ArticlePDF Available

Factors Associated with Distress Following the Breakup of a Close Relationship

Authors:

Abstract

The purpose of this investigation was to identify the factors associated with the distress experienced after the breakup of a romantic relationship, both at the time of the breakup (assessed retrospectively) and at the time the questionnaire was completed. Four categories of variables were examined as possible correlates of post-breakup distress: variables associated with the initiation of the relationship, characteristics of the relationship while it was intact, conditions at the time of the breakup and individual difference variables. The sample consisted of 257 young adults (primarily college students; 83 male and 174 female) who had experienced a recent breakup (M = 21 weeks since breakup). The variables most highly associated with distress at the time of the breakup were non-mutuality in alternatives (i.e. partner having more inter-est in alternatives), commitment, satisfaction, greater effort in relationship initiation, being `left' by the other and fearful attachment style. The variables most highly associated with current distress were commitment, duration of the relationship, fearful attachment style, dismissing attachment style and time since breakup.
from the SAGE Social Science Collections. All Rights Reserved.
at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on October 17, 2016spr.sagepub.comDownloaded from
at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on October 17, 2016spr.sagepub.comDownloaded from
at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on October 17, 2016spr.sagepub.comDownloaded from
at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on October 17, 2016spr.sagepub.comDownloaded from
at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on October 17, 2016spr.sagepub.comDownloaded from
at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on October 17, 2016spr.sagepub.comDownloaded from
at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on October 17, 2016spr.sagepub.comDownloaded from
at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on October 17, 2016spr.sagepub.comDownloaded from
at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on October 17, 2016spr.sagepub.comDownloaded from
at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on October 17, 2016spr.sagepub.comDownloaded from
at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on October 17, 2016spr.sagepub.comDownloaded from
at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on October 17, 2016spr.sagepub.comDownloaded from
at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on October 17, 2016spr.sagepub.comDownloaded from
at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on October 17, 2016spr.sagepub.comDownloaded from
at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on October 17, 2016spr.sagepub.comDownloaded from
at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on October 17, 2016spr.sagepub.comDownloaded from
at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on October 17, 2016spr.sagepub.comDownloaded from
at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on October 17, 2016spr.sagepub.comDownloaded from
at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on October 17, 2016spr.sagepub.comDownloaded from
... -Participant describing engaging in ghosting Nearly everyone experiences relationship dissolution (Eastwick et al., 2008), often causing distress for both recipients and initiators (Eastwick et al., 2008;Sprecher, 1994;Sprecher et al., 1998). Although there are multiple methods for dissolving relationships (Baxter, 1982;Collins & Gillath, 2012), one relatively prominent method of relationship termination is "ghosting," or ending a romantic relationship by unilaterally severing all contact (Freedman et al., 2019;Koessler et al., 2019b;LeFebvre, 2017;LeFebvre et al., 2019). ...
... Most prior research on the emotional experiences of relationship dissolution has not differentially examined emotional reactions based on the dissolution strategy. However, the research does indicate that the emotions experienced following a breakup tend to change across time: distress is highest when the breakup occurs and lessens over time (Eastwick et al., 2008;Field et al., 2009;Sprecher et al., 1998). Prior research on specific emotional reactions to relationship dissolution, though, has been mixed. ...
... However, our analyses did reveal that ghosters and ghostees differ in the specific emotions experienced. Aligning with previous research on romantic relationship dissolutions (Davis et al., 2003;Perilloux & Buss, 2008;Sbarra & Emery, 2005;Sprecher et al., 1998), reflections on being a ghoster were more likely to contain words related to guilt and relief, whereas reflections on being a ghostee were more likely to contain words related to sadness and hurt. Furthermore, when reflecting on being a ghoster, participants were more likely to express guilt and, when reflecting on being a ghostee, participants were more likely to express having hurt feelings. ...
