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theory holds that adults bring patterns of attachment into adulthood (Ainsworth, 1989); these patterns describe the relational dance of the dyad, both in terms of how the individual experiences attachment need and how attachment is expressed in the relationship. Attachment bonds regulate closeness and distance, maintaining a relational homeostatic feedback loop (Bowlby, 1988).

Attachment theory also provides a context for understanding how stress activates the attachment bond (Simpson & Rholes, 1994). Bowlby (1988) explains that the attachment bond is crucial when one needs proximity for comfort and care; the stressed individual seeks comfort by bonding with an individual who is perceived as having coping skills. In times of stress, then, one turns to the person who has shown competency as one’s caregiver.

Attachment injury is a construct that evolved from attachment theory; it describes challenges or traumas to a dyadic bond (Johnson, 2002; Johnson, Makinen & Millikin, 2001). Attachment injury is characterized by feelings of isolation and abandonment in a context of vulnerability (Johnson 2002). A spouse, for example, might have a negative emotional reaction at the disclosure of personal information to a third party, experiencing it as a trust-breaking event, from which it is difficult to recover and which affects comfort with making future self-disclosures to the partner. The feelings following an attachment injury are experienced as being isolated, exposed, vulnerable and therefore unsafe.

The negative experiences in attachment injury are recursive (Johnson & Sims, 2000). A trauma to the relational bond may decrease perceived trust in the integrity of the bond. This may lead to increasing vulnerability to the relational bond, wherein further tests may decrease its strength. Couples become locked into a cycle of pain and avoidance. Attachment injury occurs in the context of a perceived emotional trauma from one who historically provided safety. It is experienced as a betrayal from one’s primary emotional caretaker. Johnson and Sims note that this betrayal primes future negative interactions; if there is no interruption in the interactional cycle, either member of the couple may detach.

Research Questions

1) Do stepcouples describe relationship experiences that fit the criteria for attachment injury?

2) If stepcouples experience attachment injury, is the injury attributable to an issue pertaining specifically to stepfamily formation and/or maintenance?


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