Our attachment system essentially asks the following elementary question: Is the attachment figure nearby, accessible, and attentive? If the child perceives the answer to this question to be "yes," he or she feels loved, secure, and confident, and, behaviorally, is likely to explore his or her environment, play with others, and be sociable and feel secure in doing so. The freedom to explore is enhanced by knowing that one has a “home base” to go to whenever needed. If, however, the child perceives the answer to this question to be "no," the child feels anxiety. The child will constantly seek security from the caretaker (usually the mother) until he or she obtains a desirable level of physical and/or psychological contact. If this fails to happen, the child may give up and this will lead to emotional distress. This can take the eventual form of avoidance of the attachment figure as the child learns he or she cannot count on this person. This emotional distress usually happens if the child experiences long separations, loss, or neglectful treatment by caretaker.
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Although Ainsworth and Bowlby were chiefly focused on understanding the nature of the infant-caregiver relationship, they believed that attachment characterized human experience from "the cradle to the grave." Other researchers (Mikulincer and Shaver, 2007) began to explore their ideas in the context of romantic relationships. This is where this subject gets really fascinating. What was discovered is that the emotional bond that develops between adult romantic partners is part of the same early attachment system.
The relationship between infants and caregivers and the relationship between adult romantic partners in satisfying relationships often share the following features:
- both feel safe when the other is nearby and responsive
- both engage in intimate bodily contact
- both feel insecure when the other is inaccessible
- both share discoveries with one another
- both play with one another's facial features and exhibit a mutual fascination and preoccupation with one another
- both engage in "baby talk"
Adult romantic relationships are attachments, and romantic love triggers that same early patterned way of relating to someone we love.