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Marital Satisfaction: Love/Attachment (Part 3).

Love has been identified as one of the important factors associated with
marital satisfaction. According to Schwartz (2007), love is a very broad term
that has been defined as a deep and tender feeling of affection for another
which arises from kinship or personal ties, or recognition of attractive qualities.
Love has also been described as a deep emotional bond, mutual caring and
attraction, together with trust and closeness (Riehl-Emde, Thomas, & Willi,
There have been a number of theories which have attempted to define
and explain love. One of the most well-known, recent theories of love is
Sternberg’s Triangular Theory (1986, 2006). According to Sternberg (1986),
love consists of three components: intimacy, passion, and commitment.
“Intimacy” is associated with a preference and readiness for experiences of
close, warm, and communicative interpersonal exchanges (McAdams &
Vaillant, 1982), while “passion” describes “almost any strong emotional state”
(Baumeister & Bratslavsky, 1999, p. 51), and is defined as “a state of profound
physiological arousal” (Baumeister & Bratslavsky, 1999, p. 51). Finally,
“commitment” in the short term involves the decision that one loves another
person; and in the long term, the commitment to maintain that love (Sternberg,
1986, 1997, 2006). According to Sternberg (2006), different combinations of
these three factors result in different types of love: 1) a “complete” love is a
combination of all three components, which is called “consummate” love
(which is difficult to obtain), 2) “romantic” love, which is derived from the
combination of intimacy and passion where partners are physically and
emotionally attracted to each other but without commitment to the relationship,
3) “infatuated” love, which is driven by passion alone without intimacy or
commitment, and 4) love with both passion and commitment but no intimacy,
which is referred to as “Fatuous” love (Drigotas et al., 1999; Sternberg, 2006).
Sternberg believes that over the course of a successful relationship, passion
usually decreases, but intimacy and commitment increase (Acevedo & Aron,
2009). Numerous studies of romantic relationships show that intimacy,
passion, and commitment vary across relationship stage and are related to
relationship satisfaction (Tung, 2007).
Regardless of marital status, people who report being in love with their
partner consider themselves as happier (Willi, 1997). For those who are
married, love is more likely to be mutual and they tend have more successful
relationships (Willi, 1997). Therefore, being in love is an important quality for a
satisfying relationship, and its absence cannot be compensated for by other
factors such as sympathy, respect, or rational argument (Willi, 1997).
Research has found love to be very beneficial for the marital
relationship and satisfaction. Surprisingly, studies that have examined the
quality and stability of marriages have found that love is the single most
important factor related to couples’ overall feeling of well-being (Riehl-Emde,
Thomas, & Willi, 2003). According to Riehl-Emde, Thomas, and Willi (2003),
many people feel committed to their relationship because they are in love with
each other.
Additional studies support the significant relationship between romantic
love with overall happiness in life (Aron & Henkemeyer, 1995), greater life
satisfaction, better overall physical health, and lower psychological symptoms
(Acevedo & Aron, 2009; Traupmann, Eckels, & Hatfield, 1982). Moreover, it
has been suggested that there is a strong link between love and self-esteem
(Acevedo & Aron, 2009). According to Hendrick and Adler (1988), an Erotic
love style (i.e., an intense, passionate love) is related to high relationship
satisfaction, while a Ludic (i.e., game-playing) love style is negatively related
to relationship satisfaction.
Partner Attachment
Adult romantic love has also been described as an “attachment”
relationship whereby partners seek to be close to one another, especially
when they are upset, and it provides them with a secure base from which they
can interact with the world (Hazen & Shaver, 1987, 1990). Researchers have
identified three main “styles” of adult attachment which impact how individuals
perceive and respond to intimacy: secure, anxious, and avoidant.
