Psychologists have uncovered a key factor that helps prevent romantic avoidance

New research provides evidence that positive relationship events play an important role in avoiding romantic attachment. The findings, which have been published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychologyindicate that positive relationship events in daily life predict a decrease in romantic avoidance over time.

Attachment theory describes how people bond with others and maintain their relationships. People can be secure or insecure in their attachments, and insecure people can be either anxious or avoidant. People with attachment anxiety often worry about rejection or abandonment. In contrast, those with avoidant attachment tend to be independent and have difficulty trusting others. Research has shown that both types of insecure attachment can lead to negative outcomes in relationships, such as communication problems and difficulties with intimacy.

“Social psychologists have long recognized that the quality of attachment bonds with our romantic partners is very important to the healthy functioning of relationships. Thus, we were interested in understanding the role of everyday experiences in helping couples achieve greater attachment security over time,” explained study author Gul Gunaydin (@gulgunaydin), professor of psychology at Sabanci University in Turkey.

In the study, researchers had 151 dating couples (who had been in a relationship for 1 to 3 months) and 168 newlywed couples (who had been married for up to 6 months) complete daily surveys for three weeks. The surveys asked participants to report whether they had experienced a variety of positive events involving their partner. The surveys also asked participants to indicate whether they had experienced positive moods such as happiness or peace.

The researchers found that positive relationship events predicted reductions in romantic avoidance. In other words, participants who reported more frequent positive relationship events were less likely to agree with statements such as “I have trouble allowing myself to rely on my partner” after the three-week period (compared to before). Gunaydino and colleagues also found that positive relationship events were associated with the experience of positive mood, which, in turn, predicted a reduction in romantic avoidance.

“Our findings suggest that positive relationship experiences contribute to feeling closer to and easier to depend on our partner (ie, lower romantic avoidance) over time,” Gunaydino told PsyPost. “Based on these findings, we encourage couples to create opportunities for pleasurable relationship experiences in everyday life — no matter how small they may seem.”

To better understand the specific behaviors that predict lower romantic avoidance, the researchers invited more than 150 couples to visit their lab and discuss a positive relationship memory. The discussion was videotaped and reviewed by twelve independent coders. Gunaydino and her colleagues observed that partner- and relationship-validating behaviors predicted a decrease in romantic avoidance over a one-month period.

“When reminiscing about these experiences together, partners can try to validate each other and the relationship—for example, saying how grateful they are to share the experience, revealing positive emotions they felt during the experience, or expressing how much they look forward for similar experiences in the future,” Gunaydino said. “As positive relationship experiences accumulate over time, this will likely help reduce romantic avoidance, a key aspect of feeling secure in one’s relationship.”

Surprisingly, the researchers found no evidence that positive relationship events were associated with decreases in romantic worry.

“We should keep in mind that positive relationship experiences are not a panacea for achieving attachment security,” Gunaydino told PsyPost. “In our research, positive relationship experiences helped reduce romantic avoidance, but not lower romantic stress. Romantic anxiety is characterized by worrying that your partner might reject or leave you. But experiencing positive things in your relationship doesn’t seem to significantly reduce those worries.”

“According to recent theory (the Attachment Security Enhancement Model by Ximena Arriaga and colleagues), anxious attachment is associated with having negative self-concepts. Thus, based on this framework, behaviors that neutralize negative self-views (such as encouraging your partner to independently pursue their own goals) likely play a more instrumental role in reducing romantic distress.

“Furthermore, all participants in our studies experienced a relationship transition as they were in the first months of either a new dating relationship or a marriage,” Gunaydino explained. “Starting a new relationship, getting married, becoming a parent, or breaking up are often seen as key events that offer greater potential for changing attachment patterns. Thus, our participants were at an ideal time in their relationship to test the relationship between positive relationship events and romantic avoidance. However, further research is needed to see if our findings would hold true for couples in more stable periods of their relationship.”

The study, “The Role of Positive Relationship Events in Avoiding Romantic Attachment,” was authored by Deniz Bayraktaroglu, Gul Gunaydin, Emre Selcuk, Miri Besken, and Zahide Karakitapoglu-Aygun.

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