What is it about?

Some people find it difficult to trust and depend on their romantic partners and prefer to put some distance between themselves and their partner. Such people are high in romantic attachment avoidance. We wondered what kind of experiences might help alleviate romantic avoidance and thereby contribute to feeling more secure in one’s relationship. We conducted a series of studies testing our prediction that engaging in positive experiences with romantic partners would contribute to lower romantic avoidance. In some of our studies, we asked fledgling couples and newlyweds to fill out daily diaries for three weeks. Every evening, our participants reported whether they had any positive experiences that day that involved their romantic partner. They also reported their feelings of romantic avoidance—once before the three-week diary period started and then a second time after the diary period was over. This allowed us to test whether couples’ experiences during the diary period were associated with changes in their attachment orientation. We found that participants who reported a greater number of positive relationship experiences showed significant declines in romantic avoidance—that is, they reported being more comfortable trusting and depending on their romantic partner at the end of the diary period. Interestingly, positive relationship experiences were not associated with significant declines in romantic anxiety, which encompass worries of being rejected and abandoned by one's partner. In another study, we asked fledgling couples to visit our laboratory to discuss a shared happy memory while being videotaped. This way, we were able to examine what type of behaviors during a positive exchange were associated with declines in romantic avoidance. We found that behaviors validating the partner and the relationship—such as expressing gratitude about the experience or expressing enthusiasm about the future of the relationship—were linked to decreases in attachment avoidance over a month. And our findings suggest that these positive behaviors are reciprocal! When your partner validates you or the relationship, you respond by validating your partner, and this in turn helps alleviate your romantic avoidance (but not romantic anxiety). Why are positive relationship experiences linked with lower romantic avoidance? Our results suggest that one reason might be positive mood. When you go through positive experiences with your partner, this simply makes you feel good. In time, you come to associate these positive feelings with the relationship and end up being more comfortable trusting and depending on your partner. So, cultivating positive experiences in your relationship might be key to a closer, more trusting, secure relationship with your partner.

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Why is it important?

Couples may suffer from low relationship satisfaction and high conflict because they have difficulties trusting and depending on one another. Our findings suggest that typical, daily life positive relationship experiences offer a pathway by which couples may overcome these difficulties and build a more secure relationship.

Perspectives

Based on our findings, we encourage couples to look for opportunities to engage in pleasant relationship experiences in daily life—even seemingly mundane ones. And when jointly reminiscing about these experiences, partners can try to validate one another and the relationship—for example, by telling how grateful they are for sharing the experience, disclosing positive emotions they felt during the experience or expressing how much they look forward to similar experiences in the future. As positive relationship experiences accumulate over time, couples may come to trust and depend on one another to a greater extent.

Dr. Gul Gunaydin
Sabanci University

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This page is a summary of: The role of positive relationship events in romantic attachment avoidance., Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, July 2022, American Psychological Association (APA), DOI: 10.1037/pspi0000406.
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