Individuals with positive views of themselves and others are “secure”
individuals who feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and
affectionate towards others. These individuals do not often worry about being
abandoned by their partners (Butzer & Campbell, 2008), and they express
more adaptive functioning in romantic relationships compared to individuals
who are insecure (Lopez, Riggs, Pollard, & Hook, 2011). A secure attachment
pattern in adulthood is also associated with higher levels of passion and
commitment, which results in higher degrees of relationship satisfaction
(Madey & Rodgers, 2009). According to Madey and Rodgers (2009), a secure
attachment provides a sense of emotional closeness in the couple’s
relationship, comfort in being near the partner, trust, and a willingness to
discuss and resolve issues with the partner. This in turn results in greater
relationship satisfaction.
By contrast, “anxiously” attached adults are described as worried about
being rejected or abandoned by their romantic partners, and they crave
intimacy and closeness (Butzer & Campbell, 2008). In addition, they are often
concerned about their relationships and do not feel confident in their partner’s
ability to love them back (Butzer & Campbell, 2008). Also, individuals with this
anxious style view themselves as being unappreciated, misunderstood, and as
a romantic partner are typically unreliable and either incapable or reluctant to
commit themselves to permanent relationships (Simpson, 1990). In addition,
these individuals usually exhibit considerable ambivalence toward their
romantic partners (Simpson, 1990).
Finally, “avoidant” adults express independence from their romantic
partner by constantly trying to minimize closeness and intimacy (Hazan &
Shaver, 1994). They are less invested in their relationships, and they
consistently try to remain psychologically and emotionally independent of their
partners (Hazan & Shaver, 1994). Individuals with this avoidant style find it
difficult to completely trust and rely on others, and they feel uncomfortable
getting close to another person. In addition, they become nervous when
someone becomes too close to them (Simpson, 1990). They typically have
images of themselves as being doubtful, unfriendly, and skeptical, and as a
romantic partner they tend to be untrustworthy in committing themselves in
relationships (Simpson, 1990).
Insecure attachment statuses in adulthood result in a lessened ability to
establish intimacy, passion, and commitment (Madey & Rodgers, 2009). In
fact, attachment insecurity is associated with marital dissatisfaction, poor
communication, and poor supportive behavior in a marriage (Davila et al.,
1999). Bouthillier, Julien, Dube, Belanger, and Hamelin (2002) also found that
adults who have been classified by the Adult Attachment Interview as insecure
are more likely to use more negative strategies and emotion during a conflict
with their romantic partner (i.e., more expressions of contempt, withdrawal,
and stonewalling) and to have less positive emotions overall (Creasey & Ladd,
2005). Similarly, a spouse’s unhappiness may likely be caused by
attachment-related fears (e.g., fear of abandonment or lack of intimacy by
partner) (Davila, Bradbury, 2001). It has also been suggested that attachment
insecurity can put spouses at risk for staying in an unhappy marriage because
they feel unworthy and that no one else would ever want to love them (Davila
et al., 1999; Davila & Bradbury, 2001). Researchers have theorized that
marital distress is, in fact, grounded in adult attachment problems (e.g., Kobak,
Ruckdeschel, & Hazen, 1994).
The roots of these different adult attachment statuses are related to an
individual’s early interactions with their parents. Early attachment researchers
such as Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, and Wall (1978) and Bowlby (1982) argue
that early interactions between infant and caregiver, especially the mother,
create an “internal working model” which guides the quality of interactions with
others and beliefs about self and relationships throughout development
(Bowlby, 1973, 1980; Bretherton, 1990). These mental models of relationships
also organize personality development (Bretherton, 1990). Parents therefore
become the foundation of how children learn to represent themselves and
others by providing children with examples and ultimately working models of
how to manage their relationships with others (Bowlby, 1973, 1982). When
parents provide their child with a securely attached relationship, they
simultaneously provide that child with the belief that they are trustworthy, and
worthy of being loved and cared for (Bowlby, 1973). These models direct
children’s behavior in other social encounters (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, &
Wall, 1978; Bowlby, 1982), and they function as affective cognitive filters that
provide children with a view of themselves and their social world as well as
influencing children’s responsiveness to social partners (Engels, Finkenauer,
Meeus, & Dekovic, 2001).
