Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-6c8bd87754-hvdfp Total loading time: 1.336 Render date: 2022-01-17T08:18:00.941Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true, "newUsageEvents": true }

13 - Attachment Theory as a Framework for Studying Relationship Dynamics and Functioning

from Part IV - Individual Differences

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 June 2018

Anita L. Vangelisti
University of Texas, Austin
Daniel Perlman
University of North Carolina, Greensboro
Get access


Social support is an important topic area within the study of personal relationships; however, the broader social support literature has not historically considered social support in terms of the interpersonal process that it is. This chapter describes the literature linking social support to health and well-being, considers issues of perceived and received support, and summarizes research showing effects of receiving social support in close relationships on important personal and relational outcomes. In particular, we summarize existing observational studies that examine the dyadic social support process as it unfolds in close relationships, research that examines effects of received support on physiological and neural reactivity, and research that considers the interpersonal social support process in both adverse and non-adverse (positive) life contexts. We describe important theoretical perspectives that have provided a foundation for research on social support in close relationships, discuss ways that both support-seekers and support-providers might cultivate effective social support, and discuss the importance of mutual responsiveness in close relationships. Finally, we outline an agenda for the next generation of research on social support in adult close relationships.
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2018

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, M. C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: Assessed in the strange situation and at home. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Algoe, S. B., Gable, S. L., & Maisel, N. C. (2010). It’s the little things: Everyday gratitude as a booster shot for romantic relationships. Personal Relationships, 17, 217233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ames, M. E., Pratt, M. W., Pancer, S., Mark, W., Maxine, G., Polivy, J., Birnie-Lefcovitch, S., & Adams, G. (2011). The moderating effects of attachment style on students’ experience of a transition to university group facilitation program. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 43, 112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Baptist, J. A., Thompson, D. E., Norton, A. M., Hardy, N. R., & Link, C. D. (2012). The effects of the intergenerational transmission of family emotional processes on conflict styles: The moderating role of attachment. American Journal of Family Therapy, 40, 5673.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Barry, R. A., & Lawrence, E. (2013). “Don’t stand so close to me”: An attachment perspective of disengagement and avoidance in marriage. Journal of Family Psychology, 27, 484494.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Beck, L. A., & Clark, M. S. (2010). Looking a gift horse in the mouth as a defense against increasing intimacy. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 676679.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Beck, L. A., Pietromonaco, P. R., DeBuse, C. J., Powers, S. I., & Sayer, A. G. (2013). Spouses’ attachment pairings predict neuroendocrine, behavioral, and psychological responses to marital conflict. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 105, 388424.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Beck, L. A., Pietromonaco, P. R., DeVito, C. C., Powers, S. I., & Boyle, A. M. (2014). Congruence between spouses’ perceptions and observers’ ratings of responsiveness: The role of attachment avoidance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40, 164174.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and loss: Vol. 2. Separation: Anxiety and anger. New York, NY: Basic Books.Google Scholar
Bowlby, J. (1980). Attachment and loss: Vol. 3. Sadness and depression. New York, NY: Basic Books.Google Scholar
Bowlby, J. (1982). Attachment and loss: Vol. 1. Attachment (2nd edn.). New York, NY: Basic Books. (Original edn. 1969.)Google Scholar
Bowlby, J. (1988). A secure base: Clinical applications of attachment theory. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Brennan, K. A., Clark, C. L., & Shaver, P. R. (1998). Self-report measurement of adult romantic attachment: An integrative overview. In Simpson, J. A. & Rholes, W. S. (eds.) Attachment theory and close relationships (pp. 4676). New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
Buote, V. M., Wood, E., & Pratt, M. (2009). Exploring similarities and differences between online and offline friendships: The role of attachment style. Computers in Human Behavior, 25, 560567.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Campbell, L., Simpson, J. A., Boldry, J., & Kashy, D. A. (2005). Perceptions of conflict and support in romantic relationships: The role of attachment anxiety. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 510531.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Carnelley, K. B., Israel, S., & Brennan, K. (2007). The role of attachment in influencing reactions to manipulated feedback from romantic partners. European Journal of Social Psychology, 37, 968986.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cassidy, J., & Kobak, R. R. (1988). Avoidance and its relationship with other defensive processes. In Belsky, J. & Nezworski, T. (eds.) Clinical implications of attachment (pp. 300323). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Cassidy, J., Shaver, P. R., Mikulincer, M., & Lavy, S. (2009). Experimentally induced security influences responses to psychological pain. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 28, 463478.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Collins, N. L., & Feeney, B. C. (2000). A safe haven: An attachment theory perspective on support seeking and caregiving in intimate relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 10531073.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Collins, N. L., Guichard, A. C., Ford, M. B., & Feeney, B. C. (2006). Responding to need in intimate relationships: Normative processes and individual differences. In Mikulincer, M. & Goodman, G. S. (eds.) Dynamics of romantic love: Attachment, caregiving, and sex (pp. 149189). New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
