Research says people initially feel less in control after breakups

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According to a recent examination of people who had gone through different kinds of relationship loss, these experiences were linked to a number of patterns of both short-term and long-term sense of control after the loss.

Eva Asselmann from the HMU Health and Medical University in Potsdam, Germany, and Jule Specht from the Humboldt-Universitat zu Berlin, Germany, published their findings in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

An earlier study found that a higher perceived sense of personal control over one’s life has been associated with better health and wellbeing. Romantic relationships and control perceptions are intertwined. For example, studies show a link between control perceptions and higher levels of relationship satisfaction. However, the relationship between prospective changes in perceived control and relationship dissolution is less well known.

In order to provide new insight into a multi-decade study of German families, Asselmann and Specht looked at data from three time points. Using the findings of yearly questionnaires from 1994, 1995, and 1996, they specifically assessed changes in perceived control for 1,235 people who suffered separation from their partner, 423 who divorced, and 437 whose partners passed away.

In the first year after their partner’s separation, persons who experienced separation from them often reported lower levels of perceived control, which gradually increased in later years, according to a statistical analysis of the questionnaire’s data. Women were more likely than males to experience a decline in control following separation, and younger people had more control than older people did.

In the first year following the loss of a partner, people who experienced partner loss reported an overall gain in perceived control, which was then sustained over the year before the death. In contrast to older persons, younger people experienced more negative consequences from spouse loss on their sense of control.

Future research should focus on individuals who haven’t yet lost a relationship to determine how changes in perceived control are impacted by a loss. They also call for research into the processes underpinning modifications in perceived control after a setback.