Children who are securely attached to their caregivers during early life
develop more socially and emotionally competent behavior (i.e., better social
skills, more positive and less negative affect, and more focused attention) and
have more flexible emotional regulation skills (Cassidy, 1994; Sroufe, 1996),
cognitive functioning, and physical and mental health. Insecurely attached2
children, by contrast, tend to experience negative outcomes in these
developmental domains (Waters, 2000; Cassidy, 1994).
Early attachment history also impacts adolescent development, with
securely attached adolescents less likely to engage in heavy drinking, drug
use, and risky sexual behavior and they have lower rates of teenage
pregnancy (Cooper, Shaver, & Collins, 1998). In addition, securely attached
adolescents also have fewer mental health problems (such as depression,
anxiety, inattention, delinquency, conduct disorder, and aggression) (Cooper,
Shaver, & Collins, 1998), more constructive coping skills (Howard & Medway,
2004), better self-esteem, social skills, and confidence (Allen et al. 2002;
Bowlby, 1982). They also manage the transition to high school more
successfully, have more positive relationships with family and peers, and
experience less conflict in their relationships (Ducharme, Doyle & Markiewicz,
2002). Securely attached adolescents are provided a place where they feel
safe to develop and strengthen their social skills and develop emotional
2 Secure attachment results when primary caregivers are sensitive/responsive to
infants; insecure ambivalent results when caregivers are insensitive/inconsistent to
infants; insecure avoidant results when caregivers are neglectful/rejecting to infants.
competence amongst family and peers (Kerns & Stevens, 1996; Rice, 1990;
Youngblade & Belsky, 1992). Through secure attachment and interactions with
their parents, young people learn how to initiate and maintain satisfying and
warm friendships (Engels, Finkenauer, Meeus, & Dekovic, 2001). By contrast,
insecurely attached adolescents show more depressive symptoms compared
to those who are securely attached (Doyle, Brendgen, Markiewicz, & Kamkar,
2003); they have more internalizing problems and lower self-esteem (Doyle &
Markiewicz, 2005), greater psychological distress, poorer self-concept, and
higher levels of anger and hostility (Cooper et al., 2008). Insecure-avoidant
adolescents’ self-isolation and self-criticism tend to make them especially
vulnerable to depressive symptoms (Blatt & Homann, 1992).
As described above, early attachment status also influences adult
partner relationships and interaction styles (Hamilton, 2000). The research
literature demonstrates how the attachment status of a child during the first
years of life can shape the emotional quality of romantic relationships in early
adulthood (Simpson, Collins, Tran, & Haydon, 2007), impact adults’ behavior
with partners when under stress (Simpson, Rholes, & Nelligan, 1992), and
influence relationship satisfaction and communication (Davila, Karney, &
Bradbury, 1999). Early attachment representations can also direct adults’
expectations about relationships (Collins, 1996). Moreover, a longitudinal
study by Dinero et al. (2011) found that early family interactions such as high
levels of warmth, caring, and sensitivity, and lower levels of hostility can
predict similar behavior toward the adult romantic partner and greater security
in self-reported attachment representations at 25 years of age. 3
In spite of the vast literature on adult attachment status and close
relationships in adulthood, most of these studies fail to link early attachment
style with the key components of marital satisfaction discussed earlier, i.e.,
communication, sexual satisfaction, and love. Previous research studies don’t
clearly indicate in detail how early attachment is related to the key components
of effective communication, sexual satisfaction, or adult partner attachment.
The majority of existing studies have, in contrast, assessed the effect of adults’
attachment style on marital satisfaction rather than the effect of early
attachment on marital satisfaction.

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3 thoughts on “Marital Satisfaction: Love/Attachment (Part 3).

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