Article
Although ghosting (i.e., unilaterally ending a relationship by ceasing communication) has only recently entered the lexicon, it is a regularly used form of relationship dissolution. However, little research has examined the emotional experiences of ghosting, particularly the experiences of those on both sides of the ghosting process. In a multi-method study, participants who had both ghosted and been ghosted in previous romantic relationships (N = 80) provided narratives of their experiences and completed questionnaires. The narrative responses were analyzed by coders and by using LIWC. Ghosters and ghostees used similar overall levels of positively and negatively valenced words to describe their experiences, but ghosters were more likely to express guilt and relief, whereas ghostees were more likely to express sadness and hurt feelings. Ghostees also experienced more of a threat to their fundamental needs - control, self-esteem, belongingness, meaningful existence - than ghosters.
... A power disadvantage has also been associated with anger (Berdahl & Martorana, 2006) and humiliation (McCauley, 2017). In a divorce, such reactions of anger and humiliation may be especially pronounced in case of a one-sided decision to initiate divorce (an asymmetry in control over the preservation of the relationship; Sprecher et al., 1998), or when one parent is able to withhold contact with children (Harman et al., 2021). ...
... Of course, when a relationship ends, there is a process of detachment, which in most cases would reduce mutual dependence. However, research has shown that shifts in power divisions are likely to start earlier, when relationship quality declines (Fine & Sacher, 1997;Hatfield et al., 2008;Rusbult et al., 2011;Sprecher et al., 1998). In addition, the literature on postdivorce families shows that in most families, there is a level of enduring dependence on the other parent and power dynamics between coparents continue to evolve (Harman et al., 2021;Ogolsky et al., 2019). ...
... Time is also an important aspect, according to the selfexpansion model [35]; love-related emotions are likely to decrease over time. For relationship dissolution, negative cognitions and emotional problems were found to be associated with love relationship break-ups [36]. ...
Article
This research focuses on the associations between cognitive emotion regulation processes, conflict resolution strategies and life satisfaction of persons having different types of love and relationship experiences. Cognitive emotion regulation indicates cognitive reactions, related to the emotional involvement, of our brain to an event that attempts to influence the elicited emotions or that event itself. The study is a cross-sectional one with 310 Bangladeshi respondents in the age range 20-34. Several groups and sub-groups were formulated. For the overall sample, satisfaction with life had a statistically significant positive correlation with adaptive cognitive emotion regulation strategies and conflict resolution styles, while it had a statistically significant negative correlation with less-adaptive cognitive emotion regulation strategies (p < 0.01). ANOVA and t-test analysis showed some crucial findings by comparing the primary groups and sub-groups of the study, regarding differences in life satisfaction and the differences in the uses of specific cognitive emotion regulation strategies for various love experiences. Standard regression analysis of data also revealed that the model explained a large portion of variance (50.40%) in life satisfaction (p < .001).
Article
Ghosting—the act of ending a relationship by ceasing communication without explanation—is a type of ostracism that threatens a person’s basic psychological needs for belonging, self-esteem, meaningful existence, and control. The experience of ghosting creates uncertainty within the relationship and may vary based on individual differences in the need for closure, which is the desire to avoid ambiguity. Across three preregistered studies with emerging adults, we predicted that a greater need for closure would be associated with lower intentions to use ghosting (Studies 1 and 2) and lower needs satisfaction after being ghosted (Study 3). Results from Study 1 ( N = 553) and Study 2 ( N = 411) were inconsistent, but together indicate that a higher need for closure is not negatively associated—and may be positively associated—with ghosting intentions. In Study 3 ( N = 545), participants who recalled a time when they were ghosted reported lower needs satisfaction than included and directly rejected participants. Further, a higher need for closure was associated with lower needs satisfaction after being ghosted and after being directly rejected, but with greater needs satisfaction after being included. Overall, these findings suggest that the need for closure is less influential when deciding how to end a relationship, but it appears to play an important role in amplifying both positive and negative experiences within a relationship.
