When Attachment Anxiety Impedes Support Provision: The Role of Feeling Unvalued and Unappreciated

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Two studies examined whether concerns of relational value interfere with the ability of individuals higher in attachment anxiety to provide responsive support to their partner. In both studies, heterosexual couples engaged in 2 video-recorded discussions about each other’s most important personal goal. Support recipients (the person whose goal was discussed) reported on how distressed they felt during the discussion. Support providers (the partner who was in the position to provide support) reported on how valued and appreciated they felt during the discussion. Independent observers coded the degree to which support providers exhibited critical and derogating behaviors versus warmth and understanding during the discussion. The results were consistent across both studies, with the exception that the predicted effects only emerged for male providers in Study 2. First, more anxious support providers felt less valued and appreciated when support recipients reported greater distress. Second, lower feelings of value/appreciation were associated with more anxious providers exhibiting greater negative support behavior. These results illustrate how the concerns of relational value central to attachment anxiety impede effective support provision, which should have detrimental effects for relationships. Indeed, consistent with prior research, greater negative behaviors by support providers predicted declines in recipients’ relationship quality over time.

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