Researchers discovered that feeling appreciated buffered the negative link between avoidant attachment style and prosocial behavior towards their partners in two daily diary studies on couples and undergraduate students. If people who are uncomfortable with intimacy felt appreciated, they were more willing to do things they did not like for the benefit of their partner. The findings were published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
Individuals learn to avoid intimacy at a young age when their close ones are untrustworthy, unreliable, and unwilling to meet their needs. They develop a style of avoidant attachment. Later in life, avoidantly attached people do not expect others to be prosocial, or to take care of their needs. As a result, they are often less willing to act in a prosocial manner toward others.
Prosociality, or the proclivity to engage in behavior that benefits others, is an essential component of caring relationships. This is especially true when done with the intention of improving the partner's well-being rather than promoting one's own. When avoidantly attached people do things they dislike for the benefit of their partner, it is usually to avoid personal costs such as the partner's anger and frustration, rather than to make the partner feel happy and loved.
Can feeling appreciated make a difference? Previous research has shown that challenging avoidant individuals' perceptions that their partner does not care about their needs can improve their behavior in a romantic relationship.
Kristina M. Schrage and her colleagues designed two studies to investigate the effects of appreciation on prosocial behavior in avoidantly attached people. Participants kept daily diaries of developments of interest for the study.
The first study included 80 couples from the San Francisco Bay area, 75 of whom were heterosexual. Their average age was around 24 years, and half were students. At the start of the study, the researchers assessed their attachment styles (Experiences in Close Relationships Scale, ECR) and asked them to provide daily assessments of how appreciated they feel, their relationship satisfaction, and motivations for sacrifice for their partner ("Today, did you do anything that you did not particularly want to do for your partner? Or did you forego something you wanted to do for the sake of your partner?"), how appreciative they are of their partner, how much physical affection they experienced, and whether they made a sacrifice for their partner.
In Study 2, 164 Canadian undergraduate students took part (89 females). They were asked to complete a set of surveys each night after completing the attachment style survey, assessing how appreciated they feel by their partner, their willingness to sacrifice for the partner, commitment to the relationship, motivations for sacrifice, and relationship satisfaction.
Both studies found that highly avoidant people were less willing to sacrifice for their partner unless they felt highly appreciated. When they felt highly appreciated, their willingness to sacrifice for their partner was comparable to that of low-avoidance individuals. When compared to low-avoidance participants, highly avoidant individuals showed slightly higher motivation to benefit their partner when they felt highly appreciated in Study 2.
The study emphasizes the significance of feeling appreciated for the smooth operation of partner relationships. It did, however, rely on daily diaries and spontaneous instances when people felt appreciated in their daily lives. It is unclear whether the same results would be obtained if partners intentionally expressed appreciation. Notably, future research should investigate the generalizability of these findings under experimental conditions and on samples from different cultures.
Kristina M. Schrage, Bonnie M. Le, Jennifer E. Stellar, and Emily A. Impett wrote the study, "Feeling Appreciated Predicts Prosocial Motivation in Avoidantly Attached Individuals."