Divorce In Adulthood Linked To Childhood Relationship With Parents

According to Shaver’s research, which is based upon Bowlby’s attachment theory but extends it into the realms of adult romantic relationships, the type of relationship we had with our primary carer (usually the mother) in terms of the quality of the bond that we developed with her during early life (or, to use Bowlby’s phraseology, the type of ‘attachment style’ we formed with her), is reflected in the types of attachments/relationships that we form with romantic partners in our adult lives.

Shaver points out the following parallels between our early life relationship with our primary carer and our adult relationships with our romantic partners :

  • Just as, in early life, our primary carer was our main attachment figure, so too, in adulthood, our romantic partner becomes our main attachment figure.

  • Just as, in early life, we relied on our primary carer as our secure base, so too, in adulthood, we rely on our romantic partner as our secure base.

  • Just as, in early life, we relied on our primary carer as our safe haven, so too, in adulthood, we rely on our romantic partner as our safe haven.

  • Jn adulthood, our responses to separation from, or loss of, our romantic partners resemble our responses to separation from, or loss of, our primary carer in early life. And, in relation to separation and loss, Shaver suggests that it is sometimes only when our relationship with our romantic partner breaks down that we become fully aware of the emotional bond that exists between us and our him/her (reflecting the adage that you only understand the true value of something when you lose it).

Adult Romantic Relationships Tend To Mirror Early Life Attachment To Primary Carer

Shaver also states that there exist fundamental similarities between our adult romantic relationships and our early life attachment to our primary carer. For example, both types of relationship involve: ‘eye contact, holding, touching, caressing, smiling, crying, clinging, a desire to be comforted by one’s primary carer/partner when distressed, the experience of anger, anxiety and sorrow following separation or loss and the experience of happiness upon reunion.’

Shaver’s research also suggests that individuals who have had a secure and emotionally healthy bond (or, in Bowlby’s phrase, ‘attachment’ ) to their primary carer in early life tend to have long-lasting relationships as adults, whereas those who have had a problematic, less emotionally healthy and more insecure bond with their primary carer in early life tend to have more relationship difficulties as adults, are more likely to divorce and have a generally more cynical attitude towards the concept of love than those who had enjoyed a secure bond (attachment) to their primary carer in early life.



David Hosier Bsc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

About David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

David Hosier MSc holds two degrees (BSc Hons and MSc) and a post-graduate diploma in education (all three qualifications are in psychology). He also holds UK QTS (Qualified Teacher Status). He has worked as a teacher, lecturer and researcher. His own experiences of severe childhood trauma and its emotional fallout motivated him to set up this website, childhoodtraumarecovery.com, for which he exclusively writes articles. He has published several books including The Link Between Childhood Trauma And Borderline Personality Disorder, The Link Between Childhood Trauma ANd Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and  How Childhood Trauma Can Damage The Developing Brain (And How These Effects Can Be Reversed). He was educated at the University of London, Goldsmith’s College where he developed his interest in childhood experiences leading to psychopathology and wrote his thesis on the effects of childhood depression on academic performance. This site has been created for educational purposes only.

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