2 part paper, will need the same tudor for both parts


Ending Interpersonal Relationships

Learning Objectives

In this chapter, readers will examine how our close relationships end. By the conclusion of this chapter, readers will be able to

• Explain why romantic relationships and friendships sometimes end • Understand the differences between direct and indirect relationship disengagement

strategies • Compare and contrast two models of relationship deterioration and dissolution • Describe how interpersonal messages contribute to romantic reconciliation, on-again/

off-again relationships, and post-dissolutional relationships • Apply strategies for competent communication when a relationship is ending



Why Relationships End Chapter 10

Introduction Ending a relationship, particularly a romantic one, is rarely a pleasurable experience. But if a rela- tionship ends in a particularly hurtful way, then relationship termination can be excruciating. On June 5, 2013, Jimmy Fallon, then the host of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, posted the following message via his Twitter account (https://twitter.com/LateNightJimmy):

Let’s play the hashtag game! Tweet out a funny or embarrassing way you’ve been dumped and tag with #howigotdumped! Could be on our show! (Fallon, 2013)

In response, thousands of Twitter users shared their stories of how a romantic partner broke up with them. Even within the Twitter format, which has a 140-character limit, some of the example responses show that many individuals have a difficult time competently ending roman- tic relationships:

“over text 5 minutes before my first away varsity game.” (Schweitzer, 2013) “my boyfriend broke up with me on April Fool’s Day so I thought it was a joke, I was wrong.” (Lindell, 2013) “I read on facebook that he was remarrying his ex-wife that day, posted by a mutual friend officiating the wedding.” (Bennett, 2013) “I honestly still don’t know.” (Leeds, 2013)

Though some of these responses might make you wince, they also show that there are many different ways we can end a relationship and that these methods vary in how direct and clear they can be. These responses also reveal that there are different reasons why partners end their relationships.

In this chapter, we will focus on the process of ending of interpersonal relationships. We discuss why relationships end, models of deterioration and termination, and the communicative ways that we end relationships. We also look beyond relationship termination to consider how we interact with former partners and offer suggestions for ending relationships in a more communi- catively competent way than illustrated in the Twitter responses referenced above.

10.1 Why Relationships End Everyone has experienced the end of a relationship. We often grow apart from our childhood friends. Some individuals cut ties with a family member after they have a serious falling out. Though we vow to still keep in touch with our coworkers after we head to a new position at a different organization, we frequently become too busy and forget to do so. And each time we start dating someone new, the odds are against us: There is a strong likelihood that you and your romantic partner will break up. These are all instances of ending relationships, also known more formally as relationship termination or relationship dissolution.

John Harvey and Andrea Hansen (2001) call these relationship losses “one of the givens of life” (p. 359) because the older we get, the more often our relationships will succumb to death, dis- solution, or divorce. Though fairly common, the end of a relationship is still “one of the most distressing and identity-threatening events people experience” (Cupach & Spitzberg, 2004, p. 28). For example, a marriage that ends in divorce is viewed as one of the most negative events that can occur in a person’s lifetime. In fact, in a commonly used research scale that measures stressful life events (Holmes & Rahe, 1967), divorce and marital separation are ranked as the second and third most stressful events that occur in one’s life, after the death of a spouse (which is also a way that

Why Relationships End Chapter 10

a relationship can involuntarily end). However, one’s level of well-being increases after a divorce, suggesting that going through this stressful life event can have long-term benefits (Luhmann, Hofmann, Eid, & Lucas, 2012). Thus, relationship termination, which occurs when one or both partners in a close relationship seek to end or dissolve their relational ties with each other, is com- mon but can be a powerful, even life-changing, experience.

The impact of a relationship ending extends beyond the absence of the other individual in the partnership. The loss of money, of other interpersonal relationships such as mutual friends, and even of no longer having the person that one trusts and can disclose to can be byproducts of relationship termination (Harvey & Hansen, 2001; Vangelisti, 2011). Research also consistently finds that experiencing romantic dissolution or divorce is associated with increased rates of psy- chological distress, substance abuse, suicide, and compromised physical health over time (Lantz, House, Mero, & Williams, 2005). In fact, divorced individuals tend to have more compromised mental and physical health than their married counterparts (Amato, 2010). Divorce is also some- thing that the former spouses are likely to remember, and possibly dwell upon, for a lifetime (Schwarzer & Schulz, 2003). Even young adults who go through a dating relationship breakup experience increased emotional volatility (Sbarra & Emery, 2005). And when a workplace friend- ship ends, the organization as a whole can suffer, with consequences often including emotional stress, employee turnover, and reduced employee ability to complete tasks (Sias, Heath, Perry, Silva, & Fix, 2004).

Ending a close relationship can be stressful, upsetting, psychologically and physiologically pain- ful, and an enduring negative life event. Though demographic studies of divorce trends have shown that the U.S. divorce rate has decreased since the 1980s (Amato, 2010), it is still impera- tive to better understand the nature of relationship termination and communication’s role in the process. The first step in this process is to identify the reasons that friendships and romantic relationships dissolve. We thus discuss these causes and reasons for relationship dissolution in the next sections.

Reasons that Romantic Relationships End

Romantic relationships end for many different reasons. We saw one reason in the example tweets that we presented at the beginning of the chapter: the desire to be with another partner. Studies of nationwide samples of the U.S. population also indicate that this is a fairly common cause of relationship dissolution. For example, Paul Amato, a professor of sociology and demog- raphy, has extensively researched what predicts divorce in American married couples. Some of his research, which is discussed next, indicates that jealousy and infidelity are common reasons for divorce. He argues that divorce is a “complex event” that can be explained by multiple demo- graphic, relationship, and life course variables such as duration of marriage (Amato & Previti, 2003, p. 602).

Based on a national sample of 2,033 married individuals that was tracked for 17 years, Amato’s studies provide compelling evidence that ending a marriage is indeed a complex experience. Based on the 244 participants in this sample that got divorced during the course of the stud- ies, Amato has identified a number of specific marital issues that can be causes of divorce. For example, infidelity, jealousy, issues with how money is spent, and drinking or using drugs were the most consistent causes of divorce for both husbands and wives (Amato & Rogers, 1997). In a later study, Amato and Denise Previti (2003) asked divorced individuals why their marriages ended via a single question, “What do you think caused the divorce?” which revealed 18 different reasons for divorcing (p. 610). See Figure 10.1 for specific statistics about the reasons most often cited by participants.

Why Relationships End Chapter 10

As the figure shows, the most common cause of divorce was infidelity (reported by 18.4% of the divorced participants), where one member of the relationship cheated on the partner or left the partner for another person. Incompatibility was the second most common cause of divorce at 16.4%, and it involved couples being unable to get along, having little in common, or dealing with unresolved conflict or differences. Drinking or using drugs was the third most common reason for divorce (9%), followed by simply growing apart (8.2%). Other common reasons for divorce (in decreasing order of frequency), according to Amato and Previti’s (2003) findings, are personality problems, lack of or difficulty communicating, physical or mental abuse, and simply falling out of love with the spouse.

Further, in Amato and Previti’s (2003) study, females more often cited infidelity, drinking or drug use, and abuse as causes for their divorces. Males, on the other hand, more often reported their divorces were caused by lack of communication. Those whose marriages ended due to infidelity experienced more difficulty with post-divorce adjustment, regardless of whether it was the par- ticipant or the former spouse who cheated. Amato and Previti (2003) also determined that these participants rarely took full blame for the divorce; instead, the partner and the relationship itself were two of the most common sources of blame. However, despite who was to blame, the major- ity of husbands and wives indicated that the wife was the spouse who most wanted the divorce. In addition, it is important to note that many of these divorced participants reported that there were multiple causes of the dissolution of their marriages, rather than just a single reason.