Chapter
How can we get the most out of our close relationships? Research in the area of personal relationships continues to grow, but most prior work has emphasized how to overcome negative aspects. This volume demonstrates that a good relationship is more than simply the absence of a bad relationship, and that establishing and maintaining optimal relationships entails enacting a set of processes that are distinct from merely avoiding negative or harmful behaviors. Drawing on recent relationship science to explore issues such as intimacy, attachment, passion, sacrifice, and compassionate goals, the essays in this volume emphasize the positive features that allow relationships to flourish. In doing so, they integrate several theoretical perspectives, concepts, and mechanisms that produce optimal relationships. The volume also includes a section on intensive and abbreviated interventions that have been empirically validated to be effective in promoting the positive features of close relationships.
Preprint
Full-text available
Close relationships have the potential to fundamentally alter relationship partners’ self-concepts and, consequently, can impact individuals’ mental health. One type of relationship-induced self-concept change is self-expansion, which describes the cognitive reorganization of the self that can occur when individuals include aspects of their partner into the self, or when they share novel and challenging activities together. In the current research, we hypothesized that greater self-expansion is associated with fewer depression symptoms. In support of this hypothesis, across four studies using cross-sectional, dyadic, daily diary, and longitudinal methodologies, we found that self-expansion was negatively associated with depressive symptoms. This association was robust and remained a significant predictor of depression symptoms when controlling for demographic factors (gender, age, relationship length; Studies 1-4) and known risk factors of depression (dysfunctional attitudes, major life stressors, self-concept clarity; Study 2). Moreover, individuals’ self-expansion negatively predicted depression symptoms at the daily level (Study 3) and longitudinally over 9 months (Study 4). These results are the first to show the link between self-expansion and depression symptoms, suggesting that self-expansion may have robust benefits for individuals, beyond improving relationship dynamics.
Article
After the termination of a relationship, people can experience post-relationship grief (PRG). The bereaved can encounter grief intrusions: unexpected encounters that trigger memories and feelings of their lost loved one. Grief intrusions can help (or force) people to oscillate between the active work of grief and the active work of restoration. Guided by the Dual Process Model of Grief, this study sought to identify grief triggers after the end of a romantic relationship and how participants make sense of those triggers. Surprisingly, some participants admitted to purposely seeking out these triggers in order to experience the emotions of PRG.
Article
The present research examined whether a dismissing attachment style (i.e., being high in attachment avoidance and low in attachment anxiety) is a risk factor for low subjective well-being (SWB). Specifically, we examined the associations between dismissing attachment and two indicators of SWB: global life satisfaction and daily affect. Self-reports of attachment and overall life satisfaction were collected from 257 adults at an initial lab session. Afterward, experience sampling methodology was used to gather repeated measures of positive and negative affect, as well as social context, from the sample for 8 days. Our findings indicate that, on average, dismissing people reported fairly modest levels of overall life satisfaction. Moreover, they experienced relatively low levels of both negative affect and positive affect across the 8-day study period. Overall, our results suggest that dismissing people have a “muted” or dull emotional life.
Article
Considerable research has examined how people feel when interpersonally rejected. Less attention has been paid to the rejectors, especially on how they reject. Rejection methods can range from direct (i.e., informing the target) to indirect (i.e., ghosting), and the method and motives regarding rejection strategies are important because rejected targets often react negatively to rejection, sometimes even violently. It is imperative, therefore, to understand why people reject the way they do, especially when their rejections may yield unexpected negative consequences. A key factor that may influence rejection method decisions, particularly in the context of romantic rejections, is the gender of the target. Drawing on prior research indicating that men are perceived as more dangerous, in this registered report we hypothesized that bisexual individuals may be more likely to endorse ghosting if the target is a man, especially when safety concerns are made salient. A pilot study supported this hypothesis in a sample of mostly heterosexual individuals. The main study tested this hypothesis in a sample of bisexual individuals in order to manipulate target gender as a within-subjects variable and to better understand romantic rejection processes in an understudied sample. Overall, we found that safety concerns may make individuals more likely to engage in ghosting, but how that decision interacts with target gender was less clear.
