The relationship of these attachment injury markers as attributed to stepfamily formation was strong. Most of the markers occurred in relation to stepfamily formation or maintenance, and many were directly attributable to the stepfamily status. In other words, these markers for attachment injury would not have occurred the way they did had they not occurred in a stepfamily.
These outcomes seem dire if one is faced with stepfamily problems professionally or personally. In fact, this inquiry, though a small sample, emphasizes the difficulties of stepfamily formation, supported by statistics and qualitative research. This study, though, also provides a framework, attachment theory, from which to consider stepfamily problems and their possible mitigation.
Links to Previous Research
There are two theoretical contexts for this inquiry: attachment injury and stepfamily formation. A review of the literature revealed extensive information about both subjects; however, there were no inquiries regarding attachment injury that focused solely on stepcouples or stepfamilies. Some of the findings of this study support the premises in the existing literature on attachment injury and stepfamilies.
Studies on attachment injury in adults have defined the concept in several ways. The markers for attachment injury found in this study are those suggested by the combined work of several researchers. The findings in this study show that the markers for attachment injury found elsewhere, using other respondent characteristics, are also found in these stepcouples.
Attachment injury has been found to cause emotional distance in relationships, through conflict and mistrust resulting in a changed view of the partner, both cognitively and emotionally. Although attachment injury is received in relationship with another, it is perceived individually. Attachment injury works recursively: The emotional distance that comes from attachment injury recalls past abandonment events, which primes one to experience subsequent attachment injury more deeply, culminating in a strong sense of being increasingly alone, bereft and unsafe. Johnson (2002) aptly frames the broad scope of attachment injury as a relational trauma resulting in increased vulnerability.
The respondents in this study told stories that matched the patterns of attachment injury. Every respondent reported one or more periods of separation in her current marriage, with the exception of B (Respondent #5), who predicted the end of her relationship if they could not resolve their co-parenting problems. This suggests that some form of detachment or abandonment had already marked each stepcouple in their current relationship.
Each of this study’s five respondents had been married before, as had their spouses. Three had been married once before, one had been married twice before, and one was married for the fourth time. These respondents likely sustained threats to their attachment bonds in past relationships, as the relationships had ended. This might increase their sense of vulnerability to assaults on the present stepcouple bond. The fact that these are remarried couples defines them as being at risk for detachment. The additional factors of co-parenting, for these respondents, aggravated their vulnerability.