Academic journal article Family Relations

Attachment, Perceived Conflict, and Couple Satisfaction: Test of a Mediational Dyadic Model

Academic journal article Family Relations

Attachment, Perceived Conflict, and Couple Satisfaction: Test of a Mediational Dyadic Model

Article excerpt

Attachment insecurities (anxiety and avoidance) are often associated with relationship dissatisfaction, but the mediators have been unclear. We examined the mediating role of perceived conflict in 274 French-Canadian couples who completed measures of attachment insecurities, perception of conflict, and relationship satisfaction. Partners' own attachment anxiety and avoidance predicted their experience of conflict. In addition, women's anxiety predicted men's experience of conflict, and men's avoidance predicted women's experience of conflict. The associations between attachment insecurities and relationship dissatisfaction were partially mediated by conflict.

Key Words: attachment anxiety, avoidant attachment, conflict, couple satisfaction, mediation.

It is widely recognized that conflict occurs in most couple relationships, and that conflict is an important proximal factor affecting relationship satisfaction. Satisfaction, in turn, affects relationship stability and survival (Bradbury & Karney, 2004). Researchers are legitimately interested in understanding and preventing marital discord, because in North America roughly half of all marriages end in separation or divorce. Most studies of couple conflict and relationship quality focus on behaviors and expressed emotions that distinguish distressed from happy marriages (Gottman, 1994). Crosssectional studies (e.g., Gottman, 1979) have revealed, for example, that distressed couples display more anger and contempt, often in an unmitigated series of negative exchanges. This initially caused researchers to believe that angry conflicts were the cause of dissatisfaction.

Longitudinal studies, however, have not consistently found a link between conflict and couple satisfaction. Although some studies have found that emotionally negative interactions predict future couple dissatisfaction and dissolution (e.g., Gill, Christensen, & Fincham, 1999), others (e.g., Gottman & Krokoff, 1989) suggest that engaging in conflict and problem solving may be more beneficial to a couple than withdrawing from conflicts. Nevertheless, some studies (e.g., Sanford, 2003) suggest that repeatedly discussing the same problems without resolving them is detrimental to a relationship. The marriage literature suggests that conflict is just one determinant of relationship quality and outcomes (Bradbury, Rogge, & Lawrence, 2001). Other predictors of couple satisfaction, including individual differences in attachment style, personality, and ability to provide support are also likely to be important.

Recently, Bradbury and Karney (2004) argued that models of couple satisfaction should consider individual strengths and vulnerabilities as antecedents of conflict and the relational effects of conflict. Adult attachment theory may be particularly relevant to the study of couple conflict and satisfaction, because expectations about relationships and perceptions of relationship interactions, such as conflicts, are influenced by individual differences in attachment security (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2007), and these perceptions are likely to affect decisions about commitment and continued relationship involvement versus termination.

Attachment Patterns and Their Measurement and Correlates

Over the past two decades, the understanding of couple relationships has been advanced by extending Bowlby's (1982) attachment theory into the domain of adolescent and adult romantic and marital relationships (see Mikulincer & Shaver, 2007, for a comprehensive review). Attachment theory postulates an innate "attachment behavioral system" that causes a person, beginning in infancy, to react to threats and stresses by seeking protection and support from other people - in particular, close relationship partners or "attachment figures." Over time, a person's relationship history shapes the parameters of the attachment system, which are encoded in what Bowlby called "internal working models" of self, relationships, and relationship partners. …

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