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Figure 10.1: Common reasons for divorce among couples in the United States

Based on Amato’s studies, approximately 18.4% of study participants indicated that their marriages ended as a result of infidelity. However, ending a marriage is complex, and each relationship termination is a unique experience.

Source: Data from Amato, P. R., & Previti, D. (2003). People’s reasons for divorcing: Gender, social class, the life course, and adjustment. Journal of Family Issues, 24, 602–626.

Why Relationships End Chapter 10

Compared to divorce, there is less research that addresses why nonmarried romantic partners— such as individuals who are dating, living together, or are engaged—end their relationships. Researchers (Barbara & Dion, 2000), however, did identify four distinct reasons for romantic breakups:

• Boredom, dissatisfaction, unhappiness, or lack of involvement in the relationship • Physical or emotional abuse • Irresolvable differences with regard to partners’ interests, backgrounds, or intelligence • External forces such as distance or decisions about school or careers

In addition, a study that identified the reason that college students’ most recent relationships ended found that by far the most frequent reason was that one of the partners found a new part- ner (Knox, Gibson, Zusman, & Gallmeier, 1997). Other reasons included being unable to over- come differences, dishonesty, family disapproval, becoming bored with the partner, abuse, and use of alcohol or drugs (Knox et al., 1997).

As we saw earlier in the section, infidelity, incompatibility, drug/alcohol use, and physical or emotional abuse also are frequently cited reasons for divorce. Also note that incompatibility and difficulty communicating are two interpersonal communication-related reasons for relation- ship termination that can be linked back to John Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which we discussed in Chapter 9. Though these romantic relationship termination causes are a bit broader than those examined in divorce research, the information highlights the variety of issues and problems that can end a romantic relationship. (See Web Field Trip for more insight into couples and conflicts.)


Couples and Conflicts

The Gottman Institute relies on findings from long-term scientific studies to help understand romantic relationships, specifically marriages. Visit the organization’s YouTube page (http:// www.youtube.com/user/TheGottmanInstitute) and review the videos “Talking About Conflict Constructively” and “How to Repair After Conflict.” Now take a moment to consider the following questions.

Critical Thinking Questions

1. According to John Gottman, what is the goal of learning to talk about conflict constructively? Is this a skill that you can also apply to nonromantic relationships?

2. According to Julie Gottman, there are different levels of repair that can help couples during or after a conflict. What is an example of a verbal message that can be used to help a couple repair their relationship? What are examples of communicatively competent skills couples can use?

Reasons that Friendships End A friendship is a unique type of close relationship, where friends forge and maintain relation- ships with one another primarily because they enjoy spending time together and they feel posi- tively toward one another. Friendships can be some of the most important relationships we have. Take, for example, the friendships between the popular television characters Carrie, Miranda,

Why Relationships End Chapter 10

Samantha, and Charlotte on the 1998–2004 HBO series Sex and the City. Their friendships with one another began when they were younger, and they were central and significant for each character as they grew older. In the series finale, Mr. Big—Carrie’s love interest throughout the series—meets with Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte to ask them for advice about locating Carrie in Paris and confessing his enduring love for her. In this meeting, Big acknowledges the significance of Carrie’s friendships with these three women: “You three know her better than anyone. You’re the loves of her life, and a guy’s just lucky to come in fourth.”

However, many real-world friendships are not as long-term, close, or enduring as those between the Sex and the City characters. Indeed, according to Rosemary Blieszner and Rebecca Adams (1992), friendship is a particularly vulnerable relationship for three reasons:

• It is voluntary, meaning that individuals can choose to enter into and leave a friendship with little to no restrictions.

• It does not have blood or societal ties or formalized rituals such as ceremonies or legal dec- larations, meaning that it is usually much easier to terminate a friendship than a marital or family relationship.

• It is nonexclusive in nature, meaning that one individual can be friends with many differ- ent people.

Considering these relationship-specific challenges, it is no wonder that we are more likely to end friendships than any other type of close relationship (Cramer, 1988).

Adolescence and early adulthood are the life stages where one’s friendships are the most impor- tant. We depend heavily upon and are particularly close to our friends in these life stages because we are becoming more independent from our immediate family and likely have not yet found a lifelong romantic partner. But with this increased intimacy also comes greater friend- ship susceptibility. This seems to particularly be the case for young female friends. Specifically, friendships for girls between 10 and 15 years of age are of a shorter duration than friendships for boys between 10 and 15 years of age (Benenson & Christakos, 2003). The girls in this study, more than the boys, also reported that they would be more upset if their closest female friendship were to end and that several of their previously close friendships had ended. These difficulties likely arise in female friendships because such friendships are more intimate (e.g., Buhrmeister & Prager, 1995; Winstead & Griffin, 2001). Thus, when these young female friendships face chal- lenges, females tend to respond more intensely, with one response being to end their friendship altogether.

But when individuals in these age groups choose to end a friendship, what are their reasons for doing so? In one study (Johnson et al., 2004), 162 college students were interviewed about a friendship of theirs that had ended. A similar study was also conducted by Suzanna Rose (1984). Common reasons for relationship termination among college students, pinpointed in these sepa- rate studies, are identified below:

• Loss of affection for the friend (Johnson et al., 2004) • One of the friends had significantly changed (Johnson et al., 2004) • Less time or no time spent doing activities together (Johnson et al., 2004) • Increase in geographic distance (Johnson et al., 2004) • New friendships replaced old friendships (Rose, 1984) • Romantic relationships conflicted with the friendship (Rose, 1984)

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Rose (1984) also found that friendships among this age group often ended during the transi- tion from high school to college, further evidence that external causes can result in friendship termination.

Though research tends to focus on young people’s friendships, older individuals can also have prob- lems in their friendships. In one study conducted by Adams and Blieszner (1998), 79% of the partici- pants, aged 55 to 84, reported having at least one problematic friend. This group of participants iden- tified that problematic friendship often involved

• A friend who they felt was too close to them • A friend who was too difficult • A friendship that was gradually fading away • A friendship that had intentionally been


However, Adams and Bleiszner (1998) note that findings suggest that adults often choose to deal with and manage problematic friendships instead of automatically ending them. Indeed, older adults often reinterpret their close relationships—transforming friendships into kin relationships or retaining relationships with individuals after a divorce, for example—because these relationships could be a potential caregiving source in a time when “the broader kin network, once a safety net for families in hard times, is stretched thin” (Allen, Blieszner, & Roberto, 2011, p. 1173).

As we saw in Chapter 6, friendships are also prevalent in business and professional environments. Though individuals do not have a great deal of choice about their colleagues, they can select who they will be friends with in the workplace. However, the termination of such friendships can make the working environment more difficult and awkward for the former friends, and poten- tially for their colleagues as well. In one study that examined the end of workplace friendships (Sias et al., 2004), four main reasons for their termination were identified:

• The workplace friend had a personality characteristic, such as selfishness, that the indi- vidual disliked.

• An event in the workplace friend’s personal life, such as problems at home, got in the way of the friendship and negatively affected the person’s job performance.

• The workplace friends had conflicting expectations about how they should treat each other; this was particularly problematic when one friend was the supervisor of the other friend.

• One workplace friend was promoted and took on a position of higher power than the other friend.

As you can see, the three of these four reasons for workplace friendship deterioration are unique to the business and professional context and involve balancing job responsibilities and roles within the friendship. Probably the most common reason that workplace friendships end is simply because an individual leaves the organization. As we saw in Chapter 7, proximity and similarity are two important reasons that relationships form, and frequently seeing one another while working at the same place is a common bond that allows workplace friendships to begin and grow. Thus, when a workplace friend no longer works at your organization (or even moves


▲▲ Proximity and similarity are two aspects that can help workplace friendships grow. However, such friendships can begin to fade if one partner leaves the organization or moves to a different location.

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to a different location or department), the friendship you share may naturally fade away simply because you no longer see the person as frequently or share common business and professional experiences.

