The Sciences

Study Finds People Feel Less In Control After A Breakup — But Only At First

New research indicates that while our perceived control takes a dip after a breakup, it gradually rises again with time.

By Monica CullAug 3, 2022 1:20 PM
Heartbreak
(Credit:FREEPIK2/Shutterstock)

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Life can change a lot after a breakup, or the death of a romantic partner, including our sense of perceived control. People going through a relationship loss experienced different patterns of perceived control following the loss, according to recent research from Eva Asselmann of the HMU Health and Medical University in Potsdam, and Jule Specht of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. 

“Our findings suggest that people sometimes grow from stressful experiences – at least regarding specific personality characteristics,” the authors of the study say in a press release. “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.”

Perceived control is a person's belief that they have influence on both internal and external factors in their lives. Those with better health and overall well-being also tend to have a greater sense of perceived control. 

A romantic relationship is closely related to perceived control — leading to a more satisfying relationship, according to a press release. However, take one of those elements — health, wellness or relationship — away, and the sense of control may go with it. 

Using a yearly questionnaire, Asselmann and Specht gathered data from a multi-decade study on households in Germany, focusing on three timepoints specifically — 1994, 1995 and 1996. Of the 1,235 people who experienced a relationship loss, 423 were divorced and 437 had partners pass away. 

Results indicate that those who experienced a loss of a partner or relationship saw an initial drop in their perceived control during the first year of separation, but saw a gradual increase as the years went on. According to the study, women were more likely than men to experience a decline in perceived control and younger people had a greater sense of control compared to older people. 

Those whose partners passed away had an increase in perceived control during the first year after the loss and saw an increase in perceived control as time went on. However, younger people faced much more detrimental effects than older people after the death of their romantic partner.

The study didn’t find a link between divorce and perceived control. According to the researchers, more evidence is needed to better understand the link between perceived control and relationship loss.

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