Article
Full-text available
Close relationships have the potential to fundamentally alter relationship partners’ self-concepts and, consequently, can impact individuals’ mental health. One type of relationship-induced self-concept change is self-expansion, which describes the cognitive reorganization of the self that can occur when individuals include aspects of their partner into the self, or when they share novel and challenging activities together. In the current research, we hypothesized that greater self-expansion would be associated with fewer depression symptoms. In support of this hypothesis, across four studies using cross-sectional, dyadic, daily diary, and longitudinal methodologies, we found that self-expansion was negatively associated with depression symptoms. This association was robust and remained a significant predictor of depression symptoms when controlling for demographic factors (gender, age, relationship length; Studies 1–4) and known risk factors of depression (dysfunctional attitudes, major life stressors, self-concept clarity; Study 2). Moreover, individuals’ self-expansion negatively predicted depression symptoms at the daily level (Study 3) and longitudinally over 9 months (Study 4). These results are the first to show the link between self-expansion and depression symptoms, suggesting that self-expansion may have robust benefits for individuals, beyond improving relationship dynamics.
Article
Full-text available
This research investigates the extent to which a quality that initially attracts one person to another in a romantic relationship is a positive dimension of the same overall characteristic that leads to subsequent disaffection - i.e. a `fatal attraction'. Three hundred and one college women and men were asked to think of the most recent romantic relationship they had that ended, and to list qualities that first attracted them to that partner and characteristics they later `least liked' about that partner. Results indicate that there were approximately 88 instances (in 29.2% of the breakups) of what appeared to be `fatal attractions'. Certain types of characteristics, such as exciting and different, were also more likely to be `fatal' than others. Additional findings point to sex differences in attracting qualities, with, for example, males reporting significantly more qualities than females in the Physical category. Implications of the results for dialectical relationship theories are discussed.
Article
Full-text available
The purpose of this study was to examine correlates of initial distress and current recovery among individuals who have experienced the breakup of a dating relationship, including factors associated with commitment to the relationship (i.e. satisfaction, duration, closeness, perceived alternatives) and factors associated with coping with life stressors (i.e. perceptions of the controllability of the breakup, social support and self-esteem). Participants were 34 males and 51 females who had experienced the breakup of a dating relationship within the past 6 months. Hierarchical regression analyses indicated that these variables accounted for between 21 and 47 percent of the variance in the measures of initial distress and current recovery. The coping-related variables added significantly to the prediction of initial distress and current recovery once the commitment-related variables were taken into account, but were more strongly related to recovery than to initial distress. Implications for research and practice are discussed.
Article
Full-text available
This study examines the association between adult attachment style and the way people react to the crisis of divorce. A research group of 120 participants undergoing legal procedures related to divorce and a control group of 108 married participants were classified according to their attachment style (secure, avoidant, anxious-ambivalent) and completed the Mental Health Inventory. In addition, the divorced participants answered scales tapping appraisal of divorce and ways of coping with it. As expected, divorced participants reported more distress than married ones. This effect was found among avoidant and anxious-ambivalent participants, but not among secure participants. Significant differences were also found among attachment groups in appraisal and coping variables. Structural analyses supported the hypothesis that appraisal and coping mediate the association between attachment style and mental health during the crisis of divorce. Results are discussed in terms of attachment theory.
Article
Full-text available
This study investigated whether longitudinal predictions of stability are improved when assessments of the relationship are obtained from both members of the couple rather than just from 1 partner and, if so, which partner's assessments are the most diagnostic of stability. Both partners in 120 dating couples provided self-report assessments on 16 relationship dimensions, and 6 months later 2 outcomes were examined: stability and emotional distress if breakup had occurred. Assessments from both partners were more predictive of stability than were assessments from 1 (randomly chosen) partner, but the improvement was small. Assessments from female partners were no more predictive of stability than were those from male partners. However, assessments from "weak-link" partners (whose standing on stability indicators was lower than the other member of the couple) were significantly more diagnostic of stability than were those from "strong-link" partners. These and other findings are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Article
This study examines the association between adult attachment style and the way people reacted to the Iraqi missile attack on Israel during the Gulf War. One hundred forty Israeli students were interviewed 2 weeks after the war and classified according to their attachment style (secure, avoidant, or ambivalent) and residence area (dangerous vs. less dangerous). Ambivalent people reported more distress than secure people. Avoidant persons reported higher levels of somatization, hostility, and trauma-related avoidance than secure persons. These results characterized Ss living in dangerous areas. In addition, secure people used relatively more support-seeking strategies in coping with the trauma, ambivalent people used more emotion-focused strategies, and avoidant people used more distancing strategies. Findings are discussed in terms of attachment working models.
