Much Ado About Your Thing: Conflict Structure Moderates the Effect of Attachment Anxiety on Postconflict Perceived Self-Partner Overlap

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Abstract

Romantic attachment anxiety—the chronic tendency to seek approval from and fear abandonment by romantic partners—is a strong negative predictor of relationship quality, which is in turn a multifaceted construct that includes perceived self-partner overlap (i.e., individuals’ sense of “oneness” with their partner). Potentially, discussing an issue of conflict within a relationship could be particularly threatening for individuals higher in romantic attachment anxiety, while at the same time presenting an opportunity for renewed closeness. To understand how and when attachment anxiety contributes to poor relationship outcomes, it is important to characterize the conflict conditions under which attachment anxiety predicts greater versus diminished self-partner overlap. The present study (n = 75 heterosexual couples) tested the hypothesis that the structure of an unresolved conflict discussion (i.e., whether the topic was self- or partner-nominated) would moderate the association between attachment anxiety and postconflict self-partner overlap. We found that increased attachment anxiety predicted increased self-partner overlap after discussing one’s own topic but did not predict less overlap after discussing one’s partner’s topic. Implications for research and clinical practice are discussed.

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