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Stepcouples must face issues and resolve problems not encountered by traditional families. This study will explore stepcouples’ problems from the perspective of attachment theory and attachment injury, and whether their problems are unique to stepcouples in forming and maintaining their stepfamilies.

This review will examine: stepfamilies and their challenges, attachment theory; adult attachment; the concept of attachment injury; and constructs relevant to adult attachment.

Research Context

Stepfamilies have been studied extensively, particularly from a problem-focused view (Ganong & Coleman, 1994; Martin, Martin & Jeffers, 1992; Papernow, 1993; Visher & Visher, 1979). The literature regarding problems in stepfamily formation has not approached the issues specifically from an attachment perspective. Further, although attachment theory, and particularly adult attachment, provides a systemic, recursive framework through which to view relational problems, the studies that examine adult attachment and attachment injury have not specifically focused on stepfamily issues.

This research inquiry assumes that the attachment framework is both relevant and useful in considering both stepfamily problems and, by implication, their possible solutions. The nature of the salient problems in stepfamilies, especially loss and loyalty conflicts, lend themselves to a context of attachment challenges, and may therefore seek resolution in an approach that attempts to repair injured attachment bonds in the stepcouple.

Attachment Theory

The human striving for attachment is a powerful drive, finding its roots in an infant’s struggle for survival (Bowlby, 1988). It is the attachment bond that helps to maintain the infant’s well being. The infant is “pre-wired” to express its attachment need, and therefore keep the adult caregiver close at hand, and ready to help the infant by meeting its survival needs. We learn, before we can remember, that those who provide us succor are those who can keep us alive. This knowledge creates a lifelong habit of seeking out those who can help us when we are unable to help ourselves.

Bowlby (1988) characterizes attachment behaviors as serving the function of protection, a function not any less necessary than our other survival needs. Attachment theory holds that protection is sought not only for biological survival but emotional security, as well. The theory was developed with the consideration promoted by Harlow and Zimmerman’s work with rhesus macaques (1959, as cited in Bowlby, 1988). These investigators found that infant monkeys, given a choice of a soft, cuddly “dummy”


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