’ is what is known as ‘attachment,’ and it has strong influences on one’s psychological traits (Seligman & Rider, 2009, cited in Honari & Saneri, 2015).

Several attachment behaviors have been cited in research, including one’s responses to stress caused by different factors as well as exploratory behavior, They are related to a child’s cognition as they affect and how well (or not) they interact with the caregiver(s) (Honari & Saremi, 2015). According to Rhodes and Simpson (2004, cited in Armour et al., 2012), early attachment provides the foundation for what they refer to as ‘internal working model,’ for future relational behavior and expectations as well as romantic relationships. In agreement, Mikulincer and Shaver (2012) argue that one’s and others’ cognitive and affective representations ultimately constitute the mechanism that underlies “continuity and stability of attachment patterns across the lifespan” (p.13).  The two also assert that these influence the development of personality, psychological functioning, and behavior and affect regulation in later contexts of relationships.

Attachment styles vary. Factor analysis has cited four types of attachment (Armour et al., 2012). Majority of studies, however, has focused on anxious and avoidant attachment styles. Generally, attachments can be secure or insecure. On the one hand, when a child feels secure in his/her relationship with the people around, starting with the caregiver, they explore more. They seek to explore beyond their inner experiences. As a result, they gain more knowledge and understanding of the world around them, and their behaviors are organized. These manifest in status, thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and desires. Such children have rich, secure experiences, without disturbance anxiety (Johnston & Finney, 2010). On the contrary, insecure attachments are characterized by anxiety, avoidance, fear, ambivalence, disorganization, and preoccupation among others. Essentially, they imagine the world as insecure and stressful. Consequently, they lack effective and creative abilities to cope with stressful situations and the problems they face.

As noted, childhood experiences and expectations reflected in their adulthood. Bowlby (1999; Honari & Saremi, 2015) argue that individual attachment behaviors among adults reflect their beliefs and expectations of themselves and others. However, it is not just childhood experiences that influence attachment behaviors. Intimate relationships in previous attachment relationships also affect current attachment behaviors. According to Honari and Saremi (2015), judgment of current relationships and the consequential attachment behaviors on the basis of previous intimate (romantic) relations are explained by activation models. Activation models, as the name suggests, are characterized by relatively constant stimuli that trigger responses borne of childhood experiences. In this respect, therefore, childhood experiences affect romantic relationships in adulthood. Accordingly, one who exhibited insecure attachment styles during his/her childhood is expected to exhibit the same behaviors in romantic relationships attachments and vice versa.

While research generally demonstrates the lifetime influences of childhood experiences, the question is whether adulthood experiences do not influence at all. The basis of this research study is that adulthood experiences also have a major influence on attachments. A woman who has been cheated on by all the men she has dated will most likely not give in to future relationships the same way even if she had a secure attachment to her childhood. Indeed, many people who had secure attachments in their childhood may develop uncertain attachment behaviors in adulthood as a result of their adulthood relational experiences. This is the basis of this research study, with a special focus on how romantic relationships in adulthood affect attachment styles and behaviors.

Methodology

This study will utilize a mixed methodology (that is, a combination of qualitative and quantitative techniques). In this regard, it will focus on the number of respondents taking particular stances regarding romantic relationships, and the reasons (that is, why?) for their stances.

The participants will be 350 graduate students in the researcher’s university, both male and female. The study will utilize the purposive sampling method. It is a nonprobability sampling technique in which a population is selected on the basis of certain specific characteristics. In this case, only those who are or have been in romantic relation (and have experienced breakup and/or divorce) will be included in the study.

The study will utilize questionnaires to gather responses from the participants. The questionnaires will be divided into three main sections. One part will focus on demographic characteristics: sex, gender, age range, relationship or marital status, and profession among others. The next one will center on attachment styles, and the participants will be asked to respond to the Adult Attachment Questionnaire which was developed by Hazan and Shavar (1987, cited in Honari & Saremi, 2015). In this section, the sample will respond to descriptive sentences on aspects of attachment, and those answers will range from ‘strong agree’ to ‘strongly disagree’ on the Likert-scale. Finally, the last part will focus on attitude towards romantic relationships. Particularly, it will measure the participants’ beliefs about romantic relationships. The measurement of these will combine various items and 6 subscales of love styles (that is, Agapeh, Eros, Lodus, Mania, Pragma and Storg). The scales will be rated on a Likert-scale, responses ranging from ‘strongly disagree’ to ‘strongly agree’ (Table 1 below provides an overview of descriptive variable features).

Table 1: Descriptive Romantic Relationship and Attachment Features

  Subscale      At Least Minimum Maximum Standard Deviation
Love Styles Agapeh        
  Eros        
  Lodus        
  Mania        
  Pragma        
  Storg        
Attachment Styles Avoidant        
  Ambivalent        
  Secure        

 

Financing

Conducting this research will pose significant challenges, both regarding energy and finance. Finance will, however, be the main problem. To properly carry out this study, $2,500 will be required. The amount should cover various expenses, including traveling and the purchase of materials. Many organizations could fund this study. Particularly, the findings of this study would be of great interest to institutions that are devoted to the study of psychological growth and changes over one’s lifespan, from childhood through to adulthood. Specifically, the findings will provide important insight into the value of adulthood experiences in psychological changes. Such institutions may be inclined to fund the study. Therefore, some of the potential funders include The Center for Lifespan Psychology, and the Max Planck Society, among others.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this study will be of great value considering that romantic relationships affect people irrespective of their orientations. Most of the research on attachment theory and romantic relationships focus on the impact of the attachment styles (as products of childhood relational experiences) on romantic relationships. However, there lacks studies on the impact of romantic relationships, and adulthood experiences in general, on attachment styles. In summary, the premise of this study is the ability of adulthood experiences to overshadow childhood experiences, which goes against the conventional notion that childhood experiences are inevitably permanent. By virtue of the question it seeks to answer, this study is indeed important.

 

 

 

References

Armour, C., Elklit, A., & Shevlin, M. (2009). Attachment Typologies and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Depression and Anxiety: A Latent Profile Analysis Approach. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 2.

Honari, B., & Saremi, A. A. (2015). The Study of Relationship between Attachment Styles and Obsessive Love Style. Procedia – Behavioral and Social Sciences, 165, pp. 152-159.

Johnston, M., & Finney, S. (2010). Measuring Basic Needs Satisfaction: Evaluating Previous and Conducting New Psychometric Evaluations of the Basic Need Satisfaction in General Scale. Psychology of Export and Exercise, 11, pp. 91-99.

Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2012). An Attachment Perspective on Psychopathology. World Psychiatry, 11, pp. 11-15.