Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science

Comparisons of Close Relationships: An Evaluation of Relationship Quality and Patterns of Attachment to Parents, Friends, and Romantic Partners in Young Adults

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science

Comparisons of Close Relationships: An Evaluation of Relationship Quality and Patterns of Attachment to Parents, Friends, and Romantic Partners in Young Adults

Article excerpt

Two theoretical models of attachment have been proposed. The trait model conceptualizes attachment as a general personality characteristic of an individual, whereas the context model conceptualizes attachments as relationship-specific. Participant-parent relationship quality, attachment patterns in relationships to friends, and attachment patterns in relationships to romantic partners were examined to determine whether participants experience one general, trait-like attachment orientation or whether attachment patterns are context-specific. A sample of 2,214 young adults (76% female) aged between 17 and 25 years was recruited for participation from psychology courses offered at their university of study. Students completed a survey package including five self-report measures evaluating relational dimensions in relationships to parents, friends, and romantic partners, in addition to one self-report measure of psychological well-being. Participants in couple relationships also completed two self-report measures of dyadic well-being. Results from exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses support the conceptualization of attachment patterns as context-specific variables because findings revealed distinctions between attachment patterns/quality of relationship to parents, friends, and romantic partners. Results from regression analyses suggest that such relationships contribute differently to participants' psychological well-being and dyadic functioning.

Keywords: young adult attachment, trait model, context-specific model, psychological well-being, dyadic functioning

In the study of attachment, a fundamental question posed by researchers is whether to conceptualize attachment as a trait-like characteristic of an individual's personality or whether it should be considered a context-specific variable dependent on relationship (Baldwin, Keelan, Fehr, Enns, & Koh-Rangarajoo, 1996; Bartholomew, 1993; Cozzarelli, Hoekstra, & Bylsma, 2000). Following the seminal work conducted by Hazan and Shaver (1987), attachment research has expanded to include a growing interest in studies focusing not only on children's experiences of attachment but (also) on attachment in adult relationships (Bartholomew, 1993). Since the development of the study of adult attachment, theorists have attempted to determine the nature of individuals' attachments in different relationship types, considering attachment in terms of either a person-specific variable or a relationshipspecific variable (Lewis, 1994). During attachment theory's early years of development, and present still in attachment literature, is the concept of attachment being relation-specific in the first years of life but transforming into a relatively stable trait-like characteristic during childhood (Bowlby, 1969/1982; 1973; Bretherton & Munholland, 2008; Thompson & Raikes, 2003). However, some researchers acknowledge that attachment in adulthood may not be a person-specific variable, as proposed in Bowlby's seminal work, but that people may have multiple mental models of their attachment patterns that may vary in degrees of specificity (Cozzarelli et al., 2000).

To develop accurate insight into the nature of individuals' attachment patterns in terms of person- or relationship-specific variables, research examining people's experiences of attachment and relationship quality in different relationship types is needed. Researchers have noted that few studies have examined attachment patterns in multiple relationship types (e.g., in relationships with parents, friends, and romantic partners) (Furman, Simon, Shaffer, & Bouchey, 2002). In addition, although it is well-established that attachment bonds shared with parents (Hammen et al., 1995), friends (Daley & Hammen, 2002), and romantic partners (Kafetsios & Sideridis, 2006) function as contributors to well-being and dyadic functioning in young adults, few studies have focused on examining the relative contributions of multiple relationship types to personal and interpersonal well-being (Meeus, Branje, van der VaIk, & de Wied, 2007). …

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