Buffering the responses of avoidantly attached romantic partners in strain test situations

Allison K. Farrell, Jeff Simpson, Nickola C. Overall, Sandra L. Shallcross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Strain tests are unique contexts that have important implications for relationships, but they have rarely been studied in social interactions. We investigate how more avoidant individuals (responders) react when their romantic partners (askers) request cooperation with an important plan/goal that requires a major sacrifice from responders. As predicted, more avoidant responders were less accommodating when asked to sacrifice and showed drops in trust and commitment following the strain test discussion. However, certain asker behaviors-expressing confidence that the responding partner will facilitate the request, and acknowledging their sacrifices in doing so-led more avoidant responders to react more positively during and after the strain test discussions. Showing responsiveness, another positive asker behavior, promoted growth in trust and commitment, but it did not help more avoidant responders react more positively to the asker's goal. Blending key principles of interdependence and attachment theory, this is the first behavioral observation study to identify the specific partner behaviors that help highly avoidant people respond constructively in strain test situations and to suggest how avoidant partners can become more trusting and committed in their romantic relationships.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)580-591
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Family Psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Feb 25 2016


  • Attachment
  • Partner buffering
  • Romantic relationships
  • Strain tests

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