Attachment styles, social behavior, and personality functioning in romantic relationships

Personal Disord. 2019 May;10(3):275-285. doi: 10.1037/per0000317. Epub 2019 Feb 4.


Personality disorders (PDs) are commonly associated with romantic relationship disturbance. However, research has seldom evaluated who people with high PD severity partner with, and what explains the link between PD severity and romantic relationship disturbance. First, we examined the degree to which people match with partners with similar levels of personality and interpersonal problems. Second, we evaluated whether the relationship between PD severity and romantic relationship satisfaction would be explained by attachment styles and demand/withdraw behavior. Couples selected for high PD severity (n = 130; 260 participants) engaged in a conflict task, were assessed for PDs and attachment using semi-structured interviews, and self-reported their relationship satisfaction. Dyad members were not similar in terms of PD severity but evidenced a small degree of similarity on specific attachment styles and were moderately similar on attachment insecurity and interpersonal problems. PD severity also moderated the degree to which one person's attachment anxiety was associated with their partner's attachment avoidance. In addition, using a dyadic analytic approach, we found attachment anxiety and actor and partner withdrawal explained some of the relationship between PD severity and relationship satisfaction. Our results indicate people often have romantic partners with similar levels of attachment disturbance and interpersonal problems and that attachment styles and related behavior explains some of the association between PD severity and relationship satisfaction. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Object Attachment*
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Personality Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sexual Partners / psychology*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Spouses / psychology*
  • Young Adult