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Breakup adjustment in young adulthood.

In terms of close relationships, romantic relationships are types of social connections and are very important for most people (Leone & Hawkins, 2006). However, romantic relationships yield a unique set of challenges, including the breakup experience (Alexander, 2008), which is common, especially in adolescence and young adulthood (Robak & Weitzman, 1998). A breakup can be a painful experience (Perilloux & Buss, 2008) and can lead to psychological disorders (Sprecher, Felmlee, Metts, Fehr, & Vanni, 1998; Tashiro & Frazier, 2003). After a relationship ends, people enter an adjustment period. One of the most common concerns during this period is how long it will take for individuals to get over the breakup (Sbarra & Emery, 2005). Although, for many people, the initial phase of breakup adjustment is difficult, they have to move through this difficulty to achieve a better adjustment (Saffrey & Ehrenberg, 2007).

To examine the factors that may affect young adults' adjustment to a breakup is important for several reasons. Romantic relationships hold great importance for adolescents and young adults. Emergence of the romantic relationship is one of the most important themes for social development during these periods (Lerner & Steinberg, 2009). During the life course, many people have numerous romantic relationships and experience several breakups (Tashiro & Frazier, 2003). Breakups are not a contemporary problem; they are a part of human history (Perilloux & Buss, 2008). Knowledge gained about breakups serves the well-being of a wide range of people.

Breakup adjustment provides information for both current and subsequent relationships. Meaningful relationship losses are crucial for young adults in understanding current interpersonal functioning and problem-solving strategies that could potentially be used in future relationships (Saffrey & Ehrenberg, 2007). Sorenson, Russell, Harkness, and Harvey (1993) asserted that college romance was a generous research field not only for examining dating relationships but also for exploring the early dynamics of long-term relationships. In addition, information related to the effects of former relationships is important for repartnering in the later years of young adults' lives (Davidson & Fennell, 2002). Furthermore, breakups have lasting effects on subsequent relationships and can lead to depression (Monroe, Rohde, Seeley, & Lewinsohn, 1999). Adjustment to a breakup is eased with the identification of the factors that influence adjustment. People who adjust to a breakup in a healthy way are able to identify the errors both in their past relationships and in the breakup adjustment period. This awareness improves the quality of the subsequent romantic relationship. Young adults may gain experience in premarital romantic relationships, and this experience guides them in marriage.

Research on adolescent romantic relationships is limited (Shulman & Kipnis, 2001). Studies related to the effects of dissolution focused primarily on the dissolution of marriage rather than on cohabiting, dating, or premarital relationships (Frazier & Cook, 1993; Noller & Feeney, 2006). Similarly, researchers most frequently examined divorce adjustment (Koenig-Kellas & Masunov, 2003). Studies conducted in Turkey related to the breakup of nonmarital romantic relationships are also very limited (e.g., Uzgel, 2004). The present study provides insight to the experiences of Turkish university students following a breakup.

There are numerous factors that affect breakup adjustment, such as gender (e.g., Perilloux & Buss, 2008), attachment styles (e.g., Saffrey & Ehrenberg, 2007), and even Facebook surveillance of ex-partners (e.g., Marshall, 2012). The aim of this study was to assess whether self-descriptive initiator status, existence of a new partner, certainty of the reasons for the breakup, and perceived social support are significant predictors of breakup adjustment among Turkish university students.

Initiator Status

In general, the decision to end a relationship is taken by one of the partners; a mutual decision to breakup is rare. Noninitiators feel more distress (Perilloux & Buss, 2008; Sprecher et al., 1998). Robak and Weitzman (1998) noted that the noninitiators reported more intense feelings of loss and grief. These noninitiators ruminated over the breakup and tried to find out why their relationships ended (Horwitz & Wakefield, 2007).

