Affective Processing Following Romantic Relationship Dissolution

Sbarra, David Alexander, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Emery, Bob, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Pianta, Bob, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Allen, Joe, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Clore, Gerald, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

This study prospectively examined the emotional experiences of 58 young adult college students who had, within the previous two weeks, ended a committed romantic relationship lasting an average of 20 months. Participants completed an intake questionnaire battery and then rated their emotional experiences in a daily diary when signaled at random each day for 28 days. After the month period, participants were re-assessed with the same intake questionnaire materials. The chief aims of this study were to prospectively investigate how individuals emotionally cope with a separation experience and to examine patterns of affect regulation that are associated with better or worse psychological adjustment over time. In cross-sectional analyses, attachment security and coping self-blame and avoidance were significantly related to both the non-diary and diary outcome measures. Comparisons with a sample of individuals in intact dating relationships indicated that the experience of ending a relationship is highly dysregulating, both in terms of mean daily affect as well as observed variability in affect. Confirmatory factor analyses of the diary items revealed that the structure of affect could not be described as invariant, indicating that qualitative (rather than quantitative) change occurred in the way participants reported their emotional experiences over time. Growth curve models indicated that each of the four diary composites evidenced significant change over time; however, the slope basis and nature of change differed for each emotion. Individual difference variables were significantly associated with the levels and slopes of these models, and the time-varying covariate of contact (with one's former partner) was strongly associated with increases in Love and Sadness within the growth models. In the final set of analyses, small but reliable sub-groups of similarly varying participants were iii identified and their covariance structures were pooled for dynamic factor modeling. The bivariate factor analyses demonstrated clear evidence of cross-factor loadings both within and across time, indicating that systematic patterns of interrelations among the diary composites could be identified and modeled. Overall, the findings are discussed in terms of their contribution to the study of basic emotion and emotion regulation, as well as the implications for grieving a separation experience.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
romantic relationships, ending relationships, emotional experience
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