Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

The Breakup of Romantic Relationships: Situational Predictors of Perception of Recovery

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

The Breakup of Romantic Relationships: Situational Predictors of Perception of Recovery

Article excerpt

People usually experience a great deal of emotional pain when a romantic relationship ends. It is not uncommon for people to refer to 'scars' when discussing a breakup, as if the experience was so painful, and the healing process so difficult, that it left a lasting mark just as a physical injury does. Of course, some breakups are more painful than others. Occasionally, breakup from a romantic relationship causes no lasting heartache, and recovery is reported to be relatively painless and easy. Many factors likely influence the extent to which people suffer after a breakup, and researchers have uncovered a number of them.

Much of the research on recovering from a breakup has focused on recovery after a divorce. Wang and Amato (2000), for example, found that adjusting to divorce was associated with being the person who initiated the divorce, having a favorable attitude toward divorce beforehand, having a higher income, and dating a new person steadily or remarrying. Interestingly, stress (as measured by income decline, loss of friends, moving, etc.) did not make adjusting to divorce more difficult, except among people who were unemployed.

Kitson (1982) found that lingering feelings of emotional attachment to the ex-spouse is another powerful cause of distress during and after divorce, with gender differences apparent at different stages. Women experience more distress during the initial separation, but men experience more distress from the divorce itself (Riessman & Gerstel, 1985). Women and men also have different coping styles when it comes to recovering. Women are more likely to discuss problems and emotions with close friends, while men tend to avoid such discussions and instead focus on beginning another relationship (Sorenson, Russell, Harkness, & Harvey, 1993).

Other research has examined emotional recovery from romantic relationship breakups between people who were not married. A great deal of this research has focused on attachment style as a moderator of the impact of a breakup (e.g., Davis, Shaver, & Vernon, 2003; Feeney, & Noller, 1992; Pistole, 1995). Davis et al. (2003), for example, found that people with an anxious attachment style have the most difficulty dealing with a breakup, and people with a secure attachment style are more likely to seek social support to cope with loss.

Sbarra (2006) examined factors that predicted how quickly people recovered from their sadness and anger after a breakup. Emotional recovery was defined as a point in time when the individual felt as good (for three successive days without relapse) as a comparison group of participants in an intact relationship. Results of the study revealed that sadness recovery was hindered by a preoccupied attachment style, difficulty in accepting that the relationship was over, a high level of love for the partner, and a high level of anger toward the partner. Anger recovery was hindered by a non-secure attachment style and feelings of sadness.

Given the broad range of situational factors that could influence how rapidly a person recovers from a breakup, it is useful to begin to further identify which factors are most influential and whether they account for unique variance when multiple factors are considered simultaneously. Our focus was basic situational or behavioral factors that concerned the romantic relationship itself, rather than personality variables or general attitudes about relationships. As our interest is primarily in a person's self reported perception of recovery, we examined variables that may be related to positive or negative cognitions or behaviors concerning a breakup. Our choice of predictors was guided both by prior research that has provided evidence that a given variable is related to recovery from a breakup (including those related to recovery from divorce) or situational factors that co-occur with a breakup that have not yet been fully investigated but could reasonably be expected to have some influence. …

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