Creasey, G., & Hesson-McInnis, M. (2001). Affective responses, cognitive appraisals, and conflict tactics in late adolescent romantic relationships: Associations with attachment orientations. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 48, 8596.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Davila, J., & Kashy, D. (2009). Secure base processes in couples: Daily associations between support experiences and attachment security. Journal of Family Psychology, 23, 7688.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
DeWall, C. N., Lambert, N. M., Slotter, E. B., Pond, R. S., Deckman, T., Finkel, E. J., … Fincham, F. D. (2011). So far away from one’s partner, yet so close to romantic alternatives: Avoidant attachment, interest in alternatives, and infidelity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101, 13021316.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Dillow, M. R., Goodboy, A. K., & Bolkan, S. (2014). Attachment and the expression of affection in romantic relationships: The mediating role of romantic love. Communication Reports, 27, 102115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Doumen, S., Smits, I., Luyckx, K., Duriez, B., Vanhalst, J., Verschueren, K., & Goossens, L. (2012). Identity and perceived peer relationship quality in emerging adulthood: The mediating role of attachment-related emotions. Journal of Adolescence, 35, 14171425.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Downey, G., & Feldman, S. I. (1996). Implications of rejection sensitivity for intimate relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 13271343.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Dutton, L. B., & Winstead, B. A. (2006). Predicting unwanted pursuit: Attachment, relationship satisfaction, relationship alternatives, and break-up distress. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 23, 565586.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Emery, L. F., Muise, A., Dix, E. L., & Le, B. (2014). Can you tell that I’m in a relationship? Attachment and relationship visibility on Facebook. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40, 14661479.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Etcheverry, P. E., Le, B., Wu, T. F., & Wei, M. (2013). Attachment and the investment model: Predictors of relationship commitment, maintenance, and persistence. Personal Relationships, 20, 546567.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Feeney, B. C., & Collins, N. L. (2001). Predictors of caregiving in adult intimate relationships: An attachment theoretical perspective. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 972994.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Feeney, B. C., Collins, N. L., Van Vleet, M., & Tomlinson, J. M. (2013). Motivations for providing a secure base: Links with attachment orientation and secure base support behavior. Attachment & Human Development, 15, 261280.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Feeney, B. C., & Thrush, R. L. (2010). Relationship influences on exploration in adulthood: The characteristics and function of a secure base. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98, 5776.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Fraley, R. C., & Shaver, P. R. (2000). Adult romantic attachment: Theoretical developments, emerging controversies, and unanswered questions. Review of General Psychology, 4, 132154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gallagher, M. E., Tasca, G. A., Ritchie, K., Balfour, L., Maxwell, H., & Bissada, H. (2014). Interpersonal learning is associated with improved self-esteem in group psychotherapy for women with binge eating disorder. Psychotherapy, 51, 6677.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Gallo, L. C., & Smith, T. W. (2001). Attachment style in marriage: Adjustment and responses to interaction. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 18, 263289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Garrison, A. M., Kahn, J. H., Sauer, E. M., & Florczak, M. A. (2012). Disentangling the effects of depression symptoms and adult attachment on emotional disclosure. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 59, 230239.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Gere, J., MacDonald, G., Joel, S., Spielmann, S. S., & Impett, E. A. (2013). The independent contributions of social reward and threat perceptions to romantic commitment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 105, 961977.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Gillath, O., & Shaver, P. R. (2007). Effects of attachment style and relationship context on selection among relational strategies. Journal of Research in Personality, 41, 968976.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gouin, J. P., Glaser, R., Loving, T. J., Malarkey, W. B., Stowell, J., Houts, C., & Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K. (2009). Attachment avoidance predicts inflammatory responses to marital conflict. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 23, 898904.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Granot, D., & Mayseless, O. (2012). Representations of mother–child attachment relationships and social-information processing of peer relationships in early adolescence. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 32, 537564.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Guerrero, L. K. (1996). Attachment-style differences in intimacy and involvement: A test of the four-category model. Communication Monographs, 63, 269292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. R. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 511524.