Elizabeth A Bullough and Dr. Jason S Carroll, Marriage, Family and Human Development
The dissolution of a romantic relationship can be one of the most distressing and traumatic experiences in a person’s life, however, a large amount of variability exists in how individuals react to and are affected by such an event. While some appear to be devastated, others seem to be minimally affected (Frazier & Cook, 1993). A large body of research has been conducted to study the effects of divorce on families and how they react and adjust following a marital breakup. In addition to divorce, there are thousands, if not millions, of premarital relationships that breakup each year, however, the research on how these couples are affected by or cope following a breakup is insufficient. There are many similarities between the emotions and psychological attachments of close premarital relationships and married couples (Hill, Rubin, & Peplau, 1976), thus it is likely that the emotional distress experienced by individuals following the breakup of a premarital relationship can be equally upsetting and therefore significant to understand. By understanding which factors contribute to the emotional distress following a breakup, family professionals will be in a better position to help prevent or alleviate some of the struggle and emotional distress that often accompanies the breakup and which may affect the success of future relationships.
One of the purposes of this project was to review the literature that addresses the factors associated with emotional distress following the dissolution of a premarital relationship. The studies that have been conducted have mostly focused on individual factors, dyadic factors, and factors external to the relationship. Based on this finding, another purpose of this project was to explore the impact that family of origin has on post-break-up distress, a factor that has not been previously investigated. This was based on a small sample of heterosexual couples who took the RELATE (Holman et al., 1997) and Breakup (Klein et al., 2000) questionnaires as part of the RELATE Project. The RELATE Project is an ongoing longitudinal study of premarital and marital relationships being conducted by the Marriage Study Consortium at Brigham Young University. The purpose of the project is to identify premarital factors that are most predictive of early marital quality and to assist couples in evaluating the strength and weakness of these factors in their own relationship.
Investigative analyses were conducted to explore the relationship between the impact of family of origin and the negative emotional reaction following the termination of a premarital relationship. Family of origin has not previously been reported in the research on this subject. The data for this study was collected from the RELATE longitudinal study. The sample consists of 33 individuals who took the RELATE questionnaire (Holman et al., 1997) and who have broken up since the initial data collection. I compared what they reported about their family of origin in the RELATE questionnaire while their relationship was still intact with the emotions and distress level they reported in the Breakup questionnaire (Klein et al., 2000), following the breakup of their relationship.
The results of a bivariate correlation show that there was a negative correlation between the family of origin scales and the negative impact scale. This relationship was highly significant on the family tone and mother-child relationship scales. This would imply that if one views one’s own family as interacting positively with one another or if the individual got along well with his/her mother, that individual is likely to experience less distress following the termination of a relationship. The parents’ marriage was also significantly correlated with negative impact although not as strongly as family tone and mother-child relationship. Therefore, if an individual perceives that his/her parents had a happy marriage, they are less likely to be distressed following a breakup.
Based on these results, I conclude that in addition to individual factors, dyadic factors and factors external to the relationship, that one’s family of origin has a significant effect on how an individual will react following the breakup of a significant relationship. Because this area has not previously been researched and considering that this study found this connection to be significant, I recommend that further research be conducted to better understand this relationship.
- Frazier, P. A., & Cook, S. W. (1993). Correlates of Distress Following Heterosexual Relationship Dissolution. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 10, 55-67.
- Hill, C. T., Rubin, Z., & Peplau, L.A. (1976). Breakups Before Marriage: The End of 103 Affairs. Journal of Social Issues, 32, 147-167.
- Holman, T. B., Busby, D. M., Doxey, C., Klein, D. M., & Loyer-Carlson, V. (1997). The RELATionship Evaluation (RELATE). Provo UT: Marriage Study Consortium.
- Klein, D. M., Carroll, J. S., Doxey, C., Watson, J. (2000). The Breakup Questionnaire. Provo UT: Marriage Study Consortium.