Based on the information presented in the previous sections, it is apparent that both nonroman- tic and romantic relationships can end due to incompatibility or changes to one or both partners as individuals. However, the exclusive, committed nature of romantic relationships means that specific behaviors such as infidelity, misuse of money, and unhealthy drug or alcohol use are more likely to be sources of termination. On the other hand, the voluntary, nonexclusive nature of friendship increases the likelihood that external forces such as distance or life transitions will cause the relationship to dissolve. Being a nonexclusive relationship, however, does not preclude a romantic relationship’s interference from ending a friendship. Overall, there are many different causes of romantic relationship and friendship termination, and these reasons for dissolution reflect the essential characteristics of each type of close relationship. (Everyday Communication Challenges offers some tips on how to handle the end of a relationship.)


Letting Go of Ongoing Negative Thoughts as Relationships End

Every positive and negative feeling you have is a direct result of your thoughts and your interpreta- tion of circumstances. You can, however, change these feelings by changing your thoughts and interpretations. For example, as a close relationship of yours ends, you will likely be upset and think about and dwell upon what went wrong. What could you and your partner have done or said dif- ferently that might have led to a better outcome for your relationship? Whose fault was it? Are you destined to have similar issues or communicate in similar ways in your future relationships? Do you blame yourself for the relationship’s end and tell yourself that you will never truly understand what happened, or do you let it go and tell yourself that some relationships end and that you did all that you could to be a good partner?

It is not the actual circumstance (the relationship ending) that affects you. It is what you think about that circumstance and, more importantly, the way that you translate your thoughts into feelings that influence you. Meaning is a result of your own thoughts and how you choose to consider the cir- cumstance (Carlson, 1997). When a relationship ends, your perspectives about the circumstance can negatively affect your self-esteem and self-image, but the circumstance itself is neutral because you have no way of knowing what will happen. If you are a pessimist and tend to focus on the negative aspects of a circumstance, then you can counter this tendency by refusing to dwell on the negative and choosing not to allow yourself to think negatively about the circumstance or its consequences.

Thoughts come very quickly, however, and it takes a great deal of practice to anticipate and suspend negative thoughts. When thoughts about a circumstance such as a relationship ending become ongoing and happen without your permission or control, you are experiencing rumination. Rumination is a negative cognitive state because it can dominate your thoughts, is difficult to stop, and is related to increased stress (Martin & Tesser, 1996; Mezo & Baker, 2012). Rumination is also a common response to relationship termination that can be related to a more negative adjustment to the relationship’s end (Collins & Clark, 1989: Saffrey & Ehrenberg, 2007). Thus, rumination is something to try to avoid in the aftermath of a breakup. To alleviate rumination, remember that a thought is not reality; it is only a thought. If you learn to recognize this fact, then it will be easier to prevent such thinking from controlling your overall mood.


Communication Strategies for Relationship Disengagement Chapter 10

10.2 Communication Strategies for Relationship Disengagement

There are many different ways to end a romantic relationship, as we saw in the Twitter posts highlighted at the beginning of the chapter. Sometimes these breakups included a third party, messages sent via mediated channels, or other indirect methods, which often left the individuals unsure about how or even if the relationship ended. Such breakup strategies have been investi- gated by relationship researchers, and directness is one factor that can generally help distinguish differences between breakup strategies. A direct disengagement strategy is one where the indi- vidual ending the relationship does so face-to-face and uses verbal communication that makes clear to his or her partner that the relationship has ended. An indirect disengagement strategy, in contrast, is more subtle and ambiguous in nature and relies on nonverbal communication or avoidance. We provide examples of each of these types of disengagement strategies for both romantic and nonromantic relationship dissolution in the following sections.

Direct Disengagement Strategies

Individuals can employ a number of different direct methods to end a relationship. The first and most common direct method is openness disengagement strategy. The openness strategy involves the breakup initiator being clear, direct, and honest about his or her desire to end the relationship (Baxter, 1984). Telling your partner “I want to break up with you” is an example of the openness strategy. Though it is the most straightforward form of relationship termination, openness can also be limiting to the recipient because it doesn’t give the person a chance to respond or to have a choice in the decision (Baxter, 1979). The channel in which openness is used is also important; face-to-face communication is preferred and is the most common, whereas directly ending the relationship via a mediated channel such as a text or e-mail message is viewed as lacking compassion (Sprecher, Zimmerman, & Abrahams, 2010). This is one reason why the Twitter responses shared at the beginning of the chapter seem particularly hurtful.

A second direct method is justification disengagement strategy, where the initiator explains why he or she wants to end the relationship. In other words, the initiator offers the recipient a rea- son, or reasons, for the breakup. This is a useful termination strategy because it is less likely than other disengagement strategies to embarrass or humiliate either partner. A common justification for ending a relationship is independence (Cody, 1982), where the initiator explains that he or she wants to be free because the person is not ready to settle down, needs to find him- or herself, or wants to focus on work or school.

The negotiated farewell disengagement strategy is a third direct strategy used to disengage from a relationship. Negotiated farewells occur when both partners use prosocial communication

Critical Thinking Questions

1. Have you ruminated about a close relationship after it ended? How did ruminating impact your ability to get over the termination of the relationship?

2. What other methods have you used to “get out of your head” after a close relationship ends? Which were the most successful? The least?

3. In what other interpersonal communication situations might you find yourself having negative thoughts or ruminating? What information from this text could you use to combat such negative thinking?

Communication Strategies for Relationship Disengagement Chapter 10

and cooperation in the process of ending their relationship (e.g., Sprecher et al., 2010). Fairness, listening, and willingness to com- municate are important characteristics of the negotiated farewell strategy (Guerrero, Andersen, & Afifi, 2014). This type of dis- engagement strategy is particularly use- ful when the partners’ lives are enmeshed, meaning that possessions, social networks, and finances may need to be divided, and child custody decisions may need to be negotiated. Susan Sprecher and her col- leagues (2010) found that talking through a romantic dissolution was the most common method for ending the relationship, and it is also one of the least upsetting disengage- ment strategies (Guerrero et al., 2014).

For friendship termination, a study by Breanna McEwan, Beth Babin Gallagher,

and Lisa Farinelli (2008) found that college-aged individuals used two direct strategies to end their friendships. The first is the direct request disengagement strategy, where the friend spe- cifically requests that communication or the relationship cease. The direct request strategy is not hostile in nature and is similar to the openness romantic termination strategy. In contrast, the hostile interaction disengagement strategy involves aggression toward the friend that causes the friendship to end. Examples of this strategy are physical violence, heated conflict, or physical or verbal threats. Threatening and bullying are also strategies for ending a romantic relationship, and in both relationship contexts, these threatening strategies can be very harmful and destruc- tive (Baxter, 1984). The direct request and hostile interaction friendship termination strategies are the least frequently used by the participants in McEwan and her colleagues’ study (2008).

Indirect Disengagement Strategies Although indirect strategies are, by nature, ambiguous and may leave the recipient feeling uncertain about what exactly has happened and wondering if the relationship has truly ended, the majority of close relationship partners use these strategies to terminate their relationships (Baxter, 1979, 1984). The most common indirect termination strategy in close relationships is avoidance disengagement strategy, where the individual who seeks to end the relationship decreases contact with or withdraws from the partner. This form of termination is also known as behavioral de-escalation because the initiator of the breakup pulls away from the partner, without giving a clear reason for doing so. Because it is so indirect, the avoidance disengagement strategy can be ineffective, can delay the relationship from being truly over, and can prevent one or both partners from experiencing closure. As a result, when an individual ends a relationship via avoidance, both partners experience dissatisfaction with the breakup.