In the literature, there are contradictory findings related to initiator status. Some researchers indicated greater negative outcomes for noninitiators (Ayduk, Downey, & Kim, 2001; Davis, Shaver, & Vernon, 2003; Green, Campbell, & Davis, 2007; Perilloux & Buss, 2008; Robak & Weitzman, 1998; Saffrey & Ehrenberg, 2007; Sprecher et al., 1998); others revealed no difference between initiator status groups (Sbarra, 2006; Tashiro & Frazier, 2003). Sprecher et al. (1998) asserted that the breakup experience had positive outcomes for initiators of the breakup, because ending the relationship brought feelings of relief, freedom, and happiness. Sbarra and Emery (2005) claimed that initiators of a breakup felt lower levels of sadness and longing afterward, because they had the opportunity to prepare themselves emotionally before the breakup. Mutual decision makers and initiators were better at creating a complete account of the reasons for the breakup than noninitiators, and they felt better after the breakup and had higher perceived control over the recovery process (Sorenson et al., 1993). Contrary to many research findings, Tashiro and Frazier (2003) examined the initiator and noninitiator groups regarding both distress and emotional growth following the breakup. Their results indicated that there was no significant difference in distress between the initiators and noninitiators.

Existence of a New Partner

Tashiro and Frazier (2003) revealed that the existence of a new romantic relationship partner following a breakup was related to decreased distress. Lewandowski and Bizzoco (2007) explored the effect of having a new partner on the positive outcomes following a breakup. Young adults who were involved in a romantic relationship following a breakup were reported to have more self-expansion and self-rediscovery than their counterparts. According to Saffrey and Ehrenberg (2007), young adults who had a new romantic relationship after a breakup reported that they felt less lonely, felt less preoccupied with the past relationship, and adjusted to the breakup better than those who were not engaged in a new relationship after the breakup.

Certainty of the Reasons for the Breakup

When people do not identify the reasons for the decline of a relationship, they will not be able to learn from their past mistakes. In this regard, the attributions made as to why the relationship ended are important because these attributions largely influence the success in solving problems, which may possibly influence prospective relationships (Tashiro & Frazier, 2003). After a breakup, people start to make attributions by thinking about their past relationship and producing an acceptable explanation about the breakup for themselves, the ex-partner, and members of the social network (Duck, 2007). However, this process can be challenging (Koenig-Kellas & Masunov, 2003), because spending too much time thinking about the past relationship and ex-partner can extend the adjustment period (Saffrey & Ehrenberg, 2007).

Social Support

Felmee, Sprecher, and Bassin (1990) suggested that the social environment is a considerable factor in the recovery from a breakup. In the literature, there is an association between social support and relationship functioning. In addition, social support is also linked with emotional functioning (Moller, Fouladi, McCarthy, & Hatch, 2003). The end of a romantic relationship refers to the loss of a significant relationship, and this loss creates emptiness in the social network. Because romantic relationships provide social settings for developing and clarifying one's self-concept, people need to redefine their self-concepts in the absence of the ex-partner after the breakup (Mason, Law, Bryan, Portley, & Sbarra, 2012). In this context, getting social support after the breakup is important and may contribute to the personal growth of young adults (Tashiro & Frazier, 2003). Furthermore, people may need advice and support from their social network during the breakup process (Noller & Feeney, 2006). Coping with the aftermath of a breakup is difficult, especially when students are far away from their families, a major source of social support (Moller et al., 2003).



We determined the sample using a convenience sampling method within a large university in Turkey. The participants were 140 women and 143 men who had experienced at least one breakup within the past year. We selected a university-age group purposefully because romantic relationships are less intense, shorter in duration, and more casual during early adolescence (Feiring, 1996). However, at the age when most young people start attending a university and throughout their university life, they form meaningful (Saffrey & Ehrenberg, 2007) and more mature relationships, which involve more trust, support, and stability compared with their earlier relationships (Shulman & Kipnis, 2001). For older individuals, romantic relationships often develop into marriage (Matlin, 2012), which is not in the scope of the present research. The age of the participants varied between 18 and 31 years (M = 21.91, SD = 2.14). The average duration of the ended relationship was 14.28 months (SD = 16.29), and the average duration of the adjustment period after the breakup was 5.43 months (SD = 3.66).


In this study, we used the following three instruments: the Fisher Divorce Adjustment Scale (FDAS; Fisher, 1976), the Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support (MSPSS; Zimet, Dahlem, Zimet, & Farley, 1988), and the demographic information form.

