This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Negative adult romantic relationship experiences and working models of self and other




Taylor, Lisa

Type of Degree



Human Development and Family Studies


Internalized working models of self and other are blueprints of relationships that affect how people think about themselves and others in social relationships. The model of self is associated with an underlying anxiety dimension that is conceptualized as affect associated with abandonment. The model of other has been linked to an avoidance dimension, conceptualized as discomfort with closeness. Collins and colleagues (Collins & Read, 1994; Collins & Allard, 2001) proposed that people develop multiple working models; an overarching model that applies to multiple relationships, a model for every type of relationship, and one for every specific relationship. The theory provides an explanation for how it is possible for people to have different types of working models across multiple relationships (La Guardia, Ryan, Couchman, & Deci, 2000). The quality of relationships affects the kind of models that develop for specific relationships (Hamilton, 2000). High quality relationship experiences typically result in a “secure” working model and lower quality relationship interactions in an “insecure” working model. Research focused on the influences of contextual factors on attachment styles has shown that negative relationship experiences can change attachment styles in specific relationships from secure to insecure (Waters, Merrick, Treboux, Crowell, & Albersheim, 2000). The current study looked at the effects of both positive and negative relationship experiences on attachment styles in specific romantic relationships while controlling for attachment style for romantic relationships in general. The sample was comprised of 303 female undergraduates from a Southeastern university. Findings showed that relationship satisfaction, competence, relatedness, and autonomy were powerful predictors of security in specific relationships. Additionally, verbal aggression and perceived partner control were significantly associated with specific-level attachment style. Verbal aggression from partner and perceived partner control was positively associated with anxiety and negatively associated with avoidance. Finally, whether or not the relationship was ongoing or had ended also made a difference in specific-level attachment style. Ongoing relationships were associated with more anxiety (negative model of self), but less avoidance (positive model of self). These findings demonstrate that the quality of relationship experiences is fundamentally important to specific-level attachment security.