A second indirect method is called cost escalation disengagement strategy, where the initiator works to make the relationship unappealing to the partner. The initiator can escalate the recipi- ent’s relationship costs by flirting with other people, acting rudely, being insulting or hurtful, or drinking excessively. These costs are theoretically intended to make the recipient dislike the initiator and pressure the partner to end the relationship. As opposed to the hostile interaction


▲▲ Negotiated farewells are a direct disengagement strategy that allows both partners to communicate and cooperate dur- ing the breakup process.

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disengagement strategy, which is more direct and aggressive in nature, cost escalation is more subtle and manipulative. Cost escalation, also called a Machiavellian strategy or a form of game- playing, is not a frequently used method for relationship disengagement (Baxter, 1984).

McEwan and her colleagues (2008) also identified two indirect strategies used to end friendships. The first is the faded away disengagement strategy, where the friends unintentionally commu- nicate less and less over time. The faded away indirect strategy is also one that occurs in romantic relationships, typically when the partners find themselves drifting apart (Baxter, 1979). Fading away can happen when friends continually forget to call back or to respond to each other’s e-mails or text messages. They may say they will respond later, but they never do. Purposeful avoidance disengagement strategy is the second friend termination strategy; it is an intentional decision to reduce or stop interactions with the friend. It is similar to the avoidance strategy that is used by romantic partners. Friends who use the purposeful avoidance strategy do so without directly discussing it with their friend. According to McEwan and her colleagues’ findings (2008), faded away is the most frequent friendship termination strategy, followed by purposeful avoidance.

Indirect strategies were also the predominant method for ending friendships with work col- leagues. Patricia Sias and her colleagues (2004) found that individuals ended relationships with their workplace friends by avoiding conversation topics that were not work related, generally reducing their interactions and contact at work, such as no longer chit-chatting or sharing lunch hours with the individual and not socializing outside of work with the former friend. These strat- egies each are similar to the purposeful avoidance strategy identified by McEwan and colleagues (2008) because the individual intentionally attempts to end the friendship, while also working to keep the relationship at a comfortable professional level.

Take a minute to review Table 10.1, which summarizes each of the direct and indirect disengage- ment strategies discussed in this section. (The feature IPC in the Digital Age reviews some disen- gagement techniques accomplished through mediated channels.)

Table 10.1: Direct and indirect disengagement strategies

Strategy Type Explanation

Openness Direct The initiator is clear, direct, and honest about seeking to end the relationship.

Justification Direct The initiator explains why he or she wants to end the relationship.

Negotiated farewells Direct Both partners use prosocial communication and cooperation to end their relationship.

Direct request Direct The initiator specifically requests the cessation of communication or the end of the relationship; most often associated with the termination of a friendship.

Hostile interaction Direct The initiator uses physical or verbal aggression to end the relationship; most often associated with the termination of a friendship.

Avoidance Indirect The initiator decreases contact with or withdraws from the partner to end the relationship.

Cost escalation Indirect The initiator works to make the relationship unappealing to the partner to end the relationship.

Faded away Indirect The initiator unintentionally communicates less often with the partner; most often associated with the termination of a friendship.

Purposeful avoidance

Indirect The initiator intentionally reduces or ceases interactions with the partner; most often associated with the termination of a friendship.

The Process of Relationship Deterioration and Dissolution Chapter 10

10.3 The Process of Relationship Deterioration and Dissolution

As we just described, a relationship can end in a myriad of direct and indirect ways. But when relationship termination is voluntary on the part of one or both partners—meaning that a con- scious choice is made to end the relationship—it rarely ends abruptly or without any sort of notice or foreshadowing. Instead, one or both relationship partners proceed through stages or work through the process of the relationship’s deterioration, which occurs when the quality and enjoyment of the relationship diminishes or is impaired in some way for one or both partners. A relationship may deteriorate for many of the same reasons that a relationship may terminate. Perhaps you (or your partner) are less satisfied with the relationship. You may have met someone else who seems more compatible with you. Maybe your partner is moving three states away in a


Ending a Relationship via Mediated Channels

Mediated communication is a relatively new means for ending relationships. Indeed, a variety of mediated channels can be used to break off a relationship, including mobile phone calls and text messages, e-mails, and social networking sites. For example, users can officially sever a relationship via Facebook by clicking on the “Unfriend” button on a friend’s Facebook page. Jennifer Bevan and her colleagues (Bevan, Pfyl, & Barclay, 2012) argued that this online behavior is a form of relation- ship termination. Unfriending is a common Facebook behavior. In 2011, 63% of Facebook users had unfriended one of their Facebook friends, an increase from 56% only two years earlier (Madden, 2012). Being unfriended can make a Facebook user feel rejected and cause the person to ruminate about what happened; the impact is particularly negative if the Facebook user knows which friend did the unfriending, if the user had originally initiated the Facebook friend request, and if the user believed that he or she is being unfriended for reasons related to Facebook behavior, such as post- ing too frequently or making controversial comments about topics such as politics and social issues (Bevan et al., 2012).

Research indicates that new technologies are often instrumental in contributing to, and prevent- ing recovery from, relationship termination. In one study, college student participants continuously singled out Facebook as a cause for their romantic breakups because Facebook allows a user access to “tantalizing, incomplete information” such as evidence of potential relationships with other users that could be interpreted as a threat to their own relationships (Gershon, 2011, p. 867). The online surveillance that we discussed in Chapter 9, a source of and way to express jealousy, can uncover information that contributes to relationship termination. Facebook surveillance can also occur and be problematic after a romance has ended. A 2012 study by social psychologist Tara Marshall found that keeping an eye on a former partner’s Facebook activities was related to greater distress and negative feelings about the breakup and less personal growth. Apply these findings to your own relationships, and then consider the following questions.

Critical Thinking Questions

1. Have you ever ended a relationship because of something you saw online? Or did you dissolve a relationship using a mediated channel? Why did you choose to terminate the relationship in this way?

2. If a relationship is ended via a mediated channel, rather than in person, how might this influence online interactions with others, such as mutual friends or family members?

3. What rules do you have for how much you interact with a former partner on social networking sites? How does, or did, this affect your post-breakup relationship?

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few months, and you have no plans to join him or her and no interest in being in a long-distance relationship.

To better understand the deterioration and dissolution process, two useful interpersonal com- munication models have been developed to chart how a relationship deteriorates and dissolves: Knapp’s stages of relationship deterioration and Duck’s model of relationship dissolution. Both of these models focus on the inherent role of communication during relationship deterioration and termination.

Knapp’s Five Stages of Relationship Deterioration

In Chapter 7 we introduced communication scholar Mark Knapp’s (1978) stage model of inter- personal relationships, where he identifies and describes the 10 stages that we proceed through when forming and ending close relationships (also known as the coming together and coming apart stages). As you remember, the first five stages of relationship formation were initiating, experimenting, intensifying, integrating, and bonding (take a moment to review Table 7.3). Before we consider the five stages of relationship deterioration, remember from our Chapter 7 discus- sion that there are two caveats to keep in mind: (1) the model is best applied to romantic rela- tionships; and (2) it assumes that couples progress sequentially through the model, though that may not always happen in an actual relationship. The second caveat is particularly important for the coming apart stages; just because a couple is in an early stage of deterioration does not mean that they will automatically proceed all the way through to termination. Rather, a couple could repair their relationship successfully and move back into and remain in an earlier coming together stage. Keep these important qualifications in mind as you read about the final five stages of Knapp’s model (see Figure 10.2).

Figure 10.2: The five stages of relationship deterioration

As with relationship formation, the stage model of relationship deterioration assumes that relationship partners proceed sequentially through the stages. But in reality most relationships can move back or forth among the different stages or may remain stuck in a single stage.

