When Loving Means Hurting: An Exploration of Attachment and Intimate Abuse In a Community Sample

Abstract

Intimate relationship abuse can be understood by considering two critical tenets of attachment. First, attachment fulfills a basic need for survival. Thus, the tenacity of the attachment bond is independent of relationship quality. Second, individuals whose attachment needs have been frustrated may strike out violently to regain proximity to the perceived loss of an intimate partner. We examined how individual differences in attachment were associated with women's and men's relationship abuse. A telephone survey assessed levels of psychological and physical abuse in 1249 Vancouver residents. Of these, 128 completed an attachment interview exploring their interpersonal relationships. Hierarchical regressions revealed that attachment variables contributed significant variance to prediction of both receipt and perpetration of psychological and physical abuse, with preoccupied attachment acting as an independent predictor. There was no evidence that gender moderated these associations. The findings suggest that attachment preoccupation in either partner may increase likelihood of abuse in couples.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. Archer, J. (2000). Gender differences in aggression between heterosexual partners: A meta-analytic review. Psychol. Bull. 126: 651–680.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. Babcock, J., Jacobson, N., Gottman, J., and Yerington, T. (2000). Attachment, emotion regulation, and the function of marital violence: Differences between secure, preoccupied, and dismissing violent and non-violent husbands. J. Fam. Violence 15: 391–409.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Bartholomew, K. (1990). Avoidance of intimacy: An attachment perspective. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 7: 147–178.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bartholomew, K., and Horowitz, L. (1991). Attachment styles among young adults: A test of a four-category model. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 61: 226–244.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Bartholomew, K., Henderson, A. J. Z., and Dutton, D. G. (2001). Insecure attachment and abusive intimate relationships. In Clulow, C. (ed.), Adult Attachment and Couple Work: Applying the ‘Secure Base’ Concept in Research and Practise, Routledge, London, pp. 43–61.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Bartholomew, K., Henderson, A. J. Z., and Marcia, J. (2000). Coded semi-structured interviews in social psychological research. In Reis, H. T., and C. M. Judd (eds.), Handbook of Research Methods in Social and Personality Psychology, Cambridge University Press, London.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Bookwala, J., and Zdaniuk, B. (1998). Adult attachment styles and aggressive behavior within dating relationships. J. Soc. Pers. Relation. 15: 175–190.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and Loss: Vol. 2. Separation, Basic, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Bowlby, J. (1982). Attachment and Loss: Vol. 1. Attachment (2nd edn.), Basic, New York. (Originally published in 1969.).

  10. Bowlby, J. (1988). A Secure Base, Basic, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Browne, A. (1993). Violence against women by male partners: Prevalence, outcomes, and policy implications. Am. Psychol. 48: 1077–1087.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Cappell, C., and Heiner, R. B. (1990). The intergenerational transmission of family aggression. J. Fam. Violence 5: 135–151.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Crittenden, P. M. (1988). Relationships at risk. In Belsky, J., and Nezworski, T. (eds.), Clinical Implications of Attachment, Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ.

