Attachment and Divorce

Topics: Attachment theory, Mary Ainsworth, John Bowlby Pages: 10 (3440 words) Published: March 17, 2010
Attachment and Divorce:


Bowlby's, Ainsworth's, and Shaver's research created the understanding that infant styles create a disposition for later behavioral traits. More current research has questioned the significance of how the disruption of the attachment structure (such as in divorce) can affect children's behaviors throughout life. The research on this topic is contradictory and somewhat inconclusive, with research asserting that either attachment style or external environment has been the main contributor to the behaviors seen in members of divorced families, while many sources stated that it is likely to be a combination of both influences. With either explanation, research concludes that children of divorced families have a disposition to these behaviors, but the end development of behavior and personality is in the hands of the individual and the external factors that are present. Abstract

The attachment theory that was developed by Harlow, Bowlby, and Ainsworth, which states that attachment is a key aspect to determining personality and behavior throughout an individual's lifetime. Attachment can be defined as the strong bond that develops first between parent and child, and later in peer and romantic relationships (Bowlby, 1969). Research on divorce and separation of attachment figures has yielded conflicting results. It is often reported that children of divorce have trouble adapting to different stages of their lives because of their experience with broken or detached attachment bonds. These children are said to have no accurate template for successful relationships to replicate in their lives. Other research provided results that children of divorce adapt to life's situations and relationships within normal ranges when compared to their peers (Armistead, Forehand, Summers, & Tannenbaum, 1998). Taking this into account, these researchers looked to peer relations, socioeconomic status, general distress, or poor parenting skills to explain the appearance of troublesome behavior or poor grades. The study of all aspects of divorce and attachment is important to how parents, psychologists, and teachers approach and understand children of divorced families in order to help them reach their full potential as adults.

Overview of Attachment Theory

The attachment theory has a basis in three theoretical approaches and was first related to primate and infant-mother studies. The three approaches include a psychoanalytic approach, the social learning approach, and the ethological theory of attachment (Ainsworth, 1969). Childhood attachment styles are clearly based on the emotional bond between the parent and child, as opposed to a biological push to become attached. A study on adopted children shows that positively formed attachments heighten the chance for a well-adjusted life, regardless of the biological relation of the attachment figure (Juffer, Stams & van IJzendoorn, 2002). "Even in a biologically unrelated group of parents and their adopted children from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds, early child-parent relationship characteristics played a significant role in shaping children's adjustment in middle childhood" (Juffer et al., 2002, p. 814). Harlow (1958) experimented with infant rhesus monkeys by removing them from their mothers and offering them a choice between two surrogate mothers, one made of terrycloth, the other of wire. In the first group, the terrycloth mother provided no food while the wire mother did, in the form of an attached baby bottle containing milk. In the second group, the terrycloth mother provided food; the wire mother did not. The young monkeys clung to the terrycloth mother regardless it provided them with food, and that the other young monkeys chose the wire surrogate only when it provided food. The monkeys in the terrycloth study fared better in many aspects of their lives compared to others who were provided with only a wire...

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