Source: Based on Knapp, M. L. (1978). Social intercourse: From greeting to goodbye. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. f10.02_COM200.ai

Relationship Maintenance

Stage 6 Differentiating

Stage 7 Circumscribing

Stage 8 Stagnating

Stage 9 Avoiding

Stage 10 Terminating

Relationship Deterioration coming apart

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Differentiating Knapp’s first stage of coming apart is called the differentiating stage, where one or both part- ners begin to stress their separateness rather than their togetherness. Differentiating means that you begin to be focused more on your autonomy than on your connection with your partner. Let’s proceed through the stages from the perspective of John and Gary, a couple who have been partners for four years, living together for the last two, who have recently begun to enter into these coming apart stages. John and Gary begin to notice that they have less in common than they thought and that John is different than he was when the relationship first began.

What messages do we see in the differentiating stage? First, there may be an increased frequency of arguments and conflict. Another way that differentiating can be communicatively identified is that at least one partner begins to use individual pronouns such as “I,” “mine,” or “me” rather than shared pronouns such as “we,” “ours,” and “us.” In addition, John and Gary experience the differentiating stage by also openly discussing their incompatibilities and attempting to strike compromises that will help them work through their differences (Avtgis, West, & Anderson, 1998). Other differentiating messages can include harping on the partner and using a negative tone of voice (Welch & Rubin, 2002). In other words, in the differentiating stage, the first chinks in the relationship armor appear as the partners begin to realize that they may be more different than alike.

Circumscribing Next, couples can enter into the circumscribing stage. Circumscribing occurs when relation- ship partners become confined to primarily communicating about safe topics; that is, things that are unlikely to cause the couple to fight. For example, John and Gary feel restricted about what they can talk about with each other and thus may try to control their conversations or talk about more superficial topics so that they can stay in their domains of agreement (Welch & Rubin, 2002). The partners may even have to establish clear ground rules to be able to discuss prob- lematic topics. Specific topics that are likely to cause conflict are money, sex and intimacy, and relationships with family members such as in-laws.

Being in the circumscribing stage also means that the relationship partners will be communicat- ing with each other less and will be sharing less intimate and personal information. The partners become more physically and communicatively distant. John and Gary exemplify this when they are more silent even when they are in each other’s presence (a frequent occurrence since they share an apartment) and when they treat each other coldly (Avtgis et al., 1998). However, couples in this stage also report being hopeful and still liking each other despite their difficulty com- municating (Welch & Rubin, 2002). Thus, while in this stage, John might remain optimistic that things between them could still work out.

Stagnating The third stage of coming apart, according to Knapp’s model, is the stagnating stage. In this stage the partners are at a standstill, and communication continues to decline. According to S. A. Welch and Rebecca Rubin (2002), couples play through potential conversations in their heads and decide that the likely outcome means that it is not even worth bringing up with their partner.

With regard to specific communication messages, verbal communication between John and Gary would substantially decline in the stagnating stage, as would touch and physical contact (Avtgis et al., 1998). Instead, John and Gary rely more on brief nonverbal communication mes- sages such as shrugs, blank stares, grunts, and head nods to indicate yes or no. Communication

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is also guarded, awkward, and difficult in the stagnating stage (Welch & Rubin, 2002). Essentially, the relationship partners have begun to abandon the possibility of salvaging the relationship. For example, while John may still hold out hope and thus remain in the circumscribing stage, Gary may move ahead to stagnating, realizing that the relationship cannot be saved.

Avoiding Knapp’s fourth coming apart stage is the avoiding stage, which is characterized by substan- tial spatial and geographic separation. Avoidance of each other becomes the status quo for both partners. Couples in this stage, like John and Gary, are typically annoyed and disinterested with one another and feel helpless about where the relationship is going (Avtgis et al., 1998; Welch & Rubin, 2002). The individuals are willing and expect to eventually go it alone (Welch & Rubin, 2002). Entering into this stage is frequently a signal of a relationship’s imminent termination; it would take a major change or significant effort by the couple to move back into a previous stage.

Besides simple avoidance, couples can also communicate in other ways in this stage. For example, John may tell Gary, “I don’t know” or “I don’t care” to prevent a conversation from moving for- ward (Avtgis et al., 1998). Discussions about the relationship also cease (Avtgis et al., 1998). John and Gary may also attempt to stay busy or avoid spending time at their apartment as an excuse to not have to see or communicate with each other (Welch & Rubin, 2002). Clearly, removing opportunities to interact, as couples do in the avoiding stage, increases the likelihood that the relationship will only further deteriorate.

Terminating In Knapp’s final coming apart stage, the terminating stage, the relationship actually comes to an end. The terminating stage is unique because Knapp applies this stage to several different types of relationships. This stage can be applied to brief encounters or to conversations that we have with others where we do not expect to further pursue a relationship with them, as well as to the end of long-term, close relationships. In addition, the terminating stage can come as a result of the couple’s gradual progression through the first four deterioration stages, or it can occur very quickly with little to no warning (also called a relationship’s sudden death).

However the relationship partners get to this point, and whatever dissolution strategies they use, the end result is the same: The relationship is over. The partners do not expect to see each other again nor do they plan to spend time together (Welch & Rubin, 2002). After ending their partner- ship, John feels sad and unhappy, but Gary feels relieved (Avtgis et al., 1998). In this stage, couples may prefer to use mediated channels to communicate, rather than face-to-face. The partners also primarily communicate about matters related to successfully executing the termination, such as dividing up their belongings, discussing what went wrong in the relationship (Avtgis et al., 1998), and even deciding who will change their relationship status first on Facebook. John and Gary must negotiate who gets their shared apartment, how to split up their possessions, and how they will inform their friends and family that their relationship is over.

See Table 10.2 for a summary of the five stages introduced in this section. As with Knapp’s five relationship formation stages introduced in Chapter 7, research has successfully verified the pres- ence of these five deterioration stages, as well as what each stage involves, in real-world romantic relationships (Avtgis et al., 1998; Welch & Rubin, 2002). Knapp’s model assumes that interaction between the partners after termination is minimal or nonexistent. However, we know that is not always the case. Steve Duck’s model of relationship dissolution, and the presence of post- dissolutional relationships, which we discuss next, dispels this assumption.

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Table 10.2: Relationship deterioration: The final five stages of Knapp’s model of interper- sonal relationships

Stage Explanation Example

Differentiating The first stage of deterioration: One or both partners begin to stress their separ- ateness rather than their togetherness.

Increased conflict frequency and usage of indi- vidual pronouns such as “I” and “my.”

Circumscribing The second stage of deterioration: The partners are confined to discussing or communicating about safe topics to avoid conflict.

Increased physical and psychological distance from the partner.

Stagnating The third stage of deterioration: The partners are at a standstill, and communi- cation continues to decline.

Significantly decreased verbal and nonverbal communication; increased rumination about the relationship.

Avoiding The fourth stage of deterioration: The partners accentuate spatial or geographic separation.

Increased annoyance and disinterest in the partner, as well as greater physical distance; it is difficult to salvage the relationship by this stage.

Terminating The fifth stage of deterioration: The partners’ relationship ends.

Termination strategies are used to actually end the relationship; how to successfully enact the dissolution is discussed and carried out.

Source: Based on Knapp, M. L. (1978). Social intercourse: From greeting to goodbye. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Duck’s Model of Relationship Dissolution

Interpersonal communication scholar Steve Duck also attempted to chart how relationships end. In his model of relationship dissolution, Duck (1982, 2005) proposed that individuals move through five distinct phases as they disengage from their relationships:

1. Intrapsychic 2. Dyadic 3. Social 4. Grave-dressing 5. Resurrection

Duck updated his model in 2005 to specifically shift the focus to the central role of communica- tion in relationship deterioration and termination. The following discussion outlines these five phases and the communication that occurs in each. Throughout we will use an example of the breakup of Sherry and Sam, a couple who met at the coffee shop where they both worked and who have been dating for two years.

