Negotiating Relational Breakups
- René M. DaileyRené M. DaileyDepartment of Communication Studies, University of Texas at Austin
Romantic relationships often develop with excitement and positive anticipation. Yet many dissolve. Research has examined several facets to unpack the dissolution process, from what leads to termination to redefining relationships with former partners. For example, relationship dynamics (e.g., commitment, love) typically play the largest roles in dissolution, but individual and demographic factors also contribute to whether relationships stay intact or terminate. Research has also delineated specific strategies people use to disengage, which vary in directness and whether they are one-sided or mutual. Models of dissolution also describe typical paths or precipitating communication patterns that reflect dissolution.
Following a breakup, most people experience post-dissolution distress, which can entail emotional, cognitive, and physiological effects. People vary in the intensity of distress experienced; those who fare badly tend to have more relational anxiety or use coping strategies to distract themselves from or deny the effects of the breakup. The fact that many ex-partners maintain contact or relationships following dissolution complicates the recovery process. Former partners maintain contact because they have the same social network, because they want to renew the relationship or consider the ex-partner as a back-up plan, or because they have children or shared resources. Hence, many former partners redefine their relationship rather than completely terminating all contact. Some are able to successfully transform their relationship into a friendship, and some eventually also reconcile the romantic nature of their relationship.
The dissolution of a romantic relationship can be one of the most significant stressors that individuals experience. Most people, even those who initiate the breakup, endure distress and negative effects. Yet dissolution can provide relief from a detrimental relationship for some. And many people experience positive effects or post-dissolution growth, such as gaining a new appreciation for other relationships, rediscovering the self, or pursuing new opportunities. The extant research provides an understanding of the various factors and steps in the dissolution process. Future research can synthesize these areas of research into more comprehensive frameworks to derive more tailored recommendations on navigating breakups, thereby minimizing the distress and maximizing the benefits.