New study explores individual's control patterns after relationship loss


A recent study found that after the loss of a relationship people have an immediate decline in their sense of control, however after one year, their sense of control gradually increases.

The study, published in the journal PLOSONE, was conducted by Eva Asselmann, PhD, and Jule Specht, PhD, of the department of Psychology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin in Berlin, Germany. Asselmann and Specht based their study off previous research that suggests relationships play a significant role in perceived control with a goal of understanding the association between control and relationship loss.

The researchers used yearly questionnaire results from 1994, 1995, and 1996, and analyzed levels of perceived control of 1,235 people who experienced a relationship loss. About half of participants had been through divorce and the other half of participants’ partners passed away. Perceived control of participants was measured through questionnaires.

Their results suggested that participants had a decline in their sense of control following their loss but, in the years later data showed a gradual increase in feeling of control. Asselmann and Specht also found that women were more likely to have a decline in their sense of control compared to men. In addition, younger people had higher levels of self-control after a breakup than older people. However, after the death of a partner, data showed that younger people had a greater loss of perceived control than older people.

“Our findings suggest that people sometimes grow from stressful experiences - at least regarding specific personality characteristics,” said Asselmann and Specht in a statement. “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.”

According to the authors, future research should explore how people who have never been through loss cope with it as well as the mechanisms that underlie post-loss changes in perceived control.