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It Hurts to Let You Go: Characteristics of Romantic Relationships, Breakups and the Aftermath Among Emerging Adults

  • Charlene F. Belu (a1), Brenda H. Lee (a1) and Lucia F. O'Sullivan (a1)

Relationship breakups are common (Connolly & McIsaac, 2009), and difficulty adjusting to the breakup can manifest as post-relationship contact and tracking (PRCT; Lee & O'Sullivan, 2014). Emerging adults (n = 271; aged 18–25; 66% female) provided reports of PRCT after their most recent breakup in the previous year. We examined relationship and breakup characteristics to predict the use of and experience of PRCT. Logistic regression analyses revealed that ex-partner initiation of the breakup and a more intense breakup predicted the use of PRCT, and ex-partner's surprise regarding the breakup predicted being a target of PRCT. A between-subjects comparison of participants who either used or experienced PRCT reported similar impact of PRCT on the self or their ex-partner. However, participants who both used and experienced PRCT reported that the impact that an ex-partner's PRCT had on their lives was more negative than their use of PRCT had on their ex-partner's life, likely reflecting an actor-observer bias in reports. Difficulty adjusting to relationship breakup is normal, and predictive of attempts to remain in contact with an ex-partner. However, the seemingly benign form of contact can have a negative impact on individuals. The findings have implications for those counselling individuals in distress following a breakup, and contribute to the discourse around boundaries after a breakup.

Corresponding author
ADDRESS FOR CORRESPONDENCE: Charlene Belu, Department of Psychology, University of New Brunswick, P.O. Box 4400, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada E3B 5A3. Email:
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