Lack of gratitude helps explain the link between attachment avoidance and lower relationship satisfaction

Researchers have found one underlying mechanism that helps explain why attachment avoidance is negatively related to relationship satisfaction. Their findings, which were published in
Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, suggests that gratitude towards one’s partner mediates the relationship between attachment avoidance and relationship satisfaction.

People can be secure or insecure in their attachments to their romantic partner, and insecure individuals can be either anxious or avoidant. Those with an “anxious” attachment style are fearful of rejection and abandonment, while people with an “avoidant” attachment style tend not to trust others and shun intimacy.

“Generally, I am interested in how personality traits translate into specific behavior which in turn affects outcomes such as emotional well-being,” said study author Manja Vollmann, an assistant professor at the Erasmus School of Health Policy and Management.

“This is important to examine as personality traits are relatively stable and therefore difficult to change, whereas specific behavior can be changed more easily. This specific research questions was brought up by one of my master’s students (Sem Sprang) as many people wish for a satisfying romantic relationship.”

The study was based on 362 participants who had been in a romantic relationship for at least 6 months. The average relationship duration among the participants was 6.28 years.

The researchers found that people with higher levels of attachment avoidance were more likely to agree with statements such as “When I look at my partner, I don’t see much to be grateful for,” and “Long amounts of time can go by before I feel grateful to my partner.” These decreased feelings of gratitude, in turn, were associated with lower satisfaction with the romantic relationship.

The findings indicate that “appreciating one’s partner and being grateful toward one’s partner results in a more satisfying romantic relationship. Thus, the advice is: Focus on the positive aspects of your partner and your relationship and be grateful for that,” Vollmann told PsyPost.

Attachment anxiety was also negatively related to relationship satisfaction, but gratitude toward the partner did not serve as a mediator of the relationship.

“Partner’s positive behaviors may meet the strong desire for intimacy, but may also cause negative emotions that interfere with feelings of gratitude, as individuals high in attachment anxiety fear not being able to reciprocate the partner’s kindness and meet the partner’s expectations,” the researchers wrote in their study.

They added that “the negative effect of attachment anxiety on relationship satisfaction may rather be attributed to the use of other strategies and defenses, such as guilt induction, clinging, and dominating.”

“We investigated the within-person effects of attachment and gratefulness on relationship satisfaction,” Vollmann said. “However, it takes two to be in a relationship, and therefore, it would be interesting to investigate the between-person effects of attachment and gratefulness on relationship satisfaction. For example, what effect does gratefulness of one partner have on the gratefulness and the relationship satisfaction of the other partner?”

The study, “Adult attachment and relationship satisfaction: The mediating role of gratitude toward the partner“, was authored by Manja Vollmann, Sem Sprang, and Femke van den Brink.