"Don't stand so close to me": An attachment perspective of disengagement and avoidance in marriage

Robin A. Barry*, Erika Lawrence

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations

Abstract

Theory and research support a link between disengaging or avoidant communication and global marital distress; however, questions remain regarding individual differences and situational influences associated with partners' tendency to disengage. Guided by an attachment framework, this study addressed two aims. The first aim was to replicate and extend previous research that has found mixed support for a link between higher attachment avoidance and more disengaging or avoidant behaviors during conflict interactions. To accomplish this aim, the authors examined two moderators of this link. The second aim was to clarify the relation between avoidant attachment and disengaging behaviors across two relationship contexts central to both the attachment and marital literatures-couples' conflictual and supportive interactions. In addressing these aims the authors proposed two hypotheses: first, spouses with higher attachment avoidance would be more disengaged during interactions in which their partners evidenced greater negative affect; second, spouses with higher attachment avoidance would be more disengaged during conflict interactions that they perceived as more destructive. Couples were assessed annually over 5 years. Aims were addressed both cross-sectionally and longitudinally and via questionnaire and behavioral observation data. During both conflictual and supportive interactions, wives' negative affect predicted husbands' disengagement when husbands were higher on avoidant attachment. Longitudinally, the link between husbands' perceptions of their couple conflict as destructive and husbands' conflict avoidance was stronger for husbands who were higher on attachment avoidance. Theoretical and clinical implications are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)484-494
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Family Psychology
Volume27
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 1 2013

Keywords

  • Attachment theory
  • Avoidance
  • Disengagement
  • Marriage

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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