Attachment Style Influences Adult Conflict Resolution

Healthy conflict resolution is essential to maintaining positive and constructive adult relationships. Individuals usually learn how to handle conflict in childhood. Children watch the way adults work through disagreements and model those patterns of behavior as they develop into adults and begin to form relationships with others. The bonds that children have with their caregivers also influence the way in which they address conflicts. People who have secure attachments with their parents and caregivers are often able to work through challenges with other people in respectful, affectionate, and loving ways. They are capable of recognizing when they need to ask for forgiveness and are willing to compromise to achieve a resolution that is mutually satisfying to all involved. Individuals who have insecure attachments, however, are often unable to handle situations as amicably. Insecure attachment can be expressed through avoidant or anxious behaviors. People who are avoidant in nature tend to withdraw and shut down when faced with conflict. Anxious individuals may demand attention, even negative attention, and use aggressive and hostile tactics to engage someone in a conflict dispute.

For children who have grown up witnessing dysfunctional conflict resolution strategies, having a secure attachment with others could help them avoid making the same mistakes of their parents. Rather than continuing the negative behaviors they have seen displayed by their own parents, these secure, self-reliant, and confident people may choose to use healthier mechanisms to maintain harmony in their adult relationships. Joyce A. Baptist of the School of Family Studies and Human Services at Kansas State University wanted to better understand how attachment style affected emotional processing learned in families of origin. She enlisted 203 young adults who had been raised in families with various emotional functioning styles for a study that evaluated how the adult children managed conflict.

Baptist found that the participants who had witnessed extreme disengagement in childhood were more likely to use aggressive and antagonistic disagreement strategies in adulthood. The most anxiously attached individuals in this group were the most apt to engage in hostile behaviors as their anxiety escalated. Those with minimally avoidant styles worked through disagreements in a more civil way. Baptist believes these results suggest that secure attachments can help protect individuals from dysfunctional and destructive conflict resolution patterns. These findings could impact how professionals assist people who have communication and compromise problems in their adult relationships. She added, “Considering the interrelations between emotional processing in families of origin and insecurities in attachment will allow therapists to better identify and treat the root of the destructive conflict behavior.”

Baptist, J. A., Thompson, D. E., Norton, A. M., Hardy, N. R., Link, C. D. (2012). The effects of the intergenerational transmission of family emotional processes on conflict styles: The moderating role of attachment. American Journal of Family Therapy 40.1, 56-73.

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  • joy

    April 11th, 2012 at 1:09 PM

    So many of the articles that I have read on the site lately are all dealing with how our attachment from an early age to our adult caregivers very heavily influences how we lead our own adult lives.

    I do think that this is true in a very real sense. We learn about how to engage in conflict resolution and indeed all manners of how to act as an adult when we are a child. These notions are formed very early.

    But I do have to say that when we actually do become adults ourselves, that is the time to take a pretty good inventory and determine if what we learned when we were young was right or was wrong.

    In many cases we may realize that now is the time to make some changes, subtle or large, in how we lead our own adult lives. If what we witnessed as a child was wrong, then we do not have to become that same mirror image. We need to assert our own selves and our own priorities and become who WE are and not just a continuation of what we witnessed growing up.

  • yogaloverrr

    April 11th, 2012 at 3:32 PM

    I wonder if establishing solid relationships as an adult could help with their resolution skills.

    I would not think that only the relationships forged as a child would be the only ones that matter.

    There are other formative times in your life, especially once you are in college.

    Maybe if they are able to find an adult who will mentor them or who they can look up to as a role model they can move beyond what they have known in the past and become more than that.

  • Callie

    April 12th, 2012 at 1:28 PM

    Insecure attachment, I know a little something about that. My parents abandoned me to my aunt and uncle when I was just a bay so my whole life I feel like I have been trying to keep someone around me to love me.I am always looking for that love, but in all the wrong ways. Does that make sense? I am afraid to be who I really am because there is always this nagging feeling deep down inside that I am not good enough and if I expose the real me than that might not be good enough.

  • Derrick R

    April 14th, 2012 at 12:51 AM

    A lot of this depends upon the parents and the family environment..A negative attachment and family environment may even trigger acts of crime later on..We need to educate parents about such things and the same good attachment will be carried forward into the future generations as well..

  • Mitra

    May 31st, 2016 at 11:55 AM

    who’s the author of this article?

  • The Team

    May 31st, 2016 at 4:29 PM

    Hi Mitra,
    This was written by a freelance news correspondent who is no longer with If you’re trying to cite this article, you may simply attribute it to Thank you for asking! :)

    Kind regards,
    The Team

  • Aaaaa

    July 31st, 2022 at 12:29 PM

    This article doesn’t mention the fact that avoidant people cause conflict with their coping too. It only says “minimally avoidant people good, anxious people bad”. That’s not helpful.

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