Emotional responses to partner behaviors in intimate relationships as a function of respondent and partner attachment status

Date of Completion

January 2005


Psychology, Social|Psychology, Clinical




This study examined emotional responses to 20 hypothetical partner behavior vignettes, which fell into three categories: Kind-Considerate, Inconsiderate, and Cheating-Threat behaviors. Participants (N = 386) were undergraduate couples who had been in an exclusive dating relationship for at least 3 months. Two constructs of adult attachment, Romantic Anxiety and Intimacy Avoidance, were measured and expected to predict emotional responses. Participants evidenced different patterns of emotional responses for each of the three kinds of partner behavior vignettes, with Kind-Considerate vignettes eliciting positive-valence emotions (Euthymia), Inconsiderate vignettes eliciting negative-valence emotions (Dysthymia) but not jealousy, and Cheating-Threat vignettes eliciting Dysthymia and jealousy. Greater Romantic Anxiety predicted more intense emotional responses for all 20 of the vignettes. Greater Intimacy Avoidance predicted less intense emotional responses on all Kind-Considerate and Cheating-Threat vignettes, as well as on 4 out of 7 Inconsiderate vignettes. Because the data came from couples, it was also possible to explore the effects of Partner Romantic Anxiety and Intimacy Avoidance on individuals' responses. While Partner Anxiety and Avoidance did not predict scores as consistently as Respondent Anxiety and Avoidance, several interesting effects were found. Greater Partner Anxiety predicted lower Respondent jealousy and lower respondent Dysthymia in response to some of the cheating threat vignettes. Greater Partner Anxiety predicted lower Respondent Euthymia for one Kind-Considerate vignette, and higher Partner Avoidance predicted greater Respondent Euthymia in response to an Inconsiderate vignette. In addition, several interactions between Respondent Anxiety and Partner Anxiety were found; these indicated that the more similar members of a couple were to each other on Romantic Anxiety, the more intensely the Respondent reported experiencing Euthymia for two Kind-Considerate vignettes and Dysthymia for one Cheating-Threat vignette. The results of the study support the ability of two attachment constructs, Romantic Anxiety and Intimacy Avoidance, to predict emotional responses to partner behavior. The results also suggest the utility of exploring the effects of partner anxiety and avoidance on the emotional reactions that individuals experience in response to partner behaviors and of the possible influence similarity of attachment styles on emotional responses to partner behaviors. ^