New research provides evidence that positive relationship events play an important role in romantic attachment avoidance. The findings, which have been published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychologyindicate that positive relationship events in everyday life predict decreases in romantic avoidance over time.
Attachment theory describes how people bond with others and maintain their relationships. People can be secure or insecure in their attachments, and insecure individuals can be either anxious or avoidant. Individuals with attachment anxiety frequently worry about being rejected or abandoned. In contrast, those with attachment avoidance tend to be independent and have difficulty trusting others. Research has demonstrated that both types of insecure attachment can lead to negative outcomes in relationships, such as communication problems and difficulties with intimacy.
“Social psychologists have long established that the quality of attachment bonds with our romantic partners are very important for healthy relational functioning. So, we were interested in understanding the role of day-to-day experiences in helping couples achieve greater attachment security over time,” explained study author Gul Gunaydin (@gulgunaydin), a professor of psychology at Sabanci University in Turkey.
In the study, the researchers had 151 dating couples (who had been in a relationship for 1 to 3 months) and 168 newlywed couples (who had been married for up to 6 months) complete daily surveys for three weeks. The surveys asked the participants to report whether they had experienced a variety of positive events involving their partner. The surveys also asked the participants to indicate whether they had experienced positive moods such as happiness or peacefulness.
The researchers found that positive relationship events predicted decreases in romantic avoidance. In other words, participants who reported more frequent positive relationship events became less likely to agree with statements such as “I find it difficult to allow myself to depend on my partner” after the three week period (compared to before). Gunaydino and her colleagues also found that positive relationship events were associated with experiencing positive moods, which, in turn, predicted decreases in romantic avoidance.
“Our findings indicate that positive relationship experiences contribute to feeling closer to and finding it easier to depend on one’s partner (that is, lower romantic avoidance) over time,” Gunaydino told PsyPost. “Based on these findings, we encourage couples to create opportunities to engage in pleasant relationship experiences in daily life — however small they might seem.”
To better understand the specific behaviors that predict lower romantic avoidance, the researchers invited more than 150 couples to visit their laboratory and discuss a positive relationship memory. The discussion was videotaped and reviewed by twelve independent coders. Gunaydino and her colleagues observed that behaviors validating the partner and the relationship predicted decreases in romantic avoidance over one month.
“When jointly reminiscing about these experiences, partners can try to validate one another and the relationship — for example, by telling how grateful they are for sharing the experience, disclosing positive emotions they felt during the experience or expressing how much they look forward to similar experiences in the future,” Gunaydino said. “As positive relationship experiences accumulate over time this will likely contribute to lower romantic avoidance, a key aspect of feeling secure in one’s relationship.”
Surprisingly, the researchers found no evidence that positive relationship events were associated with reductions in romantic anxiety.
“One should keep in mind that positive relationship experiences are not cure-alls for achieving attachment security,” Gunaydino told PsyPost. “In our research, positive relationship experiences contributed to lower romantic avoidance, but not lower romantic anxiety. Romantic anxiety is characterized by worrying that your partner might reject or abandon you. But experiencing positive things in your relationship doesn’t seem to significantly alleviate these worries.”
“According to recent theorizing (Attachment Security Enhancement Model by Ximena Arriaga and colleagues), anxious attachment is linked with having negative self-views. So, based on this framework, behaviors counteracting negative self-views (such as encouraging your partner to independently pursue their own goals) likely play a more pivotal role in reducing romantic anxiety.
“Moreover, all participants in our studies experienced a relationship transition as they were in the initial months of either a new dating relationship or a marriage,” Gunaydino explained. “Starting a new relationship, getting married, becoming parents, or breaking up are often seen as key events that offer greater possibilities for changing attachment patterns. So, our participants were at an ideal time in their relationship to test the links between positive relationship events and romantic avoidance. However, further research is needed to see whether our findings would hold for couples in more stable periods of their relationship.”
The study, “The Role of Positive Relationship Events in Romantic Attachment Avoidance“, was authored by Deniz Bayraktaroglu, Gul Gunaydin, Emre Selcuk, Miri Besken, and Zahide Karakitapoglu-Aygun.