Chapter
The language of disengagement says a great deal about the couple using it. The content of accusations, complaints, pleadings, justifications, and confessions reflect the unique relationship experiences of the partners who speak them. This does not mean, however, that the language of disengagement is without pattern. Because messages must conform to cultural, social, and linguistic constraints, commonality in their structure and function can be discerned across breakups. Moreover, variations in pattern are systematic and can be traced to the influence of antecedent and concomitant variables. In short, the messages that people produce during the very personal moments of their disengagement are amenable to investigation as sociological phenomena.
Article
Used a longitudinal study of heterosexual dating relationships to test investment model predictions regarding the process by which satisfaction and commitment develop (or deteriorate) over time. Initially, 17 male and 17 female undergraduates, each of whom was involved in a heterosexual relationship of 0-8 wks duration, participated. Four Ss dropped out, and 10 Ss' relationships ended. Questionnaires were completed by Ss every 17 days. Increases over time in rewards led to corresponding increases in satisfaction, whereas variations in costs did not significantly affect satisfaction. Commitment increased because of increases in satisfaction, declines in the quality of available alternatives, and increases in investment size. Greater rewards also promoted increases in commitment to maintain relationships, whereas changes in costs generally had no impact on commitment. For stayers, rewards increased, costs rose slightly, satisfaction grew, alternative quality declined, investment size increased, and commitment grew; for leavers the reverse occurred. Ss whose partners ended their relationships evidenced entrapment: They showed relatively low increases in satisfaction, but their alternatives declined in quality and they continued to invest heavily in their relationships. (39 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved).
Article
This study examined the extent to which variables derived from the investment model predicted distress levels following relationship termination. At least one partner in 28 heterosexual dating couples completed measures of commitment, relationship satisfaction, alternative quality, and relationship duration at Time 1 and, six months later, after their relationships had broken up, a measure of distress. For both males and females, higher levels of distress were predicted by higher Time 1 levels of commitment and lower levels of alternative quality. These findings suggest that distress following relaticnship termination is greater to the extent that partners are invested in the relationship.
Article
The purpose of this study was to determine the factors affecting the likelihood that a disengaged romantic relationship will be redefined as a friendship rather than completely terminated. College students were surveyed about a recalled romantic relationship that either broke up or evolved into a friendship. Respondents answered questions regarding characteristics of the relationship prior to its decline, strategies used to disengage the relationship, and feelings during the disengaging period. Results indicated that being friends prior to romantic involvement was a significant predictor of friendship, both for people who initiated the disengagement and for those who were recipients of partner's desire for disengagement. In addition, for those who initiated disengagement, withdrawal strategies and feelings of being taken advantage of in the relationship were negatively related to post-disengagement friendship. For persons who were recipients of partner's desire for disengagement, positive tone strategies were positively related to post-disengagement friendship while manipulation strategies were negatively related to post-disengagement friendship.
Article
Recent years have witnessed a proliferation of research on close relationships and the emergence of a new relationship subdiscipline within the social sciences. To date, the new science of relationships has been dominated by data. This article is based on the conviction that progress now hinges on the development of theory to organize and interpret extant findings and to guide future investigations. Through a selective but extensive review of the major bodies of empirical literature, we attempt to show that attachment theory can incorporate a broad range of findings on adult relationships. In addition, attachment theory addresses an impressive array of research questions concerning the functions, emotional dynamics, evolutionary origins, and developmental pathways of human affectional bonds. We conclude that a comprehensive theory of close relationships is both desirable and, with the integration of existing theories and concepts, currently achievable.