Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Understanding Attachment: Beliefs about Conflict. (Research)

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Understanding Attachment: Beliefs about Conflict. (Research)

Article excerpt

Central romantic relationships are important to people's emotional well-being throughout the life cycle (Basic Behavioral Science Task Force of the National Advisory Mental Health Council, 1996). Love relationships are a central component of late adolescent, young adult development (Chickering, 1969; Erikson, 1968); furthermore, individuals in this age group, like older adults, are often very concerned with their romantic relationships and may see them as a sustaining force in their lives (Murray, 1996; cf. Wallerstein & Blakeslee, 1995). Although romantic love continues to be a cherished, couple-based ideal (Guerin, Fogarty, Fay, & Kautto, 1996), American society also values individuality and independence, qualities that develop within a context of relatedness (Guisinger & Blatt, 1994; Jordan, Kaplan, Miller, Stiver, & Surrey, 1991). Because relationships involve two separate people, conflict is inevitable. Indeed "conflict occupies a great deal of people's relational activity" (Cupach, 2000, p. 697). Moreover, unresolved marital conflict can "undermine children's feelings of emotional security [and lead] to adjustment problems in children and marital dysfunction" (Davies & Cummings, 1994, p. 405). Therefore, better understanding of conflict within important emotional relationships is warranted.

A person's pattern of establishing and experiencing relatedness to significant others can be conceptualized as an attachment process. Attachment refers to the emotional bonding with a partner who is experienced as both a safe haven and a secure base (Bowlby, 1988; Shaver & Hazan, 1993). When the individual is feeling some form of distress, the partner is seen as someone who can provide comfort and support, while, at other times, it is the felt security of the relationship and the guidance of the partner that allows the individual to explore the environment more confidently and more fully. If there is a breach in the sense of felt security through an unexpected separation or through perceiving the partner as inaccessible when needed, then attachment-related separation anxiety is experienced. Attachment processing becomes primary, inhibiting the exploratory system, and the person attempts to restore a comfortable range of proximity with the partner, along with the sense of felt security.

Behavior in attachment relationships is presumably mediated by a cognitive-affective schema or working model (Bowlby, 1988) that includes beliefs about the self and the partner as well as systematic means for managing attachment-related information and behavior (Fuendeling, 1998). In relation to adult love as an attachment process, Bartholomew and Horowitz (1991) derived four prototypes, conceptually, by crossing positive or negative beliefs about the sews lovability with positive or negative beliefs regarding the partner's accessibility when needed. Secure attachment is characterized by a positive self-image and a positive view of the partner, as well as by comfort in the relationship. Research and theory suggest that securely attached adults appropriately rely on the partner as both a safe haven and as a base for exploration. Secure attachment, in turn, is associated with more satisfying and successful relationships (Hazan & Shaver, 1994a, 1994b). Dismissing attachment also suggests a positive self-image, but a somewhat tenuous, defensive one that requires distance from the partner who is not seen positively and whose needs are often minimized. Adults who are preoccupied with attachment tend to be clinging as well as hypervigilant and overly concerned with information about the relationship. They view their partner positively but themselves as unworthy, and so hypersensitively interpret information from their partner as indicating separation or its threat. They usually direct attention toward distress and manifest heightened distress (Kemp & Neimeyer, 1999). Fearful attachment implies negative views of both the self and the partner, fear of rejection, and a lack of confidence in the partner's availability. …

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