The FDAS is a 100-item, Likert-type scale developed by Fisher (1976) to measure a person's emotional/social adjustment to divorce and breakup. Koenig-Kellas and Masunov (2003) and Vukalovich and Caltabiano (2008) used the FDAS to assess the breakup adjustment of nonmarried university students. Similarly, we used the FDAS with a sample of non-married university students instead of a sample of divorced individuals. The items are in the form of statements rated on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (almost always) to 5 (almost never). A high score indicates poor breakup adjustment, whereas a low score indicates high breakup adjustment. Yilmaz and Fisiloglu (2006) adapted the FDAS to Turkish culture and reported a Cronbach's alpha value of .97 for scores of the FDAS. In the current study, the Cronbach's alpha coefficient was .97 for the total score. For our purposes, we used the total score of the scale for measuring individuals' emotional/social adjustment to the breakup of nonmarital romantic relationships.

Zimet et al. (1988) developed the 12-item, Likert-type MSPSS to measure a person's perception of the adequacy of social support. Participants rate the items on a 7-point scale ranging from 1 (absolutely no) to 7 (absolutely yes). Higher scores indicate higher perceived social support, whereas lower scores indicate lower perceived social support. Ekerand Arkar (1995) adapted the MSPSS to Turkish culture with an internal reliability coefficient of .89 for scores of the MSPSS. For the present study, we found a Cronbach's alpha value of .88 for scores of the MSPSS. In this study, we used the total score of the scale to measure perceived social support.

Participants also filled out a demographic data form that included items related to gender, age, duration of the relationship, postbreakup duration, initiator of the breakup, certainty of the reasons for the breakup, and the participant's current relationship status.

The outcome variable of the study was the breakup adjustment, and the predictor variables were initiator status, existence of a new partner, certainty of the reasons for the breakup, and perceived social support. The breakup adjustment was the mean total of scores as measured by the FDAS.

The initiator status was a self-descriptive, categorical variable with categories of (a) initiator, (b) noninitiator, and (c) mutual decision makers. The existence of a new partner was a categorical variable with categories of (a) present and (b) absent. Certainty of the reasons for the breakup was a categorical variable with categories of (a) certain and (b) not certain. Perceived social support was the mean total of scores as measured by the MSPSS.


The ethics committee of the university approved the study, and we obtained written consent from each participant. After gathering the informed consent, we distributed the demographic data forms to the participants within regular class hours. Those participants who had experienced at least one breakup within the previous year responded to the items according to their most recent breakup. The administration took approximately 20 to 25 minutes.


During the initial analysis, we checked the descriptive statistics. Of the 283 participants, 133 (47%) initiated the breakup; 87 (30.7%) were mutual decision makers, and 63 (22.3%) were noninitiators. In addition, 86 (30.4%) participants started another romantic relationship after the breakup, whereas 197 (69.6%) participants did not. One hundred ninety one (67.5%) participants were certain of the reasons for the breakup, 91 (32.2%) participants were not certain, and one (0.3%) participant did not answer the question.

The mean scores of the FDAS for groups are shown in Table 1. The mean score of the FDAS for the whole sample was 1.89 (SD = 0.52). The mean score of the MSPSS was 4.95, with a standard deviation of 1.25.

To evaluate how well the initiator status, existence of a new partner, certainty of the reasons for the breakup, and perceived social support predicted the breakup adjustment, we conducted simultaneous regression analysis. Before we analyzed the data, we checked assumptions for the multiple regression analysis, as stated by Tabachnick and Fidell (2001; i.e., sample size, normally distributed errors, homoscedasticity, independent errors, linearity, multicollinerarity, influential observations), and all of the assumptions were met.

After checking the assumptions, we performed dummy coding for the initiator status. Because initiator status had three categories, we formed two dummy variables (noninitiator versus initiator and noninitiator versus mutual decision maker; Field, 2009). In simultaneous regression, we entered all predictor variables (i.e., noninitiator versus initiator, noninitiator versus mutual decision maker, existence of a new partner, certainty of the reasons for the breakup, and perceived social support) into the model. The model was significant, F(5, 277) = 12.04, p < .05. The summary of results is presented in Table 2.

