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C 2005)

Journal of Adult Development, Vol. 12, No. 1, January 2005 (


DOI: 10.1007/s10804-005-1324-z

Brief Report

Husbands and Wives Attachment Orientations


and Depressive Symptoms: Predictors of Positive
and Negative Conflict Behaviors in the Marriage
Jennifer F. Marchand-Reilly1,3 and Marla Reese-Weber2

The present study examined both husbands and wives attachment orientations and depressive symptoms in predicting reports of marital conflict behaviors. Married couples (N = 60)
completed questionnaires to assess their attachment orientations, depressive symptoms,
and perceptions of positive and negative conflict behaviors in the marital relationship.
Using hierarchical regression analyses, statistical models were tested wherein husbands and
wives reports of marital conflict behaviors were regressed on their own and their spouses
attachment orientations and depressive symptoms. The results suggest that both attachment
orientations and depressive symptoms were important predictors of reported marital conflict
behaviors. However, different predictors were found for husbands and wives reports of
positive and negative conflict behaviors. In general, spouses attributes played only a small
role in predicting reports of marital conflict behaviors.
KEY WORDS: attachment; depressive symptoms; marriage; conflict behaviors.

A considerable body of evidence supports the


notion that behaviors displayed during marital conflict are important predictors of relationship functioning and marital dissolution (e.g., Gottman, 1994).
Given the important consequences of marital conflict
behaviors, identifying the variables that may predict
conflict behaviors has become a focus of research
investigation. The present study examines the role
of individuals and their spouses attachment orientations and depressive symptoms in their reports of
positive and negative marital conflict behaviors.
According to attachment theory (Bowlby,
1969/1982), internal working models of self and
others develop in the context of early parentchild
interactions. One outgrowth of internal working

models of attachment is attachment orientations.


Attachment orientations are a set of expectancies
that serve as a guide for ones own behaviors, as
well as expectations for others behaviors in intimate
relationships (Simpson & Rholes, 1998). Because
conflict threatens the security of the relationship,
Kobak and Duemmler (1994) have suggested that
conflict is one context in which the behaviors
associated with a particular attachment orientation
are likely to be observed. Indeed, research has shown
that insecure attachment orientations are associated
with fewer constructive problem-solving behaviors
(Kobak & Hazan, 1991).
In addition to attachment orientations, research
has found depression to be an important correlate of
marital conflict behavior (Marchand & Hock, 2000).
Symptoms of depression, such as hostility and irritability, as well as dysphoria and withdrawnavoidant
behavior, may interfere with an individuals ability
to use adaptive behaviors to resolve conflict. Studies
based on married couples have found that depressive symptoms are related to fewer problem-solving
behaviors (Schmaling & Jacobson, 1990) and more

1 Human

Development and Family Studies, The Pennsylvania


State University, Mont Alto, Pennsylvania.
2 Department of Psychology, Illinois State University, Normal,
Illinois.
3 To whom correspondence should be addressed at Human
Development and Family Studies, The Pennsylvania State University, 1 Campus Drive, Mont Alto, Pennsylvania 17237; e-mail:
jxm570@psu.edu.

85
C 2005 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.
1068-0667/05/0100-0085/0 

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Marchand-Reilly and Reese-Weber

avoidance and/or attacking behaviors (Marchand &


Hock, 2000).
Although most empirical research on conflict
strategies has examined attachment orientations
and depressive symptoms separately, Karney and
Bradbury (1995) have argued that both could be
considered enduring vulnerabilities that have an
impact on marital processes by affecting an individuals ability to adapt to challenges in the marital
relationship. Thus, the joint consideration of these attributes may explain marital conflict behaviors better
than either attribute considered alone.
The aforementioned research suggests that an
individuals attachment orientations and depressive symptoms are significant predictors of their
own reports of conflict strategies. However, less
is known about the role of spouses attributes in
conflict strategies. In one study, Kobak and Hazan
(1991) found that husbands attachment predicted
wives negative behaviors, and wives attachment
predicted husbands positive behaviors. Regarding
spouses depressive symptoms, Marchand and Hock
(2000) found that husbands and wives own depressive symptoms, but not their spouses depressive
symptoms, were significant predictors of their selfreported conflict resolution behaviors.
The present study extends previous research by
examining attachment orientations and depressive
symptoms in the prediction of reported marital conflict behaviors in a community sample of long-term
married couples. Both husbands and wives reports
of their own attachment orientations and depressive
symptoms were used to predict each spouses reports
of positive and negative marital conflict behaviors.
Individuals attachment orientations and depressive
symptoms were expected to predict their own reports
of marital conflict behaviors (Kobak & Hazan, 1991;
Marchand & Hock, 2000). Additionally, spouses attachment orientations were expected to predict individuals reports of marital conflict behaviors (Kobak
& Hazan, 1991). A specific prediction could not be
made about spouses depressive symptoms since it
has not been found to predict individuals reports
of marital conflict behaviors in prior research
(Marchand & Hock, 2000).

