Glossary of terms and definitions

There is a way in which communication between research groups, and communication with the wider public, has been hindered by confusion about the meaning of concepts…. Part of the appeal of attachment research lies in its central reference to experience-near metaphors and terms such as ‘attachment’, ‘mother’, ‘security’, ‘sensitivity’, ‘disorganization’, ‘coherence’, ‘anxiety’, ‘dissociation’, and ‘trauma’”.

Cornerstones of Attachment Theory

Defensiveness – The theme of defensiveness encompasses a multitude of attitudes and behaviors. Greenberg and Johnson and Gottman and Silver describe three patterns of communication in the relationship (ie., attack-attack, attack-withdraw, and withdraw-withdraw). To explain, attacking is understood as a desperate attempt to gain the partner’s attention at any cost.
People will likely be defensive and engage in their “preferred” destructive technique (e.g., attack or withdraw).
Practicing psychologists revealed that the main reason that people sabotage their relationships is to protect themselves. (The relationship sabotage scale: an evaluation of factor analyses and constructive validity. Peel, Raquel; Caltabiano, Nerina. BMC Psychology, 2021, Vol.9 (1), p.1-146, Article 146)

Demand-withdrawal pattern – See Eldridge, Sevier, Jones, Atkins & Chistensen, 2007)

Internal Working Model – affectively-colored, dynamic, relationally-based mental representations that stem from attachment-relevant experiences and influence later aspects of social and personality functioning. Taking perspective on attachment theory and research: nine fundamental questions (

Gottman Conflict Styles – Gottman has proposed that there are 3 functional styles of conflict management in couple relationships, labeled Avoidant, Validating and Volatile, and 1 dysfunctional style, labeled Hostile. Avoidant mismatch is particularly problematic and is associated with more stonewalling, relationship problems and lower levels of relationship satisfaction and stability than the Validating matched style and than other mismatched styles.
An important point that Gottman makes is the idea that “one style is not superior to the other.” The three styles are distinguished by the degree to which partners attempt to influence each other through persuasion and dialogue and the ttiming of the influence attempts. Avoidant couples prefer to minimize conflict as much as possible eby agreeing to disagree. Validating couples address conflict by emphasizing the importance of making sure each person is understood and their views are appreciated, or validated. Volatile couples are more passionate and energetic and are not afraid of lively debates and disagreements. In contrast, unregulated couples are labeled “hostile” and participate in destructive and contemptuous conflict that undermines positive sentiment and marital stability.
(Busby, Dean M, PHD; Holman, Thomas B, PHD.  Family Process; Rochester Vol. 48, Iss. 4,(2009)Perceived Match or Mismatch on the Gottman Conflict Styles: Associations with Relationship Outcome Variables)

Mismatched Couple Conflict Styles – Gottman presents these mismatches as “the real problem in couple relationships.” He suggests mismatches as an explanation for many divorces in that couples do not feel like there is “understanding” or “connection in the marriage”.
Couples with mismatched styles may have more difficulties with “perpetual problems” which are the types of problems that are related to basic underlying differences in how partners express themselves through communication, both positive and negative. In addition, mismatches are likely to result in at least one partner feeling emotionally flooded by the higher degree of intensity and frequency of persuasion attempted preferred by the other other partner. These process differences are likely to lead to different couples outcomes such as more relationship problems, lower relationships stability and lower relationship satisfaction.
(Gottman, J.M. (1999) The marriage clinic: A scientificially based marital therapy. New York: W. W. Norton.

Predator – Predatory people lack a sense of conscience and rely on charm, intelligence and charisma to manipulate others. If charismatic “seduction” fails, they rely upon intimidation and threats of organization-based violence to achieve interpersonal submission (Hare, 199; Itzkowitz, 2018; Landay et al., 2019).

Psychopathy – See Erich Fromm “the degree of destructiveness [in psychopathy is proportionate to the degree to which the unfolding of the person’s capacities is blocked” (Itzkowitz, 2018, p. 43)

Secure Base – Where the child/adult returns to when threatened or stressed for example in the words of Mary Ainsworth “And, should such exploration get him into more than that infant was ready to cope with, it was crucially important that the parent be accessible-that the baby be able to retreat to his “secure base” for comfort and be, as it were, “recharged” before going off again on his own” (Ainsworth, M. D. S., & Marvin, R. S. (1995). On the shaping of attachment theory and research: An interview withMary D.S. Ainsworth (Fall 1994). Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development)

Self Sabotage – Elliot and Reis suggested that self-sabotage is possibly enacted when individuals are insecurely attached, hold avoidance goals for their relationship, and are driven to self-protect, as oppose to seek proximity. (Elliot AJ, Reis HT. Attachment and exploration in adulthood. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2003;85(2):317–31.) Additionally, Kammrath and Dweck [11] found that individuals with insecure attachment often expect their relationships will fail, which in turn means they were less likely to express concerns and engage in strategies to resolve issues with their partners. (Kammrath LK, Dweck C. Voicing conflict: preferred conflict strategies among incremental and entity theorists. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2006;32(11):1497–508.)

Stonewalling – Stonewalling represents a deteriorated relationship process where partners are withdrawn from both positive and negative relationship interactions by creating a “stonewall” to keep their partners from affecting them. Withdrawal, as measured by stonewalling, is strongly associated with hostility, or the demanding confrontational style. Gottman, in his marital cascade to divorce, suggested stonewalling is a phase that represents the almost total deterioration of the relationship. Hostility sometimes precedes, coincides, or follows stonewalling.

(Gottman, J. M. (1993) The roles of conflict engagement, escalation and avoidance in marital interaction: A longitudinal view of five types of couples. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 61 6-15) and (Gottman, J.M. (1994). What predicts divorce: The relationship between marital processes and marital outcomes. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Toxic Relationship – A toxic relationship is unhealthy, characterized by unsupportive attitudes, conflicts in which one tries to destroy the other, competition, disrespect, and lack of cohesiveness. Suciati, S., & Ramadhanty, S. (2023). (Communication patterns in interpersonal conflict in premarriage couples experiencing toxic relationships. The International Journal of Communication and Linguistic Studies, 22(2), 41-60. doi:

Withdrawal – Spouses with a withdrawing pattern usually avoid discussion by shifting subjects, remaining silent or even removing themselves physically from the conversation.

aside: Individuals with a poor understanding of romantic engagements, often based on unrealistic representations (e.g., fairy tale beliefs), tend to withdraw effort to repair the relationship and give up easily (Knee CR, Patrick H, Vietor NA, Neighbors C. Implicit theories of relationships: moderators of the link between conflict and commitment. Pers SocPsychol Bull. 2004;30(5):617–28.)

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