Stage 5 Clinger? What Saying Good-Bye Tells You About Your Partner

10/11/2012

Airport-couple
Taking a new romantic partner to their airport for the first time can feel like a big deal, and you may find out more than you expected about your relationship.

How partners form close bonds with others is what researchers call “attachment” and partners’ attachment styles can help you understand why some people you date are so cold and aloof (Avoidant), whereas others are anxious and clingy (Anxious).

Partners who have an Avoidant attachment style can be particularly hard to read because they are great at maintaining an emotional distance. However, failing to pick up on partners’ Avoidant attachment is costly, because they generally provide less satisfying and stable relationships.

Before September 11th, some of you might recall being able to accompany whoever was flying to their gate to say good-bye. In one particularly clever study by Chris Fraley and Phillip Shaver, conducted before September 2001, researchers approached couples in an airport to complete some measures, which included an attachment scale. Once the scales were complete, the researchers thanked the couple, but then subtly observed what happened when it was time for those couples to board. Some of the couples would be traveling together (no separation) and for some couples only one partner was flying, whereas the other was just saying good-bye (separation).

This real world observational study allowed the researchers to see how adults dealt with the threat of separation, which tends to “activate” people’s true attachment styles. Avoidant partners looked like great partners when there was no separation occurring (flying together). They were rated as being higher in caregiving and as less avoidant toward their partners than other participants. However, when couples were separating, Avoidant partners’ true colors were on full display. They engaged in less physical contact, less caregiving, and more avoidance. In other words, Avoidant participants looked perfectly Avoidant.

So, when you say good-bye for the first time, and your partner gives you a long embrace, drops a tear, and says, “I’ll miss you”, you can feel particularly good under these telling circumstances.

More on Love and Relationships:

Do Opposites Really Attrack?

Why Do We Fall in Love?

Saying "I Love You" Too Soon


Ty Tashiro is the author of The Science of Happily Ever After: What Really Matters in the Quest for Enduring Love, an entertaining look at why modern dating is so challenging, why people can easily make bad partner choices, and how science can help us make smart decisions in the search for enduring love. It's available on Amazon, Indie Bound and Barnes & Noble. Dr. Ty received his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Minnesota. His research has appeared in top academic journals and he has been an award-winning professor at the University of Maryland and University of Colorado. Follow him on facebook and twitter.
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