Thursday, December 27, 2012

Romantic Partner Selection Based on Attachment Theory Framework

Lately, there are multiple studies’ results, suggesting that adult romantic relationship is functioning similarly to the child-caregiver relationship, definitely with some exceptions. One of the naturalistic researches on adults separating from their partners at an airport demonstrated that behaviors indicative of attachment-related protest and caregiving were evident, and that the regulation of these behaviors was associated with attachment style. For example, while separating couples generally showed more attachment behavior than non-separating couples, highly avoidant adults showed much less attachment behavior than less avoidant adults.

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Partner selection

Cross-cultural studies suggest that the secure pattern of attachment in infancy is universally considered the most desirable pattern by mothers. For obvious reasons there is no similar study asking infants if they would prefer a security-inducing attachment figure. Adults seeking long-term relationships identify responsive caregiving qualities, such as attentiveness, warmth, and sensitivity, as most "attractive" in potential dating partners. Despite the attractiveness of secure qualities, however, not all adults are paired with secure partners. Some evidence suggests that people end up in relationships with partners who confirm their existing beliefs about attachment relationships.

So, satisfaction and success in a given relationship is partially determined by the attachment patterns of the individuals involved. Past research indicates that secure individuals behave in ways that promote relationship wellbeing for both partners, whereas insecure people are more likely to encounter relationship dissatisfaction. Secure people tend to experience positive emotions, be committed, and be well adjusted in their romantic relationships. For example, in a study demonstrating how security level affects the dynamics of support giving and seeking between partners, Simpson, Rholes, and Nelligan found that secure people were more likely than insecure people to soothe their partner and to be soothed when faced with a stressful situation. Secure partners are avail-able to meet their mates’ needs, provide comfort, and allow themselves to be relied upon. As in the parent–child relationships that Bowlby studied, romantic partners who are mutually available and responsive to one another facilitate a more satisfying and secure relationship dynamic.

Indeed, attachment research demonstrates that the desirability of a potential partner increases accordingly with his or her ability to meet one’s needs. When it comes to negotiation within relationships, secure individuals make use of constructive tactics such as discussing problems, whereas insecure people tend to use more destructive approaches such as making threats. Factors such as these—mutual support, emotional expression, and communication—are all key components in determining the satisfaction and quality of a romantic relationship. Thus, partner choice can result in alienation and conflict, or fulfillment and happiness, depending on the attachment dynamics of the relationship and the characteristics and actions of one’s partner.

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Extensive research has been conducted on the ways in which attachment security influences outcomes in established relationships. However, to date, the impact of attachment at the relationship formation stage has received very little attention. The few studies that have used attachment theory to understand how people initially approach potential partners demonstrate that attachment history can affect people’s new relationships from the onset. Initial encounters are important, and first impressions have the ability to make or break potential long-term relationships, as people often decide whether an individual is a suitable partner within minutes of meeting him or her. Thus, even when formal bonds are not yet established, using individual differences in attachment to examine the earliest phases of romantic interactions can provide new insights into how people ultimately arrive where they do in their important relationships.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, research has consistently shown that when asked to decide among prototypically secure or insecure targets in an experimental setting, people tend to select secure individuals as their first choice for a romantic partner. Attraction research outside attachment theory provides converging evidence that secure qualities are highly appealing in potential partners. For instance, research by Buss and his colleagues demonstrates that reliability, warmth, a trusting attitude, security, and low anxiety are the features that are reported cross-culturally as most attractive in mates for both genders. In open-ended responses regarding what first attracted people to their partners, Felmlee also found that people cited a caring nature, attentiveness, confidence, openness, and dependability as top-listed features. All these highly desirable attributes are representative of what it means to be a “secure” person.

Adult attachment and attraction

Whilst an individual’s own adult attachment style may determine how felt security is sought, the extent to which they are successful in achieving this goal is likely dependent upon their partner’s attachment style and associated behavior. From this it is plausible that individuals might demonstrate preference for partners on the basis of their attachment style. With their congruent relationship sub-goals and expectations, it could be expected that secure individuals would demonstrate preference for other securely attached partners, as such a pairing would better allow for the experience of the high levels of intimacy and independence both partners desire than would a secure–insecure pairing. For insecure individuals however, whose relationship sub-goals may conflict with their expectations of others, predicting partner preference becomes more problematic. Nonetheless, three hypotheses predicting partner preference have emerged within the adult attachment literature: those of similarity, complementarity, and attachment–security.

While all three hypotheses predict secure individuals to demonstrate preference for one another, variations exist in the predicted preferences of insecure individuals.
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Similarity Hypothesis

The similarity hypothesis predicts that individuals will show preference towards partners with an attachment style similar to their own. According to this hypothesis, avoidant individuals should demonstrate preference towards similar avoidant partners while anxious individuals should demonstrate preference towards similar anxious partners. Insight into this hypothesis might be gained through the application of self-enhancement theory, which suggests that individuals have a strong desire for positive feedback from others, enhancing their self-image. Accordingly, pairing with a partner with a similar attachment style and relationship goals, that is, similar desired levels of intimacy and independence, would provide both individuals with positive feedback as both would respond favorably to each other’s attachment.

Complementary Hypothesis

The complementarity hypothesis predicts preference on the basis of how well partners confirm attachment-related expectations. According to this hypothesis, anxious individuals should demonstrate preference towards avoidant partners; as such a pairing would confirm their negative expectation of others as distant in relationships, whereas avoidant individuals should demonstrate preference for anxious partners, confirming their negative expectations of others as clingy and dependent. Although the notion of individuals being drawn to and remaining in relationships with partners who confirm negative expectations may seem counterintuitive, insight into this may be provided when drawing upon self-consistency theory. According to this theory, individuals have a strong desire to maintain a predictable social reality and by interacting with others who fit in with long-held expectations this allows for the maintenance of a consistent self-image. For example, for the anxious individual, an avoidant partner would confirm their negative self-view by responding negatively to their intimacy-seeking and would confirm their negative expectations through appearing distant and rejecting. Similarly, whilst an anxious partner’s high intimacy and low independence would confirm the avoidant individual’s positive view of self, these would confirm their negative expectations of others as clingy and dependent.

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Attachment–security Hypothesis

Lastly, the attachment–security hypothesis predicts that all individuals, regardless of attachment style and associated relationship expectations, should demonstrate preference for secure partners over all others as such partners offer the best opportunity for felt security and therefore the best potential for forming an emotional bond. According to this hypothesis, individuals prioritize the goal of felt security over their relationship expectations. After primary preference for secure partners, anxious partners are preferred as a second choice, while avoidant partners are preferred the least. This order of preference among the insecure attachment styles is said to be due to anxious partners demonstrating more caregiving and relationship positive characteristics, such as their desire for closeness in their relationships, than avoidant partners, whose high avoidance and more negative views of others make forming an emotional bond more difficult. Within the adult attachment literature, a number of studies have explored whether individuals select partners on grounds supporting the aforementioned hypotheses.

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