addresses in exchange for extra course credit. Parents were mailed questionnaires and a stamped and
addressed envelope for returning the questionnaires.
Wives and husbands mean ages were 47.5 (SD =
4.6) and 49.0 (SD = 5.1), respectively. Couples average annual income was $81,302 (SD = $30,036),
and their mean length of marriage was 21.9 years
(SD = 8.9). Most couples represented Caucasian
backgrounds (98.3%).

METHOD

RESULTS

Sixty married couples were recruited via their


late adolescents participation in a larger study. Late
adolescents agreed to provide their parents mailing

Means and standard deviations for the study


variables are presented in Table I. The relations
among the study variables were first examined using

Instruments
Conflict Behaviors
The Managing Affect and Differences Scale
(MADS; Arellano & Markman, 1995) was used to assess perceptions of typical conflict strategies in dyadic
interactions. This 109-item measure contains scales
theoretically designed to assess both positive and
negative communication. In the present study, the
alpha coefficients for positive and negative strategies
were .97 and .91, respectively, for both husbands and
wives.

Attachment Orientations
The 18-item Adult Attachment Scale (AAS;
Collins & Read, 1990) was used to assess three underlying dimensions of attachment orientations: comfort
with closeness, comfort depending on others, and
anxiety over experiencing abandonment and rejection. In the present study, Cronbachs alphas for
the Closeness, Dependency, and Anxiety subscales
ranged from .68 to .89.

Depression
The 20-item Center for Epidemiological Studies
Depression Scale (CES-D; Radloff, 1977) was used
to assess depressive symptoms. In the present study,
alpha coefficients were .88 and .89 for wives and
husbands, respectively.

Predictors of Positive and Negative Conflict Behaviors in the Marriage

87

Table I. Correlations Among the Study Variables


Variable

1. Wife closeness
2. Husband closeness
3. Wife dependency
4. Husband dependency
5. Wife anxiety
6. Husband anxiety
7. Wife depressive
symptoms
8. Husband depressive
symptoms
9. Wives positive
strategies
10. Husbands negative
strategies
11. Wives negative
strategies
12. Husbands negative
strategies
M
SD

1.00
.03
.46
.12
.33
.00
.33

1.00
.19
.63
.27
.36
.15

1.00
.20
.50
.14
.62

1.00
.21
.37
.07

1.00
.28
.45

1.00
.29

1.00

.07

.50

.01

.41

.16

.15

.04

1.00

.22

.18

.38

.26

.55

.41

.51

.24

.05

.42

.29

.45

.32

.37

.17

.41

10

.62

1.00

.26

.30

.33

.50

.52

.44

.31

.78

.48

.13

.42

.14

.58

.26

.45

.13

.50

.49

.69

18.5
6.2

17.7
4.1

19.6
4.5

18.8
4.6

11.4
4.1

11.2
8.5

8.1
7.5

12

1.00

.25

13.3
6.2

11

319.1
43.3

316.4
40.7

1.00
.56
66.7
17.2

1.00
65.9
15.6

< .05. p < .01.

Pearson correlations and are presented in Table I.