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hertz, R. M., Laurent, H. K., & Laurent, S. M. (2015). Attachment mediates effects of trait mindfulness on stress responses to conflict. Mindfulness, 6, 483489.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Impett, E. A., & Gordon, A. M. (2010). Why do people sacrifice to approach rewards versus to avoid costs? Insights from attachment theory. Personal Relationships, 17, 299315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Karremans, J. C., & Aarts, H. (2007). The role of automaticity in the inclination to forgive close others. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 43, 902917.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kunce, L. J., & Shaver, P. R. (1994). An attachment-theoretical approach to caregiving in romantic relationships. In Bartholomew, K. & Perlman, D. (eds.) Advances in personal relationships: Attachment processes in adulthood (Vol. 5, pp. 205237). London: Jessica Kingsley.Google Scholar
Lavy, S., Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2013). Intrusiveness from an attachment theory perspective: A dyadic diary study. Personality and Individual Differences, 55, 972977.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Locke, K. D. (2008). Attachment styles and interpersonal approach and avoidance goals in everyday couple interactions. Personal Relationships, 15, 359374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lynch, M. F. (2013). Attachment, autonomy, and emotional reliance: A multilevel model. Journal of Counseling & Development, 91, 301312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mallinckrodt, B., & Jeong, J. (2015). Meta-analysis of client attachment to therapist: Associations with working alliance and client pretherapy attachment. Psychotherapy, 52, 134139.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Marmarosh, C., Gelso, C., Markin, R., Majors, R., Mallery, C., & Choi, J. (2009). The real relationship in psychotherapy: Relationships to adult attachments, working alliance, transference, and therapy outcome. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 56, 337350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Martin, L. A., Vosvick, M., & Riggs, S. A. (2012). Attachment, forgiveness, and physical health quality of life in HIV + adults. AIDS Care, 24, 13331340.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Mayseless, O., & Scharf, M. (2007). Adolescents’ attachment representations and their capacity for intimacy in close relationships. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 17, 2350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ménard, K. S., & Pincus, A. L. (2012). Predicting overt and cyber stalking perpetration by male and female college students. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 27, 21832207.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Mikulincer, M., Gillath, O., & Shaver, P. R. (2002). Activation of the attachment system in adulthood: Threat-related primes increase the accessibility of mental representations of attachment figures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 881895.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2003). The attachment behavioral system in adulthood: Activation, psychodynamics, and interpersonal processes. In Zanna, M. P. (ed.) Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 35, pp. 53152). New York, NY: Academic Press.Google Scholar
Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2016). Attachment in adulthood: Structure, dynamics, and change (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
Mikulincer, M., Shaver, P. R., Bar-On, N., & Ein-Dor, T. (2010). The pushes and pulls of close relationships: Attachment insecurities and relational ambivalence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98, 450468.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Mikulincer, M., Shaver, P. R., & Gillath, O. (2008). A behavioral systems perspective on compassionate love. In Fehr, B., Sprecher, S., & Underwood, L. G. (eds.) The science of compassionate love: Research, theory, and application (pp. 225256). Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.Google Scholar
Mikulincer, M., Shaver, P. R., Sahdra, B. K., & Bar-On, N. (2013). Can security-enhancing interventions overcome psychological barriers to responsiveness in couple relationships? Attachment & Human Development, 15, 246260.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Mikulincer, M., Shaver, P. R., & Slav, K. (2006). Attachment, mental representations of others, and gratitude and forgiveness in romantic relationships. In Mikulincer, M. & Goodman, G. S. (eds.) Dynamics of romantic love: Attachment, caregiving, and sex (pp. 190215). New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
Millings, A., Walsh, J., Hepper, E., & O’Brien, M. (2013). Good partner, good parent: Responsiveness mediates the link between romantic attachment and parenting style. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39, 170180.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Mohr, J. J., Selterman, D., & Fassinger, R. E. (2013). Romantic attachment and relationship functioning in same-sex couples. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 60, 7282.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Monin, J. K., Feeney, B. C., & Schulz, R. (2012). Attachment orientation and reactions to anxiety expression in close relationships. Personal Relationships, 19, 535550.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Moore, S. R., & Gelso, C. J. (2011). Recollections of a secure base in psychotherapy: Considerations of the real relationship, Psychotherapy, 48, 368373.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Noftle, E. E., & Shaver, P. R. (2006). Attachment dimensions and the big five personality traits: Associations and comparative ability to predict relationship quality. Journal of Research in Personality, 40, 179208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Noller, P., & Feeney, J. A. (1994). Relationship satisfaction, attachment, and nonverbal accuracy in early marriage. