A new analysis of people who experienced different forms of relationship loss found that these experiences were linked to different patterns of feelings of control in the short and long term after the loss. Eva Asselmann from HMU University of Health and Medicine in Potsdam, Germany, and Jule Specht from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany, present these results in the open access journal PLOS A person on August 3 2022.
Previous research has shown that a greater perceived sense of personal control over one’s life is associated with a better well-being and better health. Romantic relationships are closely linked to perceived control for example, evidence suggests a link between perceived control and better relationship fulfillment. However, less is known about how the loss of a relationship might be related to changes in perceived control.
To shed new light, Asselmann and Specht have analyzed data from three time points in a decades-long study of households in Germany. Specifically, they used the results of the annual questionnaires of 1994, 1995 and 1995 to assess changes in perceived control for 1 people who have experienced a separation from their partner, 423 who have divorced and 437 whose partner is deceased.
Statistical analysis of the questionnaire results suggests that, Overall, people who experienced a separation from their partner experienced a decline in perceived control during the first year following the separation, but followed by a gradual increase in subsequent years. After separation, women were more likely than men to have a decline in their sense of control, while younger people had an increased sense of control compared to older people.
People whose partners died had an overall increase in perceived control in the first year after the loss, followed by a continued increase in perceived control over the period before death. However, compared to older people, younger people experienced more adverse effects of partner’s death on their sense of control.
The analysis found no link between divorce and perceived control.
Researchers call for future surveys to track people who have not yet experienced relationship loss and assess changes in perceived control in the event of loss. They also call for research into the mechanisms underlying write-up-loss changes in perceived control.
The authors add: “Our findings suggest that people exit sometimes stressful experiences, at least as far as specific personality characteristics are concerned. In the years following the loss of a romantic partner, participants in our study have become increasingly convinced of their ability to influence their lives and futures through their own behavior. Their experience has allowed them to face adversity and manage their lives independently, which has allowed them to grow.