When a relationship ends: The role of attachment in romantic relationship loss
Loss is an inevitable part of the human experience. How each individual reacts to loss may be affected by various factors (e.g. an individual’s attachment style). The current studies focused on how individuals respond to and cope with the loss of one type of attachment figure, specifically the loss of a romantic partner. The relationship between romantic loss and attachment theory is discussed and an integrated model of romantic relationship loss and attachment is proposed. This model accounts for various differences in how individuals respond to the loss of romantic relationships in young adulthood. Study 1 focused on the development of a revised form of the Inventory of Daily Widowed Life (IDWL; Caserta and Lund, 2007), which was labelled the Daily Activities After Relationship Loss (DAARL), to assess loss-orientation, restoration-orientation, and the oscillation between these processes following romantic relationship loss. This measure allowed for the assessment of coping in keeping with the constructs of the Dual Process Model of Bereavement (DPM; Stroebe & Schut, 1999), but allowed for these processes to be assessed in the context of romantic relationship loss as opposed to coping following the death of a loved one. Study 1 was comprised of two parts with differing samples: Part 1 included seven (four female) graduate students and undergraduate alumni in the social sciences as participants whereas Part 2 included ninety-seven (sixty-nine female) undergraduate psychology students. Participants were presented with proposed items for the new measure, as well as definitions of loss-oriented and restoration-oriented coping, and then were asked to categorize these items as loss-oriented coping, restoration-oriented coping, both, or other. Items yielding the highest levels of inter-rater agreement were used for the DAARL in Study 2. Study 2 focussed on the attachment relationship between former romantic partners, and how individuals coped with the loss of an attachment figure following the termination of a romantic relationship. One hundred and fifty-nine (one hundred and eleven female) individuals who had been broken up with or deemed their most recent romantic loss as being a mutual break-up were asked to complete a questionnaire packet containing measures of attachment style, coping behaviours following the loss, depression, anxiety, and socially desirable responding. A model of differences in coping with romantic relationship loss based on an individual’s attachment style was proposed and tested based on Stroebe, Schut, and Stroebe’s (2005) DPM and findings by Waskowic (2010; See Figure 4). Based on the findings from the current studies there are differences between the four types of attachment (i.e., secure, dismissing, preoccupied, and fearful) in how each copes with the loss of a romantic attachment figure. In light of the current findings, a revised model of romantic grief, which integrates the Dual Process Model of Bereavement within an attachment theoretical framework is offered (See Figure 5). This new model accounts for observed differences in the way individuals cope with the loss of a romantic relationship and suggests that researchers focus on the attachment relationship to explain variability in an individual’s response following romantic loss. The results of Study 2 provide support for the new integrated model and encourage others to consider using attachment theory, when examining how individuals with different attachment styles (i.e., secure, dismissing, preoccupied, and fearful) will respond to a romantic loss. Study 1 and 2 in conjunction also provide early stage support for the validity of the DAARL. Study 1 provided initial content validity by having independent raters assess items as being consistent with restoration-oriented or loss-oriented coping. Study 2 provided empirical support of the items selected as being consistent with their intended constructs by analyzing internal consistency and item-total correlations. The findings of Study 2 suggested that the dimensions proposed represented related, but distinct constructs. The current studies aimed to advance our understanding of the relationship between attachment theory and romantic relationship loss by expanding upon relevant theories and empirical findings for bereavement following a death to other forms of loss. Further, the findings are reported in regards to specific attachment styles, rather than the secure versus insecure distinction that has been commonly utilized when conducting research on attachment style differences. Implications and future directions for research are discussed.
DegreeMaster of Arts (M.A.)
CommitteeTeucher, Ulrich; Jenkins, Maricarmen; Holtslander, Lorraine
Copyright DateNovember 2013