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 18, 199221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Overall, N. C., & Sibley, C. G. (2008). Attachment and attraction toward romantic partners versus relevant alternatives within daily interactions. Personality and Individual Differences, 44, 11261137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Overall, N. C., & Sibley, C. G. (2009). Attachment and dependence regulation within daily interactions with romantic partners. Personal Relationships, 16, 239261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Overall, N., Simpson, J. A., & Struthers, H. (2013). Buffering attachment-related avoidance: Softening emotional and behavioral defenses during conflict discussions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104, 854871.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Pistole, M., & Arricale, F. (2003). Understanding attachment: Beliefs about conflict. Journal of Counseling and Development, 81, 318328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pistole, M., Clark, E. M., & Tubbs, A. L. (1995). Love relationships: Attachment style and the investment model. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 17, 199209.Google Scholar
Pizzano, P. A., Sherblom, J. C., & Umphrey, L. R. (2013). Being secure means being willing to say you’re sorry: Attachment style and the communication of relational dissatisfaction and disengagement. Journal of Relationships Research, 4, Article ID e7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Powers, S. I., Pietromonaco, P. R., Gunlicks, M., & Sayer, A. (2006). Dating couples’ attachment styles and patterns of cortisol reactivity and recovery in response to a relationship conflict. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 613628.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Roisman, G. I., Collins, W. A., Sroufe, L. A., & Egeland, B. (2005). Predictors of young adults’ representations of and behavior in their current romantic relationship: Prospective tests of the prototype hypothesis. Attachment & Human Development, 7, 105121.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Rom, E., & Mikulincer, M. (2003). Attachment theory and group processes: The association between attachment style and group-related representations, goals, memories, and functioning. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 12201235.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Rosenthal, H. E. S., Somers, N., Fleming, P., & Walsh, J. (2014). The contributions of interpersonal attachment and friendship group identification to depressive symptoms in a nonclinical sample. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 44, 409414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rowe, A. C., & Carnelley, K. B. (2005). Preliminary support for the use of a hierarchical mapping technique to examine attachment networks. Personal Relationships, 12, 499519.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Safran, J. D., Muran, J. C., Rothman, M. (2006). The therapeutic alliance: Cultivating and negotiating the therapeutic relationship. In O’Donohue, W., Cummings, N. A., & Cummings, J. L. (eds.) Clinical strategies for becoming a master psychotherapist (pp. 3754). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Salvatore, J. E., Kuo, S. I., Steele, R. D., Simpson, J. A., & Collins, W. A. (2011). Recovering from conflict in romantic relationships: A developmental perspective. Psychological Science, 22, 376383.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Schachner, D. A., Shaver, P. R., & Mikulincer, M. (2005). Patterns of nonverbal behavior and sensitivity in the context of attachment relationships. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 29, 141169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Shaver, P. R., Schachner, D. A., & Mikulincer, M. (2005). Attachment style, excessive reassurance seeking, relationship processes, and depression. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 343359.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Shomaker, L. B., & Furman, W. (2009). Parent–adolescent relationship qualities, internal working models, and attachment styles as predictor of adolescents’ interactions with friends. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 26, 579603.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Simpson, J. A., Rholes, W. S., & Nelligan, J. S. (1992). Support seeking and support giving within couples in an anxiety-provoking situation: The role of attachment styles. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62, 434446.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Simpson, J. A., Rholes, W. S., & Phillips, D. (1996). Conflict in close relationships: An attachment perspective. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 899914.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Spielmann, S. S., MacDonald, G., Maxwell, J. A., Joel, S., Peragine, D., Muise, A., & Impett, E. A. (2013). Settling for less out of fear of being single. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 105, 10491073.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Tucker, J. S., & Anders, S. L. (1998). Adult attachment style and nonverbal closeness in dating couples. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 22, 109124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Weiner, B. (1985). An attributional theory of achievement motivation and emotion. Psychological Review, 92, 548573.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Westphal, M., Bonanno, G. A., & Mancini, A. D. (2014). Attachment and attentional biases for facial expressions of disgust. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 33, 169186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wood, N. D., Werner-Wilson, R. J., Parker, T. S., & Perry, M. S. (2012). Exploring the impact of attachment anxiety and avoidance on the perception of couple conflict. Contemporary Family Therapy, 34, 416428.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cited by

Send book to Kindle

To send this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Send book to Dropbox

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Send book to Google Drive

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Available formats