POTSDAM, Germany — An unexpected breakup – for whatever reason – can feel like a gut punch. While it’s natural to feel a little lost in the immediate aftermath, new research reports that, over the long haul, you’re more likely to feel like you have more control over your life once the dust settles.
Scientists from the HMU Health and Medical University in Potsdam, Germany and Jule Specht of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, report that breakups have a connection with different patterns of short and long-term sense of control. The research team analyzed sense of control after separation, divorce, or the death of a partner.
Prior studies find that a greater perceived sense of personal control over one’s life leads to better overall well-being and health. Romantic relationships, meanwhile, have a close association with a person’s perceived sense of control. For example, there is significant evidence suggesting a link between perceived control and better relationship satisfaction. However, it’s far less clear how the end of a relationship influences changes in perceived control.
So, to investigate this complex topic, researchers made use of a dataset from three timepoints in a multi-decade study of households in Germany. More specifically, they analyzed yearly questionnaire results from 1994, 1995, and 1996 to detect and evaluate changes in perceived control among 1,235 people who separated from their partner, 423 who divorced, and 437 whose partners passed away.
After a year, things get better
A statistical analysis of the results revealed that while those who experienced separation from their partner dealt with a notable decline in perceived control in the first year after separation, their sense of control gradually increased in the years to follow. After a separation, women were more likely than men to experience a drop in their sense of control. Younger people also tended to have an increased sense of control in comparison to older people.
Those whose partners passed away showed an overall uptick in perceived control during the first year after their loss, succeeded by a continual increase in perceived control compared to the period before their loved one’s death. It’s worth mentioning, however, that younger people generally dealt with more detrimental effects related to partner death on their sense of control.
Interestingly, the study reports no links whatsoever between divorce and perceived control.
Moving forward, study authors would like a follow-up project to track people who have not yet experienced relationship loss for a long period, and then analyze changes in perceived control when a loss does occur. They add that additional studies should also look into the mechanisms that underlie post-loss changes in perceived control.
“Our findings suggest that people sometimes grow from stressful experiences – at least regarding specific personality characteristics. In the years after losing a romantic partner, participants in our study became increasingly convinced in their ability to influence their life and future by their own behavior. Their experience enabled them to deal with adversity and manage their life independently, which allowed them to grow,” the study authors conclude in a media release.
The study is published in PLoS ONE.