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When Relationships End

2 February, 2016 - 12:23

Inevitably, some relationships do break up, and these separations may cause substantial pain. When the partners have been together for a long time, particularly in a relationship characterized by interdependence and commitment, the pain is even greater (Simpson, 1987). The pain of a breakup is in part due to the loneliness that results from it. People who lose someone they care about also lose a substantial amount of social support, and it takes time to recover and develop new social connections. Lonely people sleep more poorly, take longer to recover from stress, and show poorer health overall (Cacioppo et al., 2002).

The pain of a loss may be magnified when people feel that they have been rejected by the other. The experience of rejection makes people sad, angry, more likely to break social norms, and more focused on self-concern. The ability to effectively self-regulate is lowered, and people are more likely to act on their impulses (Baumeister, DeWall, Ciarocco, & Twenge, 2005). But people who have been rejected are also more motivated by other-concern; they are particularly likely to try to make new friends to help make up for the rejection (Gardner, Pickett, & Brewer, 2000). Although people who have been rejected are particularly hurt, people who have rejected others may feel guilty about it.

Breaking up is painful, but people do recover from it, and they usually move on to find new relationships. Margaret Stroebe and her colleagues (Stroebe, Hansson, Schut, & Stroebe, 2008) found that people adjusted to the loss of a partner, even one with whom they had been with for a long time, although many did have increased psychological difficulties, at least in the short term.

Key Takeaways

  • The factors that keep people liking each other in long-term relationships are at least in part the same as the factors that lead to initial attraction.
  • Over time, cognition becomes relatively more important than passion, and close relationships are more likely to be based on companionate love than on passionate love.
  • In successful relationships, the partners begin to feel close to each other and become attuned to each other’s needs.
  • Partners in close relationships become interdependent and develop a commitment to the relationship.
  • Attachment styles, formed in infancy, to some extent predict how people relate to others in close relationships as adults.

Exercises and Critical Thinking

  1. Imagine that you are in a romantic relationship with someone you really care about and that you would really like the relationship to last. List three strategies based on the research described in this section that you might use to help keep the relationship happy and harmonious.
  2. Analyze a well-known Hollywood romance that has lasted (or that has not lasted). Which of the variables that we have considered in this chapter seem to help explain the outcome of the relationship?
  3. What do you think your main attachment style was as a child toward your caregivers? How similar or different do you think your attachment style is now? What impacts does your current main attachment style have on your relationships?
  4. Identify two different people with whom you think that you have a different attachment style. What reasons can you identify for this difference, and how does it affect the quality of each relationship?
  5. Based on your experiences of your own close relationships, or those of people around you, which do you think are the three most important factors covered in this section that promote relationship satisfaction and why?


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