  14. Crittenden, P. M. (1992). Children's strategies for coping with adverse home environments: An interpretation using attachment theory. Child Abuse Neglect 16: 329–343.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Dobash, R. P., Dobash, R. E., Wilson, M., and Daly, M. (1992). The myth of sexual symmetry in marital violence. Soc. Problems 39: 71–91.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Downey, G., and Feldman, S. I. (1996). Implications of rejection sensitivity for intimate relationships. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 70: 1327–1343.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. Downey, G., Feldman, S., and Ayduk, O. (2000). Rejection sensitivity and male violence in romantic relationships. Pers. Relation. 7: 45–61.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Dutton, D. G., and Painter, S. L. (1981). Traumatic bonding: The development of emotional attachments in battered women and other relationships of intermittent abuse. Victimol.: Int. J. 6: 139–155.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Dutton, D. G., and Painter, S. L. (1993). Emotional attachments in abusive relationships: A test of traumatic bonding theory. Violence Victims 8: 105–120.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Dutton, D. G., Saunders, K., Starzomski, A., and Bartholomew, K. (1994). Intimacy-anger and insecure attachment as precursors of abuse in intimate relationships. J. Appl. Soc. Psychol. 24: 1367–1386.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Follingstad, D. R., Rutledge, L. L., Berg, B. J., Hause, E. S., and Polek, D. S. (1990). The role of emotional abuse in physically abusive relationships. J. Fam. Violence 5: 107–120.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Griffin, D. W., and Bartholomew, K. (1994). Models of the self and other: Fundamental dimensions underlying measures of adult attachment. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 67: 430–445.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Hazan, C., and Shaver, P. (1987). Conceptualizing romantic love as an attachment process. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 52: 511–524.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. Hazan, C., and Zeifman, D. (1994). Pair bonds as attachments. In Cassidy, J., and Shaver, P. (eds.), Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research, and Clinical Applications, Guilford, New York, pp. 336–354.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Henderson, A. Z., Bartholomew, K., and Dutton, D. G. (1997). He loves me; He loves me not: Attachment and separation resolution of abused women. J. Fam. Violence 12: 169–191.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Holtzworth-Munroe, A., Stuart, G. L., and Hutchinson, G. (1997). Violent versus nonviolent husbands: Differences in attachment patterns, dependency, and jealousy. J. Fam. Psychol. 11: 314–331.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Kesner, J. E., Julian, T., and McKenry, P. C. (1997). Application of attachment theory to male violence toward female intimates. J. Fam. Violence 12: 211–228.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Kirkpatrick, L. A., and Davis, K. E. (1994). Attachment style, gender, and relationship stability: A longitudinal analysis. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 66: 502–512.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  29. Kwong, M. J., Bartholomew, K., Henderson, A. J. Z., and Trinke, S. (2003). The intergenerational transmission of relationship violence. J. Fam. Psychol. 17: 288–301.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  30. Landolt, M. A., and Dutton, D. G. (1997). Power and personality: An analysis of gay male intimate abuse. Sex Roles 37: 335–358.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Magdol, L., Moffit, T. E., Caspi, A., Newman, D. L., Fagan, J., and Silva, P. A. (1997). Gender differences in partner violence in a birth cohort of 21-year-olds: Bridging the gap between clinical and epidemiological approaches. J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 65: 68–78.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. Moffit, T. E., Caspi, A., Krueger, R. F., Magdol, L., Margolin, G., Silva, P. A., and Sydney, R. (1997). Do partners agree about abuse in their relationship? A psychometric evaluation of interpartner agreement. Psychol. Assess. 9: 47–56

    Google Scholar 

  33. Morgan, H. J., and Pietromonaco, P. R. (1994). Disorganization of the Attachment System in Abusive Romantic Relationships. Paper presented at the 102nd Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, August, 1994, Los Angeles, California.

  34. Morse, B. J. (1995). Beyond the Conflict Tactics Scale: Assessing gender differences in partner violence. Violence Victims 10: 251–272.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Murphy, C. M., and O'Leary, K. D. (1989). Physical aggression predicts physical aggression in early marriage. J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 53: 419–421.

    Google Scholar 

  36. O'Hearn, R., and Davis, K. E. (1997). Women's experience of giving and receiving emotional abuse: An attachment perspective. J. Interpers. Violence 12: 375–391.

    Google Scholar 

  37. O'Leary, K. D., Malone, J., and Tyree, A. (1994). Physical aggression in early marriage: Prerelationship and relationship effects. J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 62: 594–602.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  38. Pietromonaco, P. R., and Feldman Barrett, L. F. (1997). Working models of attachment and daily social interactions. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 73: 1409–1423.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  39. Roberts, N., and Noller, P. (1998). The associations between adult attachment and couple violence: The role of communication patterns and relationship satisfaction. In Simpson, J., and Rholes, W. (eds.), Attachment Theory and Close Relationships, Guilford, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Scharfe, E., and Bartholomew, K., (1994). Reliability and stability of adult attachment patterns. Pers. Relation. 1: 23–43.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Stets, J. E., and Straus, M. A. (1990). Gender differences in reporting marital violence and its medical and psychological consequences. In Straus, M. A., and Gelles, R. J. (eds.), Physical Violence in American Families: Risk Factors and Adaptations to Violence in 8,145 Families, Transaction, New Brunswick, NJ, pp. 227–244.

  42. Straus, M. A., Hamby, S. L., Boney-McCoy, S., and Sugarman, D. B. (1996). The Revised Conflict Tactics Scales (CTS2).J. Fam. Issues 17: 283–316.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Tolman, R. M. (1989). The development of a measure of psychological maltreatment of women by their male partners. Violence Victims 4: 159–177.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Antonia J. Z. Henderson or Kim Bartholomew.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Henderson, A.J.Z., Bartholomew, K., Trinke, S.J. et al. When Loving Means Hurting: An Exploration of Attachment and Intimate Abuse In a Community Sample. J Fam Viol 20, 219 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10896-005-5985-y

Download citation

Keywords

  • intimate abuse
  • relationship abuse
  • adult attachment
  • attachment behavior