The way infantile needs are satisfied contributes to our tendency to get into repetitive patterns of relationships. As Bowlby states ‘no variables have more far-reaching effects on personality development than a child’s experiences within the family. Starting during his first months in his relation to both parents, he builds up working models of how attachment figures are likely to behave towards him in any of a variety of situations, and on all those models are based all his expectations, and therefore all his plans, for the rest of his life.
Ainsworth et al, following Bowlby’s theory investigated individual differences in attachment style. After a brief separation with their mother, infants were reunited and subsequent behaviour was observed. Three attachment patterns have been identified: ‘Secure’ infants use the mother as security and explore the environment; ‘anxious-ambivalent’ infants convey anger and resistance as well as a desire for proximity; and ‘avoidant’ infants avoid interaction with the mother. Interestingly, Ainsworth et al found sets of parental behaviours which reflected the infants’ attachment styles. For example, the secure mothers were found to be responsive and sensitive whereas unpredictability and inconsistency categorized the anxious mothers. Fittingly, the avoidant mothers were found to be rejecting and rebuffing. Attachment theory has become one of the most popular perspectives currently influencing research in close relationships.
Hazan & Shaver have translated these attachment styles into descriptions relating to romantic relationships in adults. Perhaps as expected, ‘secure’ adults tend not be too concerned about intimacy or abandonment and are comfortable with being dependent or depended on – they are said to have the best relationships. ‘Anxious-ambivalent’ adults feel the need to be closer to others than others feel comfortable with, perhaps interpreting this as not being loved or being potentially abandoned, they have difficulty relating. Finally, ‘avoidant’ adults find it difficult to be intimate, dependent and trusting – it is claimed that this group has the highest divorce rates. There are three versions of object theory – Klein, Winnicott and Fairbairn – all agreeing that disturbances in the infant-mother relationship lead to psychopathology. The link between an adult’s love of their partner and an infant’s craving for its mother is recognised widely. Therefore adult love is seen as a continuation of the mother-child relationship both involving an intense desire for close proximity and a longing for attention. Romantic love is also seen to re-enact mother and child behaviours for example cuddling, kissing and cooing.