This model explained the 18% variance in breakup adjustment, with all of the predictor variables (i.e., initiator status, existence of a new partner, certainty of the reasons for the breakup, and perceived social support) contributing significantly to the outcome variable (i.e., breakup adjustment). Partial variance of noninitiator versus initiator, noninitiator versus mutual decision maker, existence of a new partner, certainty of the reasons for the breakup, and perceived social support were 3%, 2%, 1%, 4%, and 4%, respectively.


We examined the predictive role of the initiator status, existence of a new partner, certainty of the reasons for the breakup, and perceived social support in breakup adjustment. We found that these variables were all significant predictors of breakup adjustment.

The results specifically showed that initiators and mutual decision makers adjusted to the breakup better than noninitiators. Several past studies also revealed that the negative outcomes were greater for the noninitiators (e.g., Davis et al., 2003; Green et al., 2007; Perilloux & Buss, 2008; Saffrey & Ehrenberg, 2007; Sbarra & Emery, 2005), which is in line with the findings of the present study. There might be several possible reasons for the poor adjustment of the noninitiators after the breakup. The noninitiators did not initiate the breakup, and therefore ending the relationship can be considered as an undesired outcome. Without accepting the breakup, the adjustment process cannot begin. Because noninitiators did not make the breakup decision, they might feel a loss of control over the breakup, and this may lead to poor adjustment to the end of a relationship (Waller, 2007). The feeling of loss was more intense for noninitiators, and they experienced more grief after the breakup (Robak & Weitzman, 1998). Therefore, the lower adjustment of noninitiators might be associated with their grief responses. Self-worth, a part of the breakup adjustment of the noninitiators, was reduced; thus, noninitiators tended to become more depressed after the breakup because of the perceived message of rejection that can lead to the feeling of worthlessness (Ayduk et al., 2001), and their self-esteem decreased as a result (Perilloux & Buss, 2008).

The results of the current study also revealed that the participants who started another romantic relationship following the breakup showed greater adjustment to the breakup. This finding was contrary to the findings of Koenig-Kellas and Masunov (2003), who found that adaptation to a breakup did not differ with the current relationship status. However, the literature provided some support for the findings of the present research. For example, Knox, Zusman, Kaluzny, and Cooper (2000) found that one of the most helpful factors in adjusting to a breakup was having a new romantic relationship. The presence of a new romantic partner reduced breakup distress (Tashiro & Frazier, 2003); enhanced positive outcomes, such as self-expansion (Lewandowski & Bizzoco, 2007); decreased the feeling of loneliness (Moller et al., 2003); and lessened rumination over the past relationship (Saffrey & Ehrenberg, 2007). With the dissolution of a romantic relationship, the fulfillment of a sense of belonging is impeded (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). Feelings of loss, emptiness, and loneliness affect people after a breakup; thus, they might choose to construct a new relationship to fulfill the sense of belonging and overcome the negative feelings.

We also found that being certain of the reasons for the breakup eased the breakup adjustment. Although no studies directly examined an individual's certainty of the reasons for the breakup, some researchers proposed ideas that could provide support for our findings. For instance, Tashiro and Frazier (2003) suggested that when individuals failed to identify the reasons for the decline of the relationship, problems occurred. Saffrey and Ehrenberg (2007) proposed that hypothetical thinking about the way things could be different in the relationship did not allow people to adjust to the breakup. Moreover, Koenig-Kellas and Masunov (2003) emphasized the importance of account making. In the account-making process, discovering why the relationship has ended is necessary. If there is no clear answer, closure may not be achieved. Incomplete accounts can result in people feeling that they have less control over the recovery process (Sorenson et al., 1993). People who are not certain about the reasons for the ending of the relationship do not have a clear picture of the breakup process in their minds. Without knowing the exact reasons, they might have difficulties in developing strategies to cope with the aftermath of the breakup. One of the reasons for the poor adjustment of those who are not certain of the reasons for the breakup might be that uncertainty takes the form of unfinished business. According to Corey (2000), "unfinished business includes unexpressed feelings--such as resentment, hate, pain, hurt, anxiety, guilt, and grief--and events and memories that linger in the background and clamor for completion" (p. 309), and this can interfere with daily effective functioning. Unfinished business may also block adjustment to the breakup.

