Do Life Events Lead to Enduring Changes in Adult Attachment Styles? A Naturalistic Longitudinal Investigation

R. Chris Fraley, Omri Gillath, Pascal R. Deboeck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Research has shown that a variety of life events are associated with changes in adult attachment styles. What is unknown, however, is the extent to which those changes are transient or enduring. To investigate this issue, we followed a sample of over 4,000 people in a multiwave longitudinal study in which people naturalistically experienced a variety of life events (e.g., starting new relationships, changing jobs, average n across events = 392). This allowed us to examine people’s attachment trajectories before (Mwaves = 6.51) and after (Mwaves = 8.04) specific life events took place, for spans of time ranging from 6 months to 40 (M = 23 months). We found that half of the life events we studied were associated with immediate changes in attachment styles. However, on average, people tended to revert back to levels of security similar to those that would be expected on the basis of their preevent trajectories. Nonetheless, the average person changed in enduring ways in response to a quarter of the events we studied, suggesting that some experiences lead to enduring changes in attachment. Moreover, there were considerable individual differences in the extent to which people changed: Even in cases in which the average person did not show enduring change, there was evidence that some people became more secure and others less so in enduring ways. The ways in which people construed the events (positive vs. negative) were related to the extent to which their attachment styles changed. We discuss the implications of these findings for theoretical models of attachment dynamics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1567-1606
Number of pages40
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2021


  • Attachment
  • Attachment style
  • Change
  • Close relationships
  • Stability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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