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Markers of attachment injury

Consistent with the current literature defining and operationalizing attachment injury, the data analysis searched for markers of attachment injury in stepcouples (Johnson & Sims, 2000). Seven categories of attachment injury markers initially were identified in the interview data: Irresolvable Problems; Change of Perception About the Partner; Change of Heart; Betrayal of Trust; Questionable Partner Dependability; Abandonment; and Detachment.

Attachment injury was identified by indications of respondents feeling a problem was irresolvable (e.g., “We never can fix this problem, and neither of us will ever change our mind”), or through signals of a change in one partner’s perceptions of and feelings toward the other (e.g., “Everything changed for me when she did that to me”) (Millikin, 2000). Markers of attachment injury were found in expressions of feeling abandoned or “…a betrayal of trust during a critical moment of need,” expressed by an individual in the couple relationship (e.g., “I couldn’t believe it, he just stood there and didn’t help me”); the analysis also sought signs of challenges to the relationship that called into question “…the dependability of the offending partner” (e.g., “My partner is only out for himself, never for me”) (Johnson, Makinen & Millikin, 2001, p. 145). Markers for attachment injury, too, were indicators of a partner’s “change of heart” toward the other (e.g., “I just finally understood that s/he isn’t what I thought s/he was”), or of descriptions of traumatized feelings in the relationship, that signified a sense of detachment of the couple bond (e.g., “When s/he does that, I run for my life”) (Johnson, 2002). Also identified were those events that were considered pivotal, in that they described a time or incident in the relationship that defined a change in the way the respondent viewed the meaning of the relationship or viewed the partner.

In the final analysis, these seven constructs were categorized into four: Irresolvable Problems; Change of Belief About the Partner, Abandonment/Detachment; and Pivotal Events. These four categories preserved the full meaning of the seven marker categories defined in the attachment injury literature.

Irresolvable Problems. Respondents described problems that created disagreements, arguments or fights with their partners. These arguments tended to recur in their marital relationship, with no resolution. The recurrence included a sense of becoming embedded into their relationship dynamic, as some respondents, for example, described “fighting about the fighting.”

Change of Belief About the Partner. Four of the original categories were subsumed under one category; hence, Change of Perception, Change of Heart, Betrayal of Trust and Questionable Partner Dependability were combined to become Change in Belief About Partner. A respondent described a sense of changed perception when noting a negative change over time in how they thought about their partner or their relationship. A change of heart described a change in the respondent’s feelings toward her partner or the relationship. The betrayed trust described a respondent’s feelings following events that changed or eroded her expectations about her partner or the relationship. The sense of betrayed trust also represented actions or perceptions of deception, lies or manipulation, either by the respondent or her partner. A change in beliefs was identified


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