Next, data were subjected to hierarchical regression
analyses. On the basis of the perspective that attachment relationships in adulthood reflect styles of
attachment that develop in infancy and childhood
(Hazan & Shaver, 1987), attachment orientations
were entered into the regression equation before
depressive symptoms. Further,because our primary
focus was to determine whether spouses attributes
predicted variance above and beyond those of individuals attributes, spouses attachment orientations
were entered after controlling for individuals attachment orientations. Similarly, spouses depressive
symptoms were entered after controlling for individuals depressive symptoms. Each dimension of
attachment (closeness, dependency, and anxiety) was
considered separately along with depressive symptoms in the regression equation.
Predicting Husbands and Wives Reported
Conflict Behaviors
When husbands positive conflict behaviors were
being predicted from husbands and wives comfort
with closeness and depressive symptoms, the final
model was significant, R2 = .25, F (4, 49) = 3.91, p <
.01. Entered in step 1, husbands closeness was a
significant predictor, accounting for 17% (p < .01) of
the variance; less comfort with closeness was associated with fewer positive behaviors. Entered in step

2, wives closeness did not contribute to the variance.


Husbands depressive symptoms, entered in step 3,
explained 6% of the variance, and wives depressive
symptoms, entered in step 4, explained 2%.
When husbands positive conflict behaviors were
being predicted from husbands and wives comfort
with depending on others and depressive symptoms,
the final model was significant, R2 = .32, F (4, 49) =
5.50, p < .01. Husbands dependency and depressive
symptoms were significant predictors, accounting
for 21% (p < .01) and 8% (p < .05) of the variance,
respectively; less comfort depending on others and
more depressive symptoms were associated with
fewer positive behaviors. Wives dependency and
depressive symptoms were not significant predictors.
When husbands positive conflict behaviors
were being predicted from husbands and wives
anxiety and depressive symptoms, the final model
was significant, R2 = .29, F (4, 49) = 4.90, p < .01.
Husbands anxiety and depressive symptoms were
significant predictors, explaining 12% (p < .05)
and 12% (p < .01) of the variance, respectively;
more anxiety and more depressive symptoms were
associated with fewer positive behaviors. Wives
attributes were not significant predictors.
When husbands negative conflict behaviors
were being predicted from husbands and wives
comfort with closeness and depressive symptoms,
the final model was significant, R2 = .32, F (4, 49) =
5.53, p < .01. Husbands closeness and depressive

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symptoms were significant predictors, accounting for
20% (p < .01) and 11% (p < .01) of the variance,
respectively; less comfort with closeness and more
depressive symptoms were associated with more negative behaviors. Wives attributes were not significant
predictors.
When husbands negative conflict behaviors
were being predicted from husbands and wives
comfort depending on others and depressive symptoms, the final model was significant, R2 = .41,
F (4, 49) = 8.16, p < .01. Husbands dependency and
depressive symptoms were significant predictors, explaining 30% (p < .01) and 9% (p < .01) of the variance, respectively; less comfort depending on others
and more depressive symptoms were associated with
more negative behaviors. Wives attributes were not
significant predictors.
When husbands negative conflict behaviors
were being predicted from husbands and wives anxiety and depressive symptoms, the final model was
significant, R2 = .33, F (4, 49) = 5.86, p < .01. Husbands anxiety and depressive symptoms were significant predictors, accounting for 12% (p < .05) and
20% (p < .01) of the variance, respectively; more
anxiety and depressive symptoms were associated
with more negative behaviors. Wives attributes were
not significant predictors.
When wives positive conflict behaviors were
being predicted from wives and husbands comfort
with closeness and depressive symptoms, the final
model was significant, R2 = .33, F (4, 49) = 5.65,
p < .01. Wives depressive symptoms were
significant predictors, explaining 19% (p < .01)
of the variance; more depressive symptoms were
associated with fewer positive behaviors. Wives
closeness and husbands closeness and depressive
symptoms were not significant predictors.
When wives positive conflict behaviors were
being predicted from wives and husbands comfort
depending on others and depressive symptoms, the
final model was significant, R2 = .34, F (4, 49) = 5.90,
p < .01. Wives dependency and depressive symptoms were significant predictors, accounting for 15%
(p < .01) and 12% (p < .01) of the variance; less
comfort depending on others and more depressive
symptoms were associated with fewer positive behaviors. Husbands attributes were not significant
predictors.
When wives positive conflict behaviors were
being predicted from wives and husbands anxiety
and depressive symptoms, the final model was significant, R2 = .45, F (4, 49) = 9.59, p < .01. Wives

