Romantic attachment formation, satisfaction, commitment, and social support in early adult dating relationships

Diana M Robbins, Marquette University


Attachment theory is a socioemotional developmental theory developed by John Bowlby that examines the central role of close relationships in human development. According to Bowlby, individuals' beliefs and expectations about the self and others are developed through a series of interactions and exchanges with important persons in their lives. These beliefs and expectations are believed to be operative throughout the lifespan and to be related to the way in which individuals seek out and provide care to others. Attachment processes have been studied extensively in infancy and childhood; however, these same phenomena are less understood in adulthood, especially among unmarried romantic dating partners. The present study explored romantic attachment relationships in early adulthood. It investigated the impact that interactions between romantic partners, with their distinct attachment histories and life experiences, had on dyadic attachment formation, attachment change, relationship satisfaction, commitment, social support, and longevity in the current relationship. One hundred and forty six college students (73 couples) from Marquette University participated in the present study. Participants were assessed at baseline and again 6 months later. Each participant completed a packet of questionnaires assessing romantic attachment, relationship commitment, satisfaction, attachment transfer, and parent and peer attachment. Participants also engaged in two 10-minute social support discussion tasks. Findings demonstrated that attachment formation to romantic partners was not related to length of time together or individuals' romantic attachment anxiety. However, as predicted, attachment formation was negatively related to romantic attachment avoidance. In addition, attachment security did not directly predict relationship outcomes; however it was indirectly related to outcomes through its association with relationship satisfaction. Relationship partners did not differ in their social support behaviors; however, couples who broke up differed from those who remained together in their use of negative social support. The findings of the present study suggest that relationship partners' reported level of satisfaction and enacted negative social support behaviors are stronger predictors of whether a couple remains together or breaks up than attachment characteristics or other types of support behaviors. Results are discussed in the context of the empirical literature and attachment theory. Areas for future research are discussed.

Recommended Citation

Robbins, Diana M, "Romantic attachment formation, satisfaction, commitment, and social support in early adult dating relationships" (2008). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3326748.