The Intrapsychic Phase The first phase of Duck’s dissolution model is the intrapsychic phase, where one or both part- ners evaluate each other’s behaviors and consider whether the partners’ actions are reason enough to terminate the relationship. This phase is primarily private and intrapersonal in nature because one partner does not directly communicate any relationship doubts to the other partner. However, if the individual who has doubts becomes more reflective or withdraws from interac- tions, the other partner may notice that something is wrong.

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Now consider the couple, Sherry and Sam. Sherry is in the intrapsychic phase if she starts to notice that Sam is spending a lot of time drinking and socializing with his friends and doesn’t seem as devoted to their relationship as he had once been. Sherry may begin to think about Sam’s recent actions, especially in light of the kind and considerate partner that he used to be, and to contemplate her own relationship options. In this phase Sherry may ask herself the following questions: Should I break up with him? What are my alternatives to this relationship? Is it worth it to work on our relationship or better to end it?

The Dyadic Phase The dyadic phase of Duck’s model is important because it is the first phase where both partners are aware of and begin to discuss their relationship problems and the possibility that the rela- tionship could end. In this phase relationship deterioration moves from intra- to interpersonal communication. These discussions could go well, and both partners might jointly decide to work on repairing the relationship, or they could proceed badly, with one of the partners becoming defensive, justifying his or her actions, or being unwilling to admit to poor behavior.

In our example, Sherry moves her relationship dissolution into the dyadic phase when she says to Sam, “We need to talk.” After opening the conversation, Sherry begins to tell Sam that his recent actions have hurt her and that she thinks he is putting their relationship in jeopardy. Sam would keep the dissolution process in motion if he responds angrily, by telling her that she is overreacting, that he is just blowing off steam and having fun, and that she needs to stop nagging him. Sam’s response indicates to Sherry that he is not interested in hearing her perspective or in refocusing his attention on their relationship.

The Social Phase In the third phase of Duck’s model, the social phase, the actual dissolution of the relationship occurs, and both partners are aware that the relationship is now over. In addition, members of the partners’ social networks—their friends and family—are told that the relationship has ended. Both partners share their side of the breakup with others, and the breakup is the topic of gos- sip and rumors. In other words, the termination of the relationship moves beyond the couple to encompass other people: It goes public (Duck, 2005). One way that partners can share the news of the relationship’s termination is by changing their relationship status on Facebook (Fox, Jones, & Lookadoo, 2013). Social support from others about the breakup can also be offered and received online.

In our example, Sherry realizes from her conversation with Sam that she wants to end the rela- tionship. She tells Sam “It’s over,” and he replies, “Fine, if that’s what you want.” After they break up, they talk to their friends and family about what happened. Sherry starts crying and tells her mom about the breakup, who replies “Good, I never liked him anyway.” Sam simply tells his roommate Mike that “We’re done” after Mike notices that Sherry hasn’t been over to their place in a while and asks what is going on.

The Grave-Dressing Phase Duck’s fourth phase is called the grave-dressing phase because it involves coping with the ter- mination and working on widely disseminating the information to others in a way that helps the individual save face. Duck (2005) describes this phase as one where partners have the “task of reporting the relationship and the breakup in a socially satisfactory way that presents the reporter as acceptable and even desirable as a future partner for new prospects” (p. 212). This is also a phase where the partners begin to get over the relationship. Jesse Fox and colleagues (2013)

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found that changing one’s Facebook profile picture (particularly if the previous one had included the partner), deleting partner-related Facebook content, and appearing to be social and having fun are examples of grave-dressing done via social networking sites.

Consider again Sherry and Sam. Although they experienced the same breakup, they may com- municate about it very differently to others. Sherry may put the blame entirely on Sam, telling her friends and family that she did everything that she could to save the relationship but that he just didn’t care. Sherry may also spend more time with her friends or take up a new hobby to distract herself and start to move on. Sam, on the other hand, may tell his friends that Sherry was always bothering him and wouldn’t let him be himself and have fun. He may be upset and know that he is at least partially to blame but hides his emotions from others.

The Resurrection Phase The final phase of Duck’s model is the one that he added in his 2005 revision to the relationship dissolution model. In the resurrection phase, both partners continue to move on and learn lessons from the former relationship that can be applied to future relationships. Duck (2005) describes this phase as a process that “offers the chance to review and adjust psychological beliefs about the self, other, and relationships that might hold up better in the future” (p. 212). Sherry’s resurrection phase may involve her personal decision not to date any more men who are immature and lack a clear idea of what they want in the future. Sam’s resurrection phase may involve the realization that he lost a good relationship and the decision to try harder next time.

Take a moment now to review Table 10.3, which summarizes the phases in Duck’s model of relationship dissolution. Then look back at Table 10.2, which summarizes the final five stages of Knapp’s model of interpersonal relationships. How similar and different are Knapp’s and Duck’s models of relationship dissolution? In terms of differences, Knapp’s stage model focuses more on the ways that partners interact while their relationship deteriorates and ends, whereas Duck’s dis- solution model includes more input and messages from the partners’ social networks (Vangelisti, 2011). Duck’s model also differs from Knapp’s in its more detailed consideration of how partners interact and reflect after the relationship has ended.

However, both models are similar in that they propose distinct steps that partners go through on the way to termination. The importance of interpersonal communication in the deterioration and termination of a relationship is also emphasized in both models: Whether and how the partners are communicating with each other provide evidence of which stage or phase one or both part- ners are in. In addition, like Knapp’s five relationship deterioration stages, couples can also start proceeding through the initial phases of Duck’s model but not continue through to termination. Couples can also move backward in each model, or even skip stages or phases entirely, and one partner can be in a different stage or phase than the other partner. In all, these two models are valuable in that they describe and chart the general process of relationship termination from an interpersonal communication perspective, which Duck calls “a relentless tragedy unfolding in a series of predictable and unavoidable steps” (2005, p. 210).

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Table 10.3: The five phases of Duck’s model of relationship dissolution

Phase Explanation Example

Intrapsychic The first phase: One or both partners evaluate each other’s behaviors and consider whether or not the partner’s actions are reason enough to terminate the relationship.

Noticing changes in the partner and asking oneself what the future status of the relation- ship might be.

Dyadic The second phase: Both partners are aware of and begin to discuss their relationship problems and the possibility that the relation- ship could end.

Starting a conversation about the problems in the relationship and what can be done to resolve them; could result in the partners working to improve the relationship or could drive the couple even further apart.

Social The third phase: Relationship dissolution occurs; both partners are aware that the relationship is now over, and members of both partners’ social networks are aware of the relationship dissolution.

Relationship termination strategies are used to end the relationship; one or both partners turn to others for help getting through the dissolution.

Grave-dressing The fourth phase: Both partners cope with the dissolution and work on widely disseminating the news of termination of the relationship in a manner that helps him or her save face.

The termination is shared with others, with an eye toward making the individual seem strong and capable; hobbies may be pursued as a distraction.

Resurrection The fifth phase: Both partners continue to move on and learn lessons from the former relationship that can be applied to future relationships.

As time passes, both partners may start dating others and use the lessons from their relationship to improve how they communi- cate in their new relationships.

Source: Based on Duck, S. (1982). A topography of relationship disengagement and dissolution. In S. Duck (Ed.), Personal relationships 4: Dissolving personal relationships (pp. 1–30). London: Academic Press; and Duck, S. (2005). How do you tell someone you’re letting go? A new model of relationship breakup. The Psychologist, 18, 210–213.

10.4 Communication Behaviors after the Relationship Ends

When a relationship ends, former partners may not completely sever contact with each other. Former spouses will need to negotiate who and when each has custody of their children. Former friends may still see each other at school or at work. Former dating partners who are still friends on Facebook can see what they are posting, and even learn if one of them is dating someone new online. Sometimes ending one type of relationship means that a different partnership is formed, or that couples will romantically reunite. Indeed, Georgina Binstock and Arland Thornton (2003) noted that a significant number of young adults proceed through “diverse and complex paths throughout the course of their relationships” (p. 441). We accordingly explore three such relation- ships—post-dissolutional relationships, reconciled relationships, and on-again/off-again relation- ships—in the sections below.

