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Child maltreatment and adult outcomes: The mediating role of adult attachment

Andrea R Perry, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Although an accumulation of studies has illuminated important long-term correlates of child maltreatment, simply knowing the bivariate (A → B) relationship between early abuse and adult functioning obfuscates a complete understanding of these associations. A critical next step is to uncover the mechanisms or processes by which child maltreatment is related to adult relationship functioning (e.g., McCarthy & Taylor, 1999; Paley, Cox, Burchinal, & Payne, 1999; Shapiro & Levendosky, 1999). Close examination of the literature reveals that adult attachment is a construct of theoretical and empirical importance to both child maltreatment and long-term relationship functioning and has been shown to mediate these relations (e.g., McCarthy & Taylor, 1999; Shapiro & Levendosky, 1999).^ Based on this proposition, the current study was intended to examine the role of adult attachment (assessed by the Relationship Questionnaire and the Experiences in Relationships Questionnaire-Revised) in mediating the long-term interpersonal correlates of abuse (including marital satisfaction, dyadic adjustment, and conflict resolution) in a sample of newly married couples (N = 70 dyads). To that end, three objectives were tested: (1) to document individual linkages between child maltreatment, adult attachment, and marital outcomes; (2) to test whether adult attachment mediates relations between child maltreatment and marital outcomes; and (3) to assess whether distinct "pathways" emerge for men and women. For the first objective, results generally revealed significant associations among child maltreatment in its various forms, adult attachment, and marital outcomes. When examining mediation in the second objective, the results indicated that, in many cases, adult attachment mediated associations between child maltreatment and marital outcomes. For example, significant associations between emotional neglect and cumulative maltreatment and negative conflict resolution tactics in marriage became nonsignificant in the presence of attachment-related anxiety and avoidance. The most striking results emerged when testing the third objective. With few exceptions, these results revealed that husbands' child maltreatment history—but not wives'—was associated with long-term marital disruptions through adult attachment. These findings are considered within a gender role framework, and clinical implications are discussed.^

Subject Area

Psychology, Developmental|Psychology, Clinical

Recommended Citation

Perry, Andrea R, "Child maltreatment and adult outcomes: The mediating role of adult attachment" (2008). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3371944.