Attachment Styles of Predictors of Relationship Satisfaction Within Adulthood

Oceana Hill and Haley Orthel-Clark

Truckee Meadows Community College.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15629/6.7.8.7.5_4-1_S-2018_2

Citation: Hill, Oceana, Orthel-Clark, Haley. “Attachment Styles of Predictors of Relationship Satisfaction Within Adulthood.” Nevada State Undergraduate Research Journal. V4:I1 Spring-2018. (2018). http://dx.doi.org/10.15629/6.7.8.7.5_4-1_S-2018_2

How to Cite: 

Author last name, Author first name first initial. “The name of the article in parenthesis.” Nevada State Undergraduate Research Journal. V(volume):I(issue) Semester (Fall or Spring)-Year. (2018). http://dx.doi.org/[Insert DOI here].

Abstract:

Attachment styles and relationship satisfaction are universal mechanisms used to develop healthy intimate bonds. There is much debate concerning whether or not attachment styles link directly to adult relationship contentment. This study focused on correlating attachment styles with distinct levels of relationship satisfaction. Participants were asked to report on one central relationship in their lives that exemplified high levels of personal closeness and a strong emotional bond. Attachment styles were grouped into three categories: secure, avoidant, and anxious. Individuals who were classified as obtaining a secure attachment style were hypothesized to reflect a higher level of romantic relationship satisfaction in comparison to individuals who were classified as obtaining an avoidant or anxious attachment style. The findings confirmed this hypothesis: those that had a secure attachment style did obtain a higher level of relationship satisfaction in comparison to those who exhibited an avoidant or anxious attachment style. These results were consistent with conclusions derived from past research regarding attachment styles and relationship satisfaction. The data within this particular study can be employed to support future research on the implications attachment styles may have on relationship satisfaction.

Introduction

It has often been stated within the field of psychology that individuals develop a significant relationship with their primary caregiver, which begins at birth and persists throughout childhood. This interpersonal connection often generates a pattern of attachment that typically remains consistent throughout all relationships within one’s life. This pattern of attachment has been formally addressed as an “attachment style” and primarily reflects how one chooses to pursue and maintain the various relationships that they develop over time. Attachment styles occur in three main forms: secure, avoidant, and anxious. Individuals with a secure attachment style often characterize themselves as one who finds it easy to become close to others and are more likely to build strong bonds through dependence on others and having others depend on them. Individuals with an avoidant attachment style typically report feeling uncomfortable being close to others and find it difficult to trust anyone completely. Furthermore, those with an anxious attachment style state that others are reluctant to get as close to them as they would like and often worry that their partners do not truly love them or do not truly wish to be with them. The connection between attachment styles and the ways in which people perceive their close relationships is an increasingly important element when looking at characteristics of emotional bonding.

In order to evaluate different attachment styles within intimate relationships, it may prove beneficial to first examine links between attachment styles and the construct of relationship satisfaction. Past research has suggested that many individuals typically do not have specific ways in which they define a romantic relationship, but often state that romantic relationships are believed to provide a mixture of personal closeness and attachment (Banker, Kaestle, & Allen, 2010). This idea was uncovered from a study where participants, aged 18 to 24, were asked a series of questions involving how they know they are in a partnership and how they define different roles that are assumed in the context of relationships. It has been established that secure attachment styles positively impact self-esteem and are linked to diminished anxiety (Meyers, 1998). To examine this idea, a study was conducted where 323 undergraduate college students were given an adult attachment questionnaire in conjunction with a defense mechanism inventory and a self-esteem scale. Strong correlations resulted between an undergraduate’s ability to manage stress and anxiety and the general category of the attachment style. Being able to cope with stress allows for one to ease conflict, generate compromise, and build close emotional bonds within the context of a relationship. Contrastingly, if individuals cannot adequately manage stress, they may withdraw from others, become emotionally distant, and fail to provide or seek support within relationships.