Post-Dissolutional Relationships

The most common type of relationship you can share with a former romantic partner is known as a post-dissolutional relationship (PDR), which is defined as a relationship that is formed by ex-partners after their initial romance has terminated. Instead of making a clean break, many romantic partners still do tend to communicate with each other after termination (Koenig Kellas, Bean, Cunningham, & Cheng, 2008). PDRs can include such interactions as the occasional coffee

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with an ex-boyfriend, navigating and implementing complicated custody and alimony agreements with a coparent, or making and enforcing child-rearing decisions with a former spouse. The exis- tence of PDRs reflects the notion that former romantic partners can indeed just be friends with each other (Lannutti & Cameron, 2002).

Most people assume that forming and maintaining a relationship with a former romantic part- ner is filled with drama and challenges. But some research findings dispute this common belief. For example, former heterosexual and homosexual romantic partners reported high satisfaction, moderate emotional intimacy, and moderate amounts of contact with each other post-dissolution (Lannutti & Cameron, 2002). Post-dissolutional relationship partners also had low amounts of sexual intimacy with each other (Lannutti & Cameron, 2002). Further, 21% of individuals indi-

cated that their PDRs actually improved over time, becoming more committed and less negative (Koenig Kellas et al., 2008). In contrast to another common belief about PDRs, whether the former partners were friends with each other before they became romanti- cally involved was not related to the quality of their PDR (Lannutti & Cameron, 2002).

This is not to say that all PDRs are positive relation- ships. For example, researchers found that individuals were often confronted with arguments, uncomfort- able and awkward interactions, and sometimes even harassment in their PDRs (Koenig Kellas et al., 2008). Other former partners either realized that the romance was truly over or found that they were unable to move on (Koenig Kellas et al., 2008). The majority of PDRs also became more negative over time, and those that experienced these negative trajectories were not satisfied with their PDRs (Koenig Kellas et al., 2008). Experiencing both positive and negative aspects of PDRs likely will reinforce the former partners’ beliefs that relationship termination was the best course of action, because each can provide a clear sign that they were not meant to be romantically involved.

Former romantic partners often maintain contact with each other if they share a family. When children are involved, the ability for former romantic partners to be able to have at least a cordial relationship is particularly vital. If former spouses continue to fight with each other even after the divorce is finalized, they may involve their children in the conflicts by asking them to take sides or mediate disputes. One specific way that children can be impacted by their parents’ PDR is by feeling caught which occurs when children become mediators between their divorced parents; that is, they are asked by one parent to share information with the other parent (Afifi, 2003). When children feel caught between their parents in this way, their relationship with their parents suffers, and they have decreased psychological well-being. However, when young adult children perceive that their parents are communicating competently (that is, effectively and appropriately for their unique situation), they were less likely to feel caught between them (McManus & Donovan, 2012). Thus, when a PDR is necessary, as is often the case for divorced spouses with children, former partners should strive to engage in effective and appropriate communication.


▲▲ Former romantic partners might maintain con- tact after relationship termination if they share a family.

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Romantic Reconciliation

Former partners can also reconfigure their relationship after dissolution via romantic recon- ciliation. When romantic reconciliation occurs, partners return to their former romantic rela- tionship state after termination (Bevan, Cameron, & Dillow, 2003). Relationship reconciliation is considered to be a distinct relationship phase where individuals tend to experience stability and intimacy (Conville, 1988), likely because the couple has previous knowledge of each other and preestablished patterns of communicating (Patterson & O’Hair, 1992). Though not every couple reconciles, many do. For example, 10% of cohabiters reconcile within four years of dissolution, and 25% of spouses reconcile rather than divorce (Binstock & Thornton, 2003). Another study found that almost 44% of emerging adults had been involved in a reconciled romantic relation- ship (Halpern-Meekin, Manning, Giordano, & Longmore, 2013).

Research on romantic reconciliation has tended to focus on two things: (1) how individuals com- municate their interest in reconciling with a former partner; and (2) which factors increase the likelihood that a couple will reconcile. With regard to reconciliation messages, Bevan and her col- leagues (2003) asked college students to describe how they would attempt to reconcile with a former dating partner. A number of different reconciliation strategies emerged from these descriptions:

• Explanation: describing how the individual feels and why he or she wants to reconcile • Referent appeal: reminding the former partner of the positive aspects of the former

romance • Promises: pledging to change or stating that the reconciled relationship would be better

than the first relationship • Ingratiation: complimenting the former partner and stating how much the individual

misses the partner • Direct request: simply stating that the individual wants to date the former partner again

These reconciliation strategies are overwhelmingly positive because the former dating part- ners tend to use primarily constructive and considerate methods to rekindle the relationship or emphasize the possibility of forging a new romance. Using positive strategies such as these also indicates that the former partner will be more open and willing to give the romance another try.

What factors contribute to partners’ decisions to reconcile? Several studies identified relevant factors:

• Those who had engaged in sexual intercourse with their former partner were more likely to reconcile with the person (Halpern-Meekin et al., 2013).

• The more young adults engaged in intimate self-disclosure with their romantic partner (i.e., discussing topics such as private feelings and thoughts, the future, and negative life experi- ences), the more likely they were to reconcile (Halpern-Meekin et al., 2013).

• Former partners who were more often in contact with each other and who shared greater emotional and physical intimacy were more likely to want to renew their romantic relation- ship (Lannutti & Cameron, 2002).

• Reconciliation was more likely if there was a high degree of longing and breakup distress, if there was more frequent offline contact, and if there was more surveillance of the former partner’s activities on Facebook (Marshall, 2012).

• The more that individuals felt they were responsible for the end of their romantic relation- ships, the more confident they were that they could successfully reconcile with their former partners (Bevan et al., 2003).

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• Asking for and granting forgiveness for a relationship transgression was also an important factor in a couple’s decision to reconcile, although an individual could forgive or be for- given by a former partner but not wish to get back together (Morse & Metts, 2011).

These studies show that whether or not romantic relationship reconciliation occurs depends upon a number of factors and can be accomplished using a variety of communication messages. However, if individuals continually bad-mouth their former partners, or if they believe that the partners did not treat them well, family and friends may not be supportive of reconciliation. Disapproval from others means that the romantic partners may need to account for why they reconciled to those they are close to, which can be done by offering excuses and justifications for the reconciliation, or by simply not telling other people that the reconciliation has occurred (McBride, 2010). It is important to remember that reconciliations do not occur in a vacuum and that dealing with others’ reactions might be a new and possibly unexpected challenge that recon- ciled partners will have to face.

On-Again/Off-Again Relationships

Have you ever known a couple that repeatedly breaks up and then gets back together? Such couples can’t seem to live without each other, but can’t seem to work out being together, either. Communication scholar René Dailey dubbed this cycle of breaking up and renewing a romantic relationship as an on-again/off-again romantic relationship, and it is the second specific type of post-dissolutional relationship. Her research has found that 62% of col- lege students have been involved in on-off relationships, with 24% of these individuals breaking up and reconciling with the same partner once, 30% twice, 22% three times, and 24% four or more times (Dailey, Pfiester, Jin, Beck, & Clark, 2009). Such on-off relationships most often occur because there are

• Lingering romantic feelings • Longings for the general companionship that a

relationship provides • Desires for familiarity • Beliefs that the former partner was “the one”

(Dailey, Jin, Pfiester, & Beck, 2011)

Being in an on-off relationship can also nega- tively impact relationship quality. For example, the more times a couple breaks up and gets back together, the more they engage in ineffective con- flict and aggressive behaviors with each other and the less they love and validate each other (Dailey et al., 2009). Number of renewals was also posi- tively related to an increase in uncertainty about the relationship and a decrease in satisfaction and commitment (Dailey, Hampel, & Roberts, 2010; Dailey et al., 2009). Additionally, friends and fam- ily members were less likely to approve of these romances as the number of renewals increased (Dailey et al., 2009). However, one benefit of an on-off relationship is that it helps an individual learn about him- or herself: The individual may


▲▲ On-again/off-again relationships can negatively affect the quality of a relationship. The partners will continue to struggle unless they can identity and improve issues in the relationship.

