Friday, August 21, 2009

Monitoring Behaviors in Romantic Relationships

I recently overhead a conversation between two young women. "Oh my God. This guy that I have been going out with is totally commenting on my Facebook every five minutes and, like, asking questions about everyone of my friends." Without skipping a beat, her friend proclaimed, "Stalkerrrrr!"

Monitoring behaviors in romantic relationships are not new. They involve a pattern of behaviors of closely monitoring the proximity of the person of interest. This can include a monitoring of not just the physical proximity of the person, but also a monitoring of the mental and emotional proximity.

"Where are you?" "Who are you with?" "Are you thinking of me?" These are all questions that may have the aim of ensuring an ongoing link with the person of interest. This relationship style represents not only the insecurity in the current adult relationship, but research indicates that it might reflect the person's early childhood attachment relationship. Specifically, monitoring behaviors in romantic relationships may reflect an anxious attachment of early childhood.

John Bowlby, a British psychoanalyst, originally developed the theory of attachment based on his observation that infants go to extraordinary lengths to either prevent separation or reestablish proximity with a parent. He argued that these were adaptive responses to separation from someone who provides support, protection and care.

Securely attached infants tend to be the most well adjusted. These infants have had the experience of relatively consistent and reliable parenting with few significant stressors or traumas in their early life. They tend to be resilient, well liked and get along well with peers. On separation from their primary attachment figures, they do become upset, but when the parent returns, the child actively seeks the parent and is easily comforted by him or her. In adulthood, these people tend to be more satisfied in their relationships and their relationships are characterized by greater longevity, trust, commitment, and interdependence. They easily turn to look to their relationship for comfort in times of distress.

In contrast, when trauma, inconsistency, abandonment or other significant stressors are a part of the infant's early experience, a different kind of attachment relationship can emerge.

Avoidantly attached infants tend to avoid expression of distress upon separation from their parent, although they are seen to be experiencing physiological distress. Upon reunion, these infants actively avoid seeking contact with their parent, sometimes turning their attention to other objects instead. In adulthood, these people may appear not to care too much about close relationships, and may prefer not to be too dependent upon other people or to have others be too dependent upon them.

Anxiously attached infants tend to become ill-at-ease on the initial separation from the parent, and then become extremely distressed. When reunited with their parents, these children have a very difficult time being soothed, often exhibiting conflicting behaviors that suggest that they want to be comforted, but also that they want to "punish" the parent for leaving. In adulthood, these people may tend to worry that others may not love them completely, and be easily frustrated, anxious or angered when their needs for connection go unmet. This is the attachment style that can lead to excessive monitoring behavior in adult romantic relationships.

Do you know your attachment style?

Secure Attachment Style
I find it relatively easy to get close to others and am comfortable depending on them and having them depend on me. I don't worry about being abandoned or about someone getting too close to me.

Avoidant Attachment Style
I am somewhat uncomfortable being close to others; I find it difficult to trust them completely, difficult to allow myself to depend on them. I am nervous when anyone gets too close, and often, others want me to be more intimate than I feel comfortable being.

Anxious Attachment Style
I find that others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I often worry that my partner doesn't really love me or won't want to stay with me. I want to get very close to my partner, and this sometimes scares people away.

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