The conventional skill of building rewarding relationships is commonly structured by factors associated with interpersonal functioning. In a 2012 study conducted by Holland, Fraley, and Roisman, it was found that having an anxious attachment style was the leading factor in causing consistently low quality relationships. Individuals with attachment related anxiety interacted with their romantic partners less positively; they communicated infrequently and with more hostility than those who reflected a more secure attachment style. Attachment related anxiety was thought to be a specific reflection of perceived interpersonal functioning. Previous findings have established that certain opinions associated with how young adults feel about romantic relationships are based off the relationship exemplified by their parents (Trotter, 2010). The study developed by Trotter (2010) measured the marital status of each participant and then recorded their rating of the impact of their parents’ relationships on their own through selfreport assessments. Overall, it was found that parental relationships are a highly contributing factor to the success of all future relationships that are experienced throughout a child’s life.

There is a significant connection between attachment styles and the actual intimate commitments that are made by the individual (Coy & Miller, 2014). This deduction was derived from a study that examined four main relationship challenges: lack of recognition, cultural/religious pressures, financial instability, and differences in the definition of “formal commitment.” It was conclusively revealed that all four of these categories play a role in how one communicates their attachment style within the context of romantic relationships. Generally, it can be stated that various contexts, both physical and psychological, impact behaviors associated with taking personal chances within an intimate relationship, personal chances typically meaning giving up all other romantic relations in order to be with another individual. Research done by Elliott, Easterling, and Knox (2016) found that individuals typically calculate the rewards and costs of a proposed act and further work toward taking chances only when the immediate consequences are more positive than negative. This information can prove useful when analyzing how an attachment pattern works in order to establish an intimate connection.

More detailed research has revealed that those in primarily healthy romantic relationships, defined by characteristics such as open communication and the ability to trust one another, experience fewer mental health and physical problems, engage in less risky behaviors, and are associated with less problematic life outcomes. Braithwate, Delevi, and Finchman (2010) determined that romantic relationships keep individuals focused, committed, and more likely to generate healthy lifestyle habits. This conclusion was obtained through a sample of 1,621 college student who were given surveys that asked questions associated with relationship status, mental and physical health problems, and risky behaviors in the form of sexual history and substance abuse. This particular study brings a clear focus to the idea that relationship satisfaction is made up of numerous factors.

Many individuals experience differential psychological and physiological impacts that can be directly attributed to their attachment style. More specifically, there are significant differences expressed when comparing those who exemplify a secure attachment versus those who do not (Stanton & Campbell, 2014). This conclusion was illustrated in a study that analyzed past literature focused on the implications of attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance on health. Relationships were established as important indicators of mental and physical health, which influences factors such as how one copes with stress. A substantial amount of research supports the idea that attachment styles correlate to relationship satisfaction and the general ability for one to pursue a romantic relationship.

Additionally, past research has aimed to place an emphasis on defining the correlation between attachment style and the capacity for intimate interactions later on in life. A study conducted by Mayseless and Scharf (2007) focused on assessing attachment styles and their role as potential contributors within adolescents’ capacity for intimacy. An avoidant attachment style is associated with less capability for intimacy while secure attachment style is associated with a higher potential for intimacy.

From the literature, it can be determined that attachment style is a valuable aspect of relationship development; however, conducting additional experimentation is necessary to link individual attachment styles to more specific elements of relationships. The focus of this current study is to utilize a means of categorizing attachment styles with the intent of further correlating them to distinct levels of relationship fulfillment. With this approach, information that reflects direct comparisons or direct contrasts between attachment style and relationship satisfaction may become more apparent and provide additional support to already existing research. Individuals who are classified under a secure attachment style are expected to express higher levels of relationship satisfaction when compared to individuals who are classified under an avoidant or anxious attachment style.

Methods

Participants

A sample size of 40 participants was utilized, the participants were community college students sampled from two distinct psychology classes. Approximately 80% of the participants were female and 20% were male. Ages ranged from 18 to 61 years old. The average participant age was recorded at 22.25 years, but one participant chose not to disclose information about age. No information regarding ethnicity was collected. All 40 participants were included within the analyses of the data collected. The protocols that were put into place were reviewed by the University of Nevada, Reno’s Institutional Review Board.

Materials

Attachment style was measured through the Adult Attachment Scale (AAS) which is a scale that focuses on defining three central adult attachment styles: secure, avoidant, and anxious (Collins & Read, 1990). The AAS consists of 18 items scored on a 5 point Likert-type scale. A rating of 1 indicates strong disagreement and a rating of 5 indicates strong agreement. Participants were asked to select how strongly they agreed or disagreed with a given statement. For example, one item included the statement, “I find it difficult to trust others completely,” and was accompanied by a 1 to 5 scale. Six statements were presented within the AAS that were representative of each attachment style, making up the total of eighteen statements.

