Romantic Attachment



Parallel research in different, but related fields brought Bowlby and Ainsworth together as collaborators in developing Attachment Theory. Bowlby’s theories of attachment were conceived through research on infant / mother behaviors and bonding patterns. Specifically, Bowlby noted infant’s emotional reactions upon separation from primary caregivers in the form of protest, despair, and/or detachment. Assuming model child rearing, the child will be securely emotionally attached to their caregiver because their emotional needs were responsively met. Ainsworth’s research supplemented and expanded Bowlby’s theories to reference three specific attachment styles: secure, anxious/ambivalent, and avoidant. Secure attachment results from the ideal, model child rearing scenario where the majority if not all infant cues are responded to appropriately by the primary caregiver. Anxious/ambivalent attachment can result if the caregiver and infant have mismatched responsive / responding styles, possibly because the caregiver misreads infant cues, is slow to respond to cues, or inconsistent in responding to cues. Avoidant attachment may result if an infant perceives or feels rejected by the primary caregiver (Hazan & Shaver, 1987). The work of Bowlby and Ainsworth revolutionized thinking regarding child-rearing practices and parenting behaviors, in addition to informing other related fields of psychology including bereavement and grief.

Shaver and colleagues based their romantic theories on attachment theory reasoning that attachment style would remain consistent across the lifespan. Therefore, adult romantic relationships would resemble childhood originated attachment styles (Friedman & Schustack, 2012). Secure lovers form romantic attachments easily and are comfortable being in close, intimate relationships. Avoidant lovers have difficulties forming or sustaining romantic relationships, perhaps choosing emotionally or physically unavailable partners. Avoidant lovers may have difficulty sharing their innermost feelings or being honest with their partner. Anxious-ambivalent lovers want desperately to form attachments, but are insecure in relationships. Anxious lovers may seem needy, clingy, or desperate, scaring off potential mates.


Friedman, H. S., & Schustack, M. W. (2012). Personality: Classic theories and modern research (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Interpersonal Relations and Group Processes, 52(3), 511-524. Retrieved from



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