The current study also indicated that adjustment to the breakup increased with the increase of perceived social support. We could not find studies that directly examined social support in relation to adjustment to the breakup of nonmarried romantic relationships. There is, however, indirect evidence for the positive effects of social support on breakup adjustment. For example, some scholars found that social support reduced depression, decreased the level of distress (Sinokki et al., 2009), and increased the ability to cope with negative outcomes (Schwarzer & Knoll, 2007).

There were a few limitations to this study. One was the cross-sectional survey design. In this study, data were collected at one point in time. However, adjustment to the breakup lasts for a period of time. Longitudinal studies may reveal more comprehensive information on adjustment periods and also possible factors that influence adjustment to the breakup. Second, the findings in this study reflected only one side of the breakup. Data collected from both partners might provide more information. Third, data gathered from this sample might represent the features of Turkish culture. For example, expressing feelings and thoughts regarding sexuality is not common in Turkish culture, so the participants' response rate was low for the items related to sexuality. Because this cultural aspect may be another limitation, we recommend that this study be replicated using non-Turkish samples to attain more generalizable results. Finally, the predictor variables of this study explained the limited variance in breakup adjustment. With different predictor variables, new models can be tested to increase the explained variance.

The results of this study might have some implications for professionals working with clients who have difficulties adjusting to a breakup. University and/or school counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and couples counselors may benefit from receiving information on factors that influence breakup adjustment. As in therapeutic interventions that focus on the actual problem of clients by ascertaining the factors that lead to maladaptive behaviors (Ayduk et al., 2001), identifying the factors that complicate breakup adjustment is important to find out the actual problem. By identifying these factors, professionals might develop more effective therapeutic interventions and also provide early interventions before their clients develop unhealthy coping strategies. Second, considering that understanding the reasons for the breakup is helpful, professionals may work with clients to help them come up with rational attributions and accept the breakup process. Besides, working on any unfinished business during the counseling process can be greatly important for clients to better cope with negative outcomes of the breakup. Third, professionals may also help clients increase their social support networks and/or make the best out of their support systems during the adjustment process. Considering the positive effects of social support in overcoming a variety of negative experiences in life (Schwarzer & Knoll, 2007; Sinokki et al., 2009), this study also seems to be a good resource on coping with a relationship breakup.

DOI: 10.1002/j.1556-6676.2015.00179.x

Received 08/02/13

Revised 02/24/14

Accepted 03/04/14


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Funda Barutcu Yildirim and Ayhan Demir, Department of Educational Sciences, Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Funda Barutcu Yildirim, Department of Educational Sciences, Faculty of Education, Middle East Technical University, Ankara (06800), Turkey (e-mail:

Summary of the Descriptive Statistics of the
Fisher Divorce Adjustment Scale for Predictor
Variable Groups

Variable                                     M      SD

Initiator status
  Initiator                                 1.82   0.50
  Noninitiator                              2.11   0.58
  Mutual decision maker                     1.84   0.45
Existence of a new partner
  Present                                   1.73   0.45
  Absent                                    1.96   0.53
Certainty of the reasons for the breakup
  Certain                                   1.79   0.49
  Not certain                               2.11   0.51


Summary of Simultaneous Regression Analysis
Predicting Breakup Adjustment

Predictor Variable           B     [beta]   SE       t      [sr.sup.2]

Noninitiator versus
  initiator                 -.22    -.21    .07   -2.98 *      .03
Noninitiator versus
  mutual decision maker     -.22    .20     .08   -2.87 *      .02
Existence of a new
  partner                   .13     .12     .06   2.03 *       .01
Certainty of the reasons
  for the breakup           .23     .21     .06   3.69 *       .04
Perceived social support    -.08    -.20    .02   -3.54 *      .04

Note. [R.sup.2] = .18 and is the overall explained variance by the
model, which indicates the overall percentages of variance in the
outcome variable that are explained by all predictor variables. Partial
variance ([sr.sup.2]) indicates the percentages of variance in the
outcome variable that are uniquely explained by each predictor
variable. * p < .05.
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Author:Yildirim, Funda Barutcu; Demir, Ayhan
Publication:Journal of Counseling and Development
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2015
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