Adult Attachment

Empirical research on adult attachment is grounded on the theory that the attachment system formed between the mother and child is responsible for the attachment bond that eventually develops between adults in emotionally intimate relationships (Fraley, 2010).  In infancy and childhood, the context for attachment in the relationship is between the child and the primary caregiver; during adolescence, it becomes primarily peer oriented; in young adulthood, attachment relationships tend to shift more towards romantic partners (Golder, Gillmore, Spieker, & Morrison, 2010).  According to Berghaus (2011), adult attachment style is the foundation of how an individual might maintain close contact with one or more specific individuals other than his or her parents.  These physical and psychological relationships can provide safety and security.  They might also differ based on the level of importance, because attachment figures are not treated equally (Keren & Mayseless, 2013).  Unlike infants who are not able to choose their mothers or primary caregivers, adults are free to choose with whom they form attachment relationships.  Adults tend to form specific attachment relationships that might vary in their level of importance and centrality (Fraley, 2010).  Adult attachments function as part of a wider organization of cognitive and motivational processes, which can assist individuals in making sense of experiences and function in ways that serve both personal and primary needs (Golder et al., 2010).

Adults also can choose how to manage their relationships with their parents.  For example, they can choose how often they might visit their parents.  They can also determine how deeply involved they are with them, placing their parents on a higher or lower position in their attachment hierarchy (Keren & Mayseless, 2013).  Adolescents and adults might also try to change the quality of their relations with their parents; however, infants do not have a choice regarding whether or not their parents will serve as attachment figures to them, irrespective of the level of security within the relationship (Berghaus, 2011).  As romantic relationships are formed later in life, the romantic partner might ultimately become the primary source of security, comfort, and support, and eventually replace the parents at the top of the attachment hierarchy (Berghaus, 2011).  The forging of new attachment relationships and establishing committed relationships with a romantic partner can aid in the development of more secure and intimate relations than those previously experienced with parents (Keren & Mayseless, 2013).  Adult attachments are considered to be based on behaviors specific to romantic relationships, through the context of internal working models (Golder et al., 2010).

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Melanie Burton, Ed.d, LCSW, LADC


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