“Close relationships and adult attachment theory constitute my primary areas of research. I began studying attachment theory in the early 1990’s and published my first paper on it in 1992. Most of my attachment research over the years has focused on individual differences in attachment styles. These styles reflect the habitual thoughts, expectations, emotions, and behaviors that adults bring to their relationships. There are three well-established varieties of attachment style, the avoidant, anxious, and secure styles. Adults with the avoidant style seek to limit intimacy and interdependence in relationships. They want to view themselves as strong, independent, emotionally self-reliant, and without a strong need for other people. Adults with the anxious style see themselves as wanting highly intimate relationships, but they find that their intense need for intimacy can drive others away. They also view their relationship partners are untrustworthy, in the sense that their commitment to their relationships cannot be trusted. People with the anxious style worry excessively that their partners do not really love them and/or will not be available and supportive when they are distressed. People with the secure style score low on both avoidance and anxiety.
My first attachment study, an in-lab observational study, showed that more avoidant people, paradoxically, seek less support from dating partners when they are more anxious than when they are less anxious and that they give more support to their partners when their partners are less compared to more anxious. From this beginning, my research has addressed a range of topics including marital satisfaction, conflict resolution, additional support giving and seeking studies, the role of attachment styles during the period surrounding the birth of a couples’ first child, the impact of attachment styles on the desire to become a parent and on parenting behavior.
Recently, I have developed the first scale to measure a new attachment style, the disorganized style. Disorganization is defined as the absence of any consistent, organized way of coping with distress. It is closely related to fear of attachment figures. During the early years of development, children who develop the disorganized style often are caught in a bind between wanting to seek security from their attachment figures (typically parents) when distressed and a fear of their attachment figures because of the way they have been treated. A majority of children who are abused develop the disorganized style, but abuse is not necessary for the style to emerge. The adult disorganized style scale focuses on fear of the romantic partner, which we think of as a lingering remainder of the fear of the initial, childhood attachment figures. We have found disorganized attachment style to be related to anger and aggression in romantic relationships as well as a number of clinical disorders such as dissociation, depression, and borderline personality among others.”