Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research, and Clinical Applications

By Jude Cassidy; Phillip R. Shaver | Go to book overview

17
Adult Romantic Attachment
and Couple Relationships

JUDITH A. FEENEY

“My partner is extremely affectionate, which
suits me down to the ground. I’ve always, al-
ways craved affection all my life, mainly
through parental—bad parental relationships.
So, I don’t know, but I put it down to that. And
she’s the only person I’ve ever gone out with
that’s actually given me the affection I’ve
wanted.”

It is not unusual for people, in describing the quality of their romantic relationships, to emphasize the impact of early experiences with caregivers; such an emphasis is reflected in this brief quotation from a research participant. Other descriptions of romantic relationships explore in more detail the continuity between early and later social relations, focusing in particular on the legacy of negative experiences with caregivers. Consider the following comment, made by a participant in a study of long-term dating relationships:

“It took E. a long time to want to get close to
me, because I think her mother has destroyed
her trust in people and the way people express
emotions. Her mother just flits in and out of
moods, and she’s always put E. down. So I
think E. had lost the ability to get close to
people. She is often really quiet and upset,
and has trouble talking about her problems.
She listens, but she doesn’t like to reciprocate
with any discussion of her troubles. She’s
starting to overcome this, but only in the last
couple of months, because I’ve raised it as a
very damaging issue in our relationship. I feel
separated from her because of her silence—it
makes me feel like I can’t make her happy.
Also, E.’s never had any attention from her fa-
ther. He hasn’t taken an interest in what she
does, and I think she feels that he hasn’t had
any input in her emotional development.”

Comments such as these are consistent with Bowlby’s (1969/1982, 1973, 1980) theory of attachment, which recognizes the enormous importance of the bonds formed between children and their caregivers. They also support Bowlby’s claim that attachment behavior plays a vital role throughout the life cycle. This chapter focuses on the proposition that romantic love can be conceptualized as an attachment process, which is influenced in part by earlier experiences with caregivers. My aims are to present the original theoretical and empirical work on which this proposition is based, to outline the considerable advances that have since been made in this research area, and to explore the unresolved issues and likely future directions.


THE FIRST STUDIES OF ROMANTIC
LOVE AS ATTACHMENT

Although Bowlby’s attachment theory dealt primarily with the bonds formed between infants and their caregivers, theoretical work dating

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