Attachment Theory


by Susan M. Johnson

The application of attachment theory to adult relationships, which did not occur until the late 1980’s, (Hazan & Shaver, 1987; Johnson, 1986), was a revolutionary event for the modality of couple therapy. For the first time, a theory of close relationships offered the couple therapist a coherent, relevant, widely applicable and well researched framework for understanding the complex phenomena of adult love relationships. This is a phenomena that has preoccupied and perplexed human beings almost since time began. Couple therapy, as a modality has generally been missing a comprehensive theory of relatedness to guide intervention. Over the years a number of general ideas have arisen that have guided the practice of couple therapy. For example, that adult love relationships mirror past relationships with parents, that we even actively recreate the negative elements of these relationships to resolve inner conflicts, that problems in relationships are due to developmental delays which cause partners to enmesh rather than differentiate, or that partners lack skills, either communication skills or the negotiation skills with which to create good rational quid pro quo contracts with spouses. There have been many problems with these conceptualizations, for example, the concept of enmeshment confuses caring and coercion (Green & Werner, 1996 ), and quid pro quo contracts are not generally found in happy couples but only in those who are very distressed (Murstein, Cerreto & McDonald, 1977).

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from: Attachment Processes in Couple and Family Therapy, Edited by Susan M. Johnson and Valerie E. Whiffen, 2005, Guilford Press