The Associations Between Complementarity, Non-Complementarity, and Attachment Style
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Attachment Theory posits that the caregiver has primary responsibility in fostering attachment security; however, children play increasingly active roles in shaping the quality of interactions as they grow beyond infancy (Bowlby, 1969). There has been limited research on transactional relationships between caregivers and children and their associations with attachment. While Interpersonal Theory has historically been utilized to understand adult interpersonal interactions and their associations with relationship quality, it may provide an avenue to explore parent-child transactional processes. Within Interpersonal Theory, interactions can be categorized as complementary and non-complementary. Yet, these unidimensional constructs make it impossible to determine the relative effects of when complementarity and non-complementarity have positive or negative valences. As such, this study investigated 143 mother–preschooler dyads (64 Child Maltreatment [CM] dyads and 79 non-CM dyads) to examine the associations between variations in two novel types complementarity and non-complementarity and attachment security. Positive complementarity included interactions that were warm and affiliative that elicited the same responses in return. Negative complementarity included interactions that were hostile and aversive that elicited those same responses in return. Positive non-complementarity was characterized by warm and affiliative parent behaviors and child hostile and rejecting behaviors. Negative non-complementarity was characterized by disaffiliative and hostile parent behaviors and warm and affiliative child behaviors. Separate logistic regression analyses revealed that positive complementarity and positive non-complementarity were significantly associated with an increased likelihood of secure attachment. Negative complementarity and negative non-complementarity were not significantly associated with an increased likelihood of insecure attachment. Results suggest that the positive valences of complementarity and non-complementarity are associated with attachment security, such that children in dyads where mothers maintained warm and affiliative behaviors with their child, whether the child was connecting and trusting the mother or withdrawing and sulking, were more likely to be securely attached. Thus, a mother’s ability to display positive and sensitive behaviors during moment-to-moment interactions with their child regardless of child’s response is important to a child’s attachment security.