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learn that it is acceptable to be alone rather than in the relationship and feel more secure and strong alone (Dailey et al., 2011).

These research findings suggest that on-off relationships occur because of convenience and an inability to move on after a breakup. Indeed, the likelihood of the partners continuing to be in on-off relationships increases when one of the partners is emotionally frustrated with the rela- tionship but decreases when one of the partners begins to date someone else (Dailey et al., 2011). It also appears that the quality of the relationship deteriorates once the relationship becomes on-again/off-again. Thus, though an on-off relationship initially may seem appealing—and is fre- quently depicted in the media as romantic and driven by destiny—there are a number of disad- vantages that should also be considered. It is no wonder that their research findings led Dailey and her colleagues (2011) to caution that, “continued feelings for their partners may draw some back into the relationship even if they are unable to manage the communication or behavior problems that led to previous dissolutions” (p. 435). In other words, unless you and your former partner are able to identify why you had trouble in the first place, and make clear improvements or changes, then the on-off relationship will be a struggle and will be less likely to succeed.

10.5 Strategies for Communicating Competently When Ending Relationships

This chapter has examined the different reasons and strategies for ending a close relationship. We also explained that having some form of post-dissolutional relationship is much more common than completely severing contact with a former partner. The strategies discussed next can help you to more competently terminate your relationships and develop a different type of relationship with a former partner.

Consider Why the Relationship Is Ending

If you find that one of your close relationships is ending, determine what is causing this dissolu- tion, for both you and your relationship partner. Identifying the causes—particularly the primary reason—can help answer two questions. First, is this a relationship that can be salvaged? If you determine that the primary cause is distance or is because you or your partner are simply less focused on your romantic relationship, you may realize that talking with or visiting each other more often can be enough to reverse the relationship’s deterioration.

You should then ask yourself if this is a relationship that you want to salvage. If the cause of the termination breaks an important rule of the relationship, such as your partner committing infi- delity or otherwise violating your trust, understanding that this is the reason can perhaps help you let go of the relationship and move on more easily. However, if the cause is potentially fixable, such as simply growing apart, you may decide that the relationship is worth saving. As you con- sider the cause of the relationship’s end and answer both of these questions, discuss the reasons for the relationship deterioration with your partner. This openness will help clarify your feelings about whether to work on the relationship or to simply let it go.

Work Toward the Goal of Adaptation

Throughout this chapter, we have discussed the challenges and stress associated with a close relationship’s end. Are there any ways to make this loss easier? Seeking out and being receptive to social support from your friends and family is beneficial, as is trying to feel positive about

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yourself. Specifically, research has found that higher self-esteem and greater support from other people can help individuals better adjust to the dissolution of a relationship (Frazier & Cook, 1993; Vangelisti, 2011). Further, a study of older adults who had experienced relationship loss (either via dissolution, divorce, or by being widowed) found that 75% had moved on to date after the loss and that these participants’ overall depression levels were in the normal range (Harvey & Hansen, 2001).

When dealing with the loss of a close relationship, either because it was terminated or because one partner passes away, one end goal to strive for is adaptation. Adaptation, according to John Harvey and Andrea Hansen (2001), occurs when an individual has fully confronted the loss and the personal meaning that this loss has to the individual and is able to be a functioning member of society.

What are some of the specific ways that we can adapt? Harvey and Hansen (2001) offer the fol- lowing suggestions:

• Reappraise the event, yourself, the partner that you have lost, and the implications of this loss for you: Working through the loss in this way will help you review and recall the rela- tionship in a realistic manner.

• Try not to focus on unresolved issues or conflicts that you had with the lost partner. • Attempt to create accounts, or storylike descriptions, of the events related to the end of

the relationship: Being able to account for how the relationship ended can help you better understand these events and give you the ability to control how you respond to them.

In Harvey and Hansen’s (2001) words:

Regardless of what we do to forget, avoid, distract ourselves from, or move beyond our major losses, they will continue to affect us, and a better approach to peace and effective function- ing might be to entertain and consciously work with them as symbols of our deepest identi- ties. (p. 361)

Thus, adaptation is a competent method for confronting the difficult experience of relation- ship termination, as it does not mean that the loss is forgotten. Instead, the individual recog- nizes how the loss fits into his or her life experience, identity, and place in the world (Harvey & Hansen, 2001).

Reflect on the Existence and Nature of Your Post-Dissolutional Relationship

It is likely you have at least one post-dissolutional relationship with a former partner. As we saw in this chapter, these PDRs can take a number of different forms and can have a variety of outcomes. Think about your motivations for being involved in your PDR and what you ultimately seek to get out of it. If you want to reconcile or enter into an on-off relationship, be sure you do not want to do so simply because it is easy and familiar for you. Know that the majority of the relationships of cohabiting and marital partners who reconcile do not tend to endure (Binstock & Thornton, 2003) and that being in an on-off relationship is associated with a number of negative communi- cation and relationship patterns (Dailey et al., 2009, 2010, 2011). If you are in a PDR for the sake of your children or family, work toward achieving competent communication with your former partner, as well as toward keeping your children and other family members from feeling caught between the two of you.

Summary and Resources Chapter 10

Summary and Resources Ending a relationship is a common but often upsetting human experience that can be accompa- nied by loss of friends, money, and the enjoyment of being in a close relationship. Relationships can end for a number of reasons. The most common reasons that a marriage ends are infidelity, incompatibility, and drinking or using drugs. Other romantic relationships often end because of abuse, unhappiness, differences between the partners, or because one partner wants to break up. Friendships face specific relationship challenges, and younger, older, and workplace friends often struggle when their friendships end. Friendships are most likely to end due to loss of affection, personal changes, or a decrease in time spent together.

As with termination, there are several different strategies that individuals can use to disengage from their relationships, and these strategies can be either direct or indirect. Direct strate- gies include openness, justification, negotiated farewell, hostility or threats, and direct request. Indirect strategies are avoidance, cost escalation, and fading away. Indirect strategies tend to be more likely to occur in romantic friend and workplace friend relationships.

Relationship deterioration and dissolution is viewed as a process that can progress through a variety of stages. Models by Knapp and Duck attempt to chart how relationships end. In Knapp’s model, there are five stages: differentiating, circumscribing, stagnating, avoiding, and terminat- ing. Duck’s relationship dissolution model is comprised of five phases: intrapsychic, dyadic, social, grave-dressing, and resurrection. These models share similarities and differences, but both are to be viewed as basic descriptive steps and ones that partners can start through, stop, or reverse back through.

Even as a relationship ends, partners may need to continue communicating with each other. Post- dissolutional relationships are common and can take a number of forms. PDRs have their own challenges, as well as a number of benefits. It is particularly important that former partners with children keep them from feeling caught between them, to prevent negative effects on their chil- dren. PDRs can also occur when former romantic partners return to their romantic relationship by reconciling with each other or when they begin a series of breakups and makeups that initiates an on-again/off-again relationship.

Key Terms

adaptation A method of dealing with loss where an individual has fully confronted the loss and the personal meaning that loss has to him or her and is able to be a functioning member of society.

avoiding stage Knapp’s fourth coming apart stage, which involves substantial spatial and geo- graphic separation.

avoidance disengagement strategy An indirect disengagement strategy in which the indi- vidual who seeks to