The Role of Stress in Changing Attachment Style over the Transition to Parenthood




Galaugher, Tara

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This longitudinal study examined factors that contribute to change in attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance over the transition to parenthood. Participants were a community sample of 98 heterosexual couples expecting their first child who were recruited through maternity resources in the Victoria, B.C. area. Specifically, this study considered whether prenatal perceived stress levels predicted change in adult attachment security. For men, higher stress levels predicted more change in attachment security. We also examined whether increases in stress levels from the prenatal to the postnatal period predicted changes in attachment security and found that increases in stress from the prenatal to postnatal period were associated with more change in attachment for men; results were marginally significant for women. In addition to examining the impact of stress on the absolute value of change in attachment, this study considered perceived support and perceived anger as moderators of the relationship between stress and directional change in attachment. Measures of general support and perceived anger did not moderate this relationship. Observational ratings of partner’s positive and negative support behaviours during support-seeking interactions were examined as potential moderators. The interaction between stress and positive emotional support predicted decreasing avoidance for women. Interactions between stress and negative affect marginally predicted increasing anxiety for men and women. Dyadic analyses were also used to clarify how changes in participants’ attachment security over time were influenced by their partners’ prenatal attachment security. For women, partner levels of attachment avoidance at the prenatal period predicted increasing attachment anxiety. These findings emphasize that adult attachment exists in the context of interpersonal relationships, and demonstrate the importance of using dyadic and longitudinal data to study attachment. Implications for attachment theory and intervention are discussed.



attachment, conflict, longitudinal, perceived support, stress, transition to parenthood