Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Emotional and Cognitive Coping in Relationship Dissolution

Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Emotional and Cognitive Coping in Relationship Dissolution

Article excerpt

Dissolution of a romantic relationship can adversely affect functioning among college students and represents one primary reason for seeking campus counseling. This study examined the associations among common coping strategies and distress following relationship dissolution. Avoidance and repetitive negative thinking (RNT) were significantly associated with distress, and gender was found to moderate the relationship between RNT and distress. Findings suggest that college counselors should consider emotional coping strategies following relationship dissolutions.

Keywords: relationship dissolution, repetitive negative thinking, avoidance


Researchers examining relationship dissolution have typically emphasized characteristics of the former relationship (e.g., length of the relationship, time since dissolution, alternative relationship availability, commitment level, initiator status) as important predictors of postdissolution adjustment (Field, Diego, Pelaez, Deeds, & Delgado, 2011; Fine & Sacher, 1997; Frazier & Cook, 1993; Sprecher, 1994). However, other important variables, such as age and coping strategies, have received less attention.

College students, in particular, are quite vulnerable to adverse outcomes following relationship dissolution. Monroe, Rohde, Seeley, and Lewinsohn (1999) reported that relationship dissolution was a significant risk factor for the development of a first episode of depression, a common presentation among college students seeking counseling (Gilbert & Sifers, 2011; Kelly, 1981). However, adverse consequences of the distress associated with the end of a romantic relationship in college extend beyond depression and may include academic ruin, social alienation, or even suicide (Davis, Shaver, & Vernon, 2003; Monroe et ah, 1999). As a result, the treatment of emotional distress following a breakup has been identified as an important area of competency among counselors in university counseling centers (Field et al., 2011; Moller, Fouladi, McCarthy, & Hatch, 2003). The current study is designed to fill gaps in the existing literature regarding emotional distress in college students after experiencing relationship dissolution. This more specific focus on emotional coping mechanisms and their association with mental health may assist counselors in providing effective services to students seeking counseling. To contextualize this study in the salient literature, we briefly overview emotional processing and coping studies before providing details regarding the study.

Emotional Processing and Coping

In a meta-analysis, Aldao, Nolen-Hoeksema, and Schweizer (2010) examined the dispositional correlation between acceptance/reappraisal, rumination, and avoidance with psychopathology and stressful life events. Findings indicated that, after stressful events, rumination and avoidance strategies are associated with a range of disorders, demonstrating large positive effect sizes (fail-safe N = 351 and 104, respectively). Comparatively, acceptance/reappraisal demonstrated small positive effect sizes to psychopathology (fail-safe N = 6). The very small number of studies, as indicated by the fail-safe N, needed to create nonsignificance for acceptance/reappraisal strongly suggests that more research in this area is merited.

Although the broader connection of the aforementioned variables is illuminating, more specific examination of associations between coping strategies, recovery, and relationship dissolution in college students is also important. Use of repetitive negative thinking (RNT), emotion approach coping (EAC; in which acceptance and reappraisal are subsumed), and avoidance after stressful events in other populations, although associated with psychopathology, does not account for possible implications in the already vulnerable population of college students. The intersection of stressors already found in college students could be problematic in treatment, because the use of these strategies could pose further complications (Field et al. …

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