Hurt feelings in couple relationships: Exploring the role of attachment and perceptions of personal injury


should be addressed to Judith A. Feeney, School of Psychology, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, e-mail:


This research program focused on perceptions of the appraisals and emotions involved in hurtful events in couple relationships. Study 1 tested the broad proposition that hurt feelings are elicited by relational transgressions that generally imply relational devaluation and that evoke a sense of personal injury by threatening positive mental models of self and/or others. Participants (N= 224) provided retrospective accounts of an experience of being hurt by a romantic partner. These accounts, together with expert judges’ ratings, showed that most hurtful events involved relational transgressions that signal both relational devaluation and threat to positive mental models; however, relational devaluation was relatively unimportant in explaining the hurt associated with partners’ distrust. A sense of injury emerged as the dominant theme in open-ended accounts of emotional reactions; however, other negative emotions also featured and were related to the type of event reported. The emotion terms generated in Study 1 were used as stimuli in a word-sorting task (Study 2). This study confirmed that many of the terms were perceived specifically as injury related, and shed further light on the link between appraisals and emotions. Theoretical and practical implications of the findings are discussed.