In two daily diary studies on couples and undergraduate students, researchers found that feeling appreciated buffered the negative link between avoidant attachment style and prosocial behavior towards their partners. People who are uncomfortable with intimacy were more willing to do things they do not like for the benefit of their partner if they felt appreciated. The study was published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
At a young age, individuals learn to avoid intimacy when their close others are untrustworthy, unreliable and unwilling to meet their needs. They develop an avoidant attachment style. Later in life, avoidantly attached persons do not expect others to be prosocial towards them i.e., to take care of their needs. This often makes them, in turn, less willing to themselves act in a prosocial way towards others.
Prosociality, proneness to behavior that will benefit others, is a key ingredient of caring relationships. This is particularly the case when done with the intention of enhancing partner’s well-being and not in order to promote self-interests. On the other hand, when avoidantly attached individuals do things they dislike for the benefit of the partner, they usually do so to avoid personal costs such as partner’s anger and frustration, rather than to make partner feel happy and loved.
Can feeling appreciated change that? Previous studies have shown that the behavior of avoidant individuals in a romantic relationship can be improved if their perception that their partner does not care about their needs is challenged.
To study the effects of appreciation on prosocial behavior of avoidantly attached persons, Kristina M. Schrage and her colleagues devised two studies in which participants kept daily diaries of developments of interest for the study.
Eighty couples, of which 75 were heterosexuals from the San Francisco Bay area participated in study 1. Their mean age was around 24 years and half of them were students. The researchers assessed their attachment styles (Experiences in Close Relationships Scale, ECR) at the start of the study and asked them to provide daily assessments of how appreciated they feel, their relationship satisfaction, motives for sacrifice for their partner (“Today, did you do anything that you did not particularly want to do for your partner? Or did you give up something that you did want to do for the sake of your partner?”), how appreciative they feel about their partner, how much they experienced physical affection and whether they made a sacrifice for their partner.
Participants in study 2 were 164 Canadian undergraduate students (89 females). After completing the attachment style survey, they were asked to complete a set of surveys each night assessing how appreciated they feel by their partner, their willingness to sacrifice for the partner, commitment to the relationship, motivations for sacrifice and relationship satisfaction.
The results of both studies showed that highly avoidant individuals were less willing to sacrifice for their partner, unless they were feeling highly appreciated. When they felt highly appreciated, their willingness to sacrifice for their partner was in line with the willingness to sacrifice of low-avoidance individuals. Study 2 also found that highly avoidant individuals displayed a bit higher motivation to benefit their partner when they were feeling highly appreciated compared to low-avoidance participants.
The study highlights the importance of feeling appreciated for the good functioning of partner relationships. However, it relied on daily diaries and spontaneous instances when feeling appreciated arose in daily lives. It is uncertain whether results would remain the same if partners were intentionally expressing appreciation. Notably, future studies should examine the generalizability of these findings by exploring them under experimental conditions and on samples from different cultures.
The study, “Feeling Appreciated Predicts Prosocial Motivation in Avoidantly Attached Individuals“, was authored by Kristina M. Schrage, Bonnie M. Le, Jennifer E. Stellar, and Emily A. Impett.