Marchand-Reilly and Reese-Weber


and husbands anxiety were significant predictors,
accounting for 31% (p < .01) and 6% (p < .05) of
the variance, respectively; more anxiety was associated with fewer positive behaviors. Wives depressive
symptoms were also significant predictors, explaining 6% (p < .05); more depressive symptoms were
associated with fewer positive behaviors. Husbands
depressive symptoms were not significant predictors.
When wives negative conflict behaviors were
being predicted from wives and husbands comfort
with closeness and depressive symptoms, the final
model was significant, R2 = .28, F (4, 49) = 4.56, p <
.01. Wives and husbands depressive symptoms were
significant predictors, explaining 13% (p < .01) and
7% (p < .05) of the variance, respectively; more depressive symptoms were associated with more negative behaviors. Wives and husbands closeness were
not significant predictors.
When wives negative conflict behaviors were
being predicted from wives and husbands comfort
with depending on others and depressive symptoms,
the final model was significant, R2 = .25, F (4, 49) =
4.01, p < .01. Wives dependency and depressive
symptoms were significant predictors, accounting for
9% (p < .05) and 10% (p < .01) of the variance,
respectively; less comfort depending on others and
more depressive symptoms were associated with
more negative behaviors. Husbands attributes were
not significant predictors.
When wives negative conflict behaviors were
being predicted from wives and husbands anxiety
and depressive symptoms, the final model was significant, R2 = .42, F (4, 49) = 8.85, p < .01. Wives
and husbands anxiety were significant predictors, accounting for 28% (p < .01) and 10% (p < .01) of the
variance, respectively; more anxiety was associated
with more negative behaviors. Wives and husbands
depressive symptoms were not significant predictors.

DISCUSSION
Findings from the present study provide evidence that even in well-established marriages, attachment orientations are significant predictors of
an individuals perceptions of marital conflict. The
connection between attachment processes and the
conflict behaviors of long-term married couples provides support for Bowlbys (1979) statement that
attachment behavior is important from the cradle
to the grave. Consistent with previous research
(Marchand & Hock, 2000), husbands and wives

Predictors of Positive and Negative Conflict Behaviors in the Marriage


depressive symptoms were also predictive of their
own positive and negative conflict behaviors.
The significant contribution of both attachment dimensions and depressive symptoms to reported marital conflict behaviors provides support
for Karney and Bradburys (1995) idea that both
attachment orientations and depressive symptoms
could be considered enduring vulnerabilities that
contribute to marital functioning. Although the
present study did not attempt to predict attachment orientations and depressive symptoms, literature on clinical depressive disorders suggest that variables responsible for depressive onset are very similar to variables impacting attachment orientations
(Bifulco, 2002). Hence, it is not surprising that both
variables would impact marital conflict behaviors.
Still, future studies based on longitudinal data are
needed to confirm these findings.
Little support was found for the idea that
spouses attributes would predict reported conflict
behaviors. Our finding that husbands anxiety predicted wives reports of positive and negative conflict behaviors is consistent with previous research
(Kobak & Hazan, 1991). With regard to depressive
symptoms, findings from the present study suggest
that the relatively low level of depressive symptoms
reported by nonclinical couples may not have been
severe enough to have an impact on spousal behavior. However, despite the restricted range of scores
on depressive symptoms a number of findings did
emerge for individuals reports of conflict behaviors.
The present study is not without limitations. We
used a relatively well-adjusted, homogenous sample
of married couples. Samples of married couples that
are more diverse may represent a pattern of findings that differs from the one found in the present
study. For example, in our study a relatively lowlevel of depressive symptoms was reported by a nonclinical sample of married couples. Studies based on
samples representing a broader range of depressive
symptoms may find stronger associations. In addition, our study relied exclusively on self-report data.
Hence, a reporting bias may have influenced the
pattern of results. Findings from the present study
should not be generalized to other populations until
they can be replicated by research using multiple
informants of husbands and wives attributes and
samples of married couples that are more diverse in
terms of socioeconomic status, ethnic background,
and/or adjustment.

89

The present study does contribute significantly


to our knowledge about what predicts marital conflict behaviors. Although some of the findings were
different for husbands versus wives, overall the findings suggest that spouses attachment orientation and
depressive symptoms play only a small role in predicting reported marital conflict behaviors. However,
our results do suggest that husbands and wives own
attachment orientations and depressive symptoms
accounted for significant portions of the variance
in their reports of marital conflict behaviors. Thus,
future studies in the field of marital conflict behaviors should examine the enduring vulnerabilities of
individuals attachment orientations and depressive
symptoms.
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