Attachment and Social Support in Romantic Dyads

  • Saul Mcleod

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis explored the association between attachment and social support in romantic couples who had recently become new parents. The systematic review of studies examining social support in romantic dyads (Paper 1; Chapter 2) showed that individuals with a secure attachment (i.e., low in avoidance and anxiety) perceived their partners as being better support providers, and recipients high in the dimension of attachment avoidance or anxiety were more likely to report negative perceptions of support. Methodological limitations of previous research and gaps in the literature were identified from the review and the subsequent empirical papers presented an attempt to address these. The first empirical study (Paper 2; Chapter 4) examined perceptions of the adequacy of partner support in a population of new mothers, using self-reports with cross-sectional surveys, and experience sampling elements. Adequate support occurs when people receive the type of support that matches their needs or preferences. A cross-sectional and momentary relationship was found between the dimensions of attachment anxiety and avoidance and perceptions of being under-supported. Mothers experienced being over-supported when they were concurrently high in the dimensions of avoidance and anxiety. Paper 3 (Chapter 5) explored the relationship between attachment and specific types of support needs, such as emotional and informational, and the influence of stress. Among mothers, there was an association between high levels of attachment anxiety and avoidance and needing more emotional, informational, and tangible support when currently perceiving stress, but not based on recalled instances. Paper 3 (Chapter 6) examined the relationship between pairings of attachment styles (secure vs. insecure) among parents of babies, and the momentary perceptions of support matching in the daily life of mothers. Mothers with a secure attachment style perceived a match between the amount of support needed and received from a romantic partner, and insecure attachment style was related to momentary instances of support mismatches. Neither the attachment style of the father, nor parental attachment style combinations, were associated with mothers’ perceptions of support. Taken together, the findings presented within this thesis provide evidence for the importance of the recipient’s attachment security, rather than their partner, in relation to support perceptions. The findings suggest that attachment dimensions and styles can guide perceptions of the social world and future interaction with others, possibly biasing interpretations of support attempts from others.
Date of Award1 Aug 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAlison Wearden (Supervisor) & Katherine Berry (Supervisor)


  • Couples
  • Attachment
  • Social Support
  • Matched Support

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