Relations among Relationships
Contributions from Attachment
Theory and Research
LISA J. BERLIN
Nobody loves me but my mother
and she could be jivin’ too.
Now you see why I act funny, Baby
when you do the things you do.
—B. B. KING (1970)
Questions concerning relations among relationships cut to the heart of attachment theory and research. According to Bowlby, “there is a strong causal relationship between an individual’s experiences with his parents and his later capacity to make affectional bonds” (1979, p. 135). By “affectional bonds,” Bowlby was referring to particularly close ties “in which the partner is important as a unique individual and interchangeable with none other” (Ainsworth, 1989, p. 711). An attachment is a specific type of affectional bond that one person has to another from whom he or she attempts to derive security, such as the bond of an infant to a mother. Bowlby argued that early attachments play a key role in people’s subsequent close relationships—in attachment and nonattachment relationships. Bowlby also specified that the mechanisms underlying the “causal” associations between early attachments and subsequent affectional bonds are “internal working models,” mental representations that are forged in repeated daily transactions between infant and parent, and that tend to become stable over time.
In this chapter we focus on the contributions of attachment theory and research to understanding relations among relationships. Attachment theory, of course, offers but one of many perspectives on the links among people’s close relationships and on the influence of early relationship experiences on later bonds (see, e.g., Duck, 1988; Dunn, 1988a, 1993; Hartup & Rubin, 1986; Hinde & Stevenson-Hinde, 1988; Maccoby, 1992; Weber & Harvey, 1994). Social learning theories, for example, emphasize children’s acquisition of social skills via their learning from and modeling of their parents (e.g., Bandura, 1977). What distinguishes attachment theory from this and other theories is the specificity of its predictions about individual differences and its arguments that mental representations (internal working models) underlie the associations between early attachments and subsequent close relationships. In this chapter we address the distinctive tenets of the theory and the research that has tested them.
We begin this chapter with a brief overview of Bowlby’s attachment theory, focusing on its claims about relations among relationships. We