Anxiously attached people tend to bring up old arguments over and over again, research finds.
Recalling old grudges or misdeeds adds fire to new arguments and kills the relationship.
Psychologists call this ‘kitchen sinking’.
Kitchen sinking is throwing everything into arguments, but the kitchen sink.
Anxiously attached people do this partly because they worry that their partners do not care for them.
High levels of attachment anxiety are linked to a fear of abandonment.
People who are anxiously attached are extremely ‘needy’.
Around one in five people have an anxious attachment style.
The conclusions come from a series of studies involving many hundreds of people.
In one, 201 people in romantic relationships were asked about their attachment anxiety and past conflicts.
The results showed that anxiously attached people were more likely to remember old conflicts.
Ms Kassandra Cortes, the study’s first author, explained:
“When memories feel closer to the present, those memories are construed as more relevant to the present and more representative of the relationship.
If one bad memory feels recent, a person will also be more likely to remember other past slights, and attach more importance to them.”
Naturally, remembering past conflicts makes people act more destructively in the moment, with disastrous consequences for the relationship.
However, the study also showed that sweeping conflicts under the carpet was not effective either.
Instead, conflicts need to be resolved as they occur, Ms Cortes said:
“It may be useful for people to resolve an issue with their partner when it occurs, rather than pretending to forgive their partner or just letting it go when they are clearly upset.
This way, the issue may be less likely to resurface in the future.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (Cortes & Wilson, 2016).