Doctoral thesis

From partnerhood to parenthood : the interplay of attachment insecurities, emotions, and responsiveness in committed couples


  • Fribourg (Switzerland), 2024

1 ressource en ligne (172 pages) ; 1 fichier pdf

Thèse: Université de Fribourg (Suisse), 2023

English Our romantic relationships with others are central aspects of our lives, as they can
bring joy when they go well and great sorrow when they go poorly. Most individuals aim to have a satisfying intimate relationship as there is a need to belong in close relationships. As we delve into the intricacies of a couple’s life journey, it becomes evident that one of the most transformative and defining moments in their shared narrative is the transition to parenthood. This pivotal juncture not only shapes their relationship but also brings to the forefront a myriad of emotions, challenges, and adjustments. Although it constitutes a norm ative life transition for a couple, which is perceived as a positive life event, becoming a new parent is not a single event but a process. Therefore, it requires major life changes, often launching downturns in relationship functioning and well being. The history and experiences that partners bring into the relationship, which are also reflected in attachment orientations, greatly
affect how they will face the challenges of parenthood. Particularly, during the shift to
parenthood attachment processes beco me activated and prominent, not only because it is a stressful time but also because it elicits memories of how individuals were treated during their childhood by their own parents. Attachment insecurities may therefore render certain people more vulnerable to adjusting to this critical perio d. Attachment orientations greatly affect how partners feel, think, and behave, and may elicit feelings of vulnerability and insecurity within the relationship. They are systematically associated with more negative emot ions, perceptions, and patterns of social support and particularly through stressful periods of changes in couples’ lives. However, amidst these challenges, there are protective factors at play. Intimate partners exhibit a high degree of mutuality leading them to be committed in their close relationships and are theorized to influence each other in many ways and in a reciprocal manner for long periods of time. Commitment, the deep investment in the partnership, may act as a stabilizing
force, promoting care and, motivating individuals to work through difficulties and sustain
their connection. Care may mitigate the negative impact of attachment insecurities, fostering security and in turn resilience during this transformative journey. The goal of the present thesis is to provide evidence for the role of one’s own attachment insecurities on individual and relationship functioning, particularly the experience of emotions, perceived partner responsiveness, and the role of commitment on caregiving and in fostering a sense of security, across a significant life altering event the t ransition to parenthood.

Study 1 investigated the role of attachment insecurities on the experience of
momentary emotions and their dynamic change through time on a sample of 149 heterosexual couples expecting their first child, especially when they reported feeling stressed. Results showed that attachment anxiety was predictive of more negative affect for both men and women and that attachment avoidance in men predicted more positive affect dynamics generally and in times of stress. Results provide additional insights into the cur rent body of literature on emotional functioning in intimate relationships and particularly on how momentary fluctuating affect is affected by attachment insecurities, especially when people report stress.

Study 2 assessed the association of attachment insecurities with perceived partner
responsiveness using a sample of 120 heterosexual couples transitioning to parenthood.
Couples were evaluated during pregnancy and at six, 12 --, and 18 months post partum.
Individual differences in attachment orientations may shape perceptions of support, especially during stressful times . Considering the mutual role that partners play in maintaining attachment insecurities or acting as a source of security, we also investigat ed how perceptions of responsiveness influence attachment insecurities. On the one hand, results showed that attachment insecurities were associated with a decline of perceived partner responsiveness across the transition. On the other hand, a rise in att achment insecurities across the four time points of evaluation was also observed , even when individuals perceived responsiveness from their partner. These findings contribute to the limited evidence on changes of attachment insecurities across time in close relationships and shed more light on the existing literature regarding the role of attachment orientations on perceptions of partner support across the transition to parenthood.
Study 3 examined actor and partner effects of commitment on attachment insecurities and the mediating role of caregiving in a sample of 120 heterosexual couples during the transition to parenthood. Couples were evaluated during pregnancy and at six months post- partum. Studies on couples have shown that commitment and caregiving are vital elements for maintaining healthy and long-lasting intimate relationships. Results revealed actor effects of commitment on caregiving. Caregiving was also associated with less anxiety in women and less avoidance in men. Moreover, men’s commitment predicted women’s caregiving. No mediating paths were found. Results highlight the
need for further research, particularly regarding the factors that help partners to establish security during challenging transitional phases. Taken together, the findings of these studies confirm that attachment insecurities differentially affect emotions, perceptions of support and caregiving in intimate relationships, during the transition to parenthood. Moreover, results emphasize the role of interpersonal dyadic
processes of support on promoting security in couples. Results provide insights for
better understanding and maintaining healthy and resilient intimate relationships.
Faculté des lettres et des sciences humaines
  • English
  • Bibliographie
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