Relationship satisfaction was measured through the Relationship Satisfaction Survey (RSS), which included a total of twenty-three questions. The first two questions recorded demographic information in the form of age and gender, while questions 3 to 6 gathered information associated with current relationship status and relationship history. Then, seventeen items scored on a 6 point Likert-type scale were presented, prompting participants to record their level of agreement or disagreement in regards to each statement. A rating of 1 indicated strong disagreement while a rating of 6 indicated strong agreement. For example, the statement, “My partner and I can rely on one another,” was presented and participants were asked to score their agreement on the 1-6 scale located below it. Data was placed within a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and organized accordingly.

Procedure

An informed consent document was provided to participants prior to gathering data. Survey methodology was the primary form of research design that was implemented. The variables utilized were attachment style and relationship satisfaction. Attachment style is classified as the participant variable, while relationship satisfaction is classified as the dependent variable. Participants were given a packet that included both the AAS and the RSS. The packets were numbered from 1 to 40 to ensure the anonymity of each participant. A number was assigned to each question along with options for selecting which answer was most applicable to the individual. While the packets were administered to each classroom as a group, they were completed on an individual basis.

First, participants were asked to respond to 18 items associated with their generalized feelings regarding all past relationship experiences. Each item took the form of a statement and the response options were limited within a 1-5 Likert-type scale, whereupon participants circled the number indicating their level of agreement. Then, the RSS prompted participants to provide brief demographical information in the form of gender and age. The next three questions asked respondents about their current relationship status or their most recent relationship experience. Next, 17 statements were presented that intended to specifically focus on the participants current or most recent romantic relationship. If no romantic relationship history was available to report on, respondents were asked to correspond their answers to the closest relationship maintained with either a friend or family member. The various potential classifications of relationships were not differentiated in the results. Each of these statements included response options in the form of a 1-6 rating on a Likert-type scale. Participants answered by circling the number that was most applicable to their level of agreement.

Participants silently marked which rating they believed best represented themselves in regards to all of the statements presented within both the AAS and the RSS. A debriefing was given after the completion of the study, informing participants that no deception took place and providing them with further contact information should they wish to follow up with the results of the study.

Results

It was hypothesized that individuals who were determined to obtain a secure attachment style would reflect a higher level of romantic relationship satisfaction in comparison to individuals who were determined to obtain an avoidant or anxious attachment style. The data was prepared by first calculating each participants’ score for the AAS. These calculations were made by numerically recording each level of agreement with the corresponding statement. The final attachment label was given as a result of the highest score within either the secure, avoidant, or anxious category. A secure attachment style was assigned to the individuals who acquired consistently high scores on the 12 statements that were originally assigned a “secure” label. Avoidant and anxious attachment styles were assigned in the same way. Out of 40 participants, 21 were categorized under a secure attachment style, 13 were categorized under an avoidant attachment style, and only 6 were categorized under an anxious attachment style (M=2.9, SD=1.21).

The RSS scores were calculated by organizing the data into a spreadsheet and determining the statistical averages in the form of mode, median, and range. Four of the items included within the RSS had to be reverse scored in order to calculate an overall composite value. A composite value was calculated for each participant by utilizing Microsoft Excel. As seen within Figure 1, the secure attachment group reflected the highest composite score for relationship satisfaction. The scale along the y-axis was determined by utilizing the composite score values which ranged from 0 to 90 with a standard deviation of 22.5.

Bar chart comparing the mean values of relationship satisfaction scores against attachment styles
Figure 1: Comparison of the mean values in relationship satisfaction scores across conditions of attachment style. Groups were formed through a self-report measure.

 
A one-way ANOVA was utilized to test the data, which was composed of composite scores. The between-groups mean was calculated at 571.857 with a df recorded at 2. The within groups mean was calculated at 170.796 with a df recorded at 36 (Table 1). An overall F value of 3.348 was acquired. The alpha level of .05 was tested against. The resulting p-value was .04, indicating that the results were statistically significant (p=.04, .04 < .05). To accurately determine where specific differences occurred between the three groupings of attachment style, a t-test was implemented. Group 1 represented a secure attachment style (M=83.95, SD=13.07), group 2 represented an avoidant attachment style (M=72.15, SD=13.95), and group 3 represented an anxious attachment style (M=77.0, SD=9.88).

Sum of Squares df Mean Sum of Squares F p-value
Between-Groups 1143.714 2 571.857 3.348 0.046*
Within Groups 6148.645 36 170.796
Total 7292.359 38 742.653

Table 1: Relationship Satisfaction Variance Scores for Attachment Style Groups. Note: A statistical significance was expressed between groups 1 and 2.

Overall, it was observed that participants who were classified as having a secure level of attachment did obtain a higher level of relationship satisfaction in comparison to participants who were classified as having an anxious or avoidant attachment style. A more specific emphasis was expressed through the differences seen between those with a secure attachment style and those with an avoidant attachment style.

Discussion and Conclusion

The results that were gathered did support the hypothesis, which stated that individuals who exemplified a secure attachment style would express higher levels of relationship satisfaction compared to individuals who exemplified an avoidant or an anxious attachment style. These results are consistent with the outcomes of past research, which commonly illustrate the idea that attachment style plays a central role in the general level of satisfaction that is experienced within interpersonal relationships. Previous studies have concluded that various aspects of relationship satisfaction link with specific attachment styles and influence how they are communicated within the context of one’s own life (Schindler, Fagundes, & Murdock, 2010). The present study reveals distinct connections between high and low levels of relationship satisfaction in conjunction with attachment styles that either reflect comfort and stability or issues with trust and commitment. A growing body of research has predicted that distinct characteristics of childhood attachment patterns influence the direct development of healthy versus unhealthy attachment styles (Trotter, 2010). Additionally, attachment styles oftentimes express characteristics such as physiological health and general life success (Stanton & Campbell, 2014). Comparatively, the general findings of this study proved significant, and therefore can be utilized to further support these statements developed from previous research.

Overall, the study design maintained several strengths. In addition to only taking 20 minutes to complete both surveys, the study was simplistic and used a considerably small amount of money. Moreover, all individuals were exposed to the same surveys and a decent amount of variation was included within the sample size; in other words, participants were not exclusive to only one age or gender. Furthermore, due to obtaining a fairly small sample size, the research question was able to be addressed directly and in a relatively short space of time. Nevertheless, certain limitations may have played a notable role in the results. The study sample consisted of 32 females in comparison to 8 males, generating a large disparity in gender. The findings also indicated that only 5 participants were classified under an anxious attachment style, which is a considerably lower number than participants that were classified under a secure or avoidant attachment style. Many additional factors that may contribute to relationship satisfaction, such as sexual interactions and financial values, were not taken into account within the provided survey items. Additionally, the survey items utilized were self-report measures, which may potentially acquire information that is inaccurate in nature.

The results of this study can be employed in order to assess future research involving the impact of attachment style on relationship satisfaction. It may be the case that variables can be altered in order to achieve a differential outcome. In future research, it may prove useful to allow for a larger variation, in regards to both age and ethnicity, of individuals to complete similar survey items. For future studies, more items associated with each attachment style may be beneficial to control for similarities that might make it difficult to categorize a single individual under one exclusive attachment style.

Administering of survey items could take place in a setting that targets couples, versus the individual, allowing for data to then be linked to the couple exclusively and express more detailed information regarding relationship satisfaction. Replicating the study within different populations, such as on various college campuses or amongst specified age ranges, might allow for the development of more exclusive data that can link attachment style and relationship satisfaction to a more distinct expanse of individuals. Similar survey items could also be administered that directly target different categories of relationships, such as friendships or relationships with family members, to assess how levels of relationship satisfaction may alter when the relationship in question is one of a certain nature.

Ultimately, attachment style in correlation to relationship satisfaction likely maintains prospective implications for understanding the emotions and actions that humans display within interpersonal relationships. The benefits of attempting to connect attachment style to how one approaches and maintains relationships plays a significant role in the ability of one to understand the mannerisms of themselves and those around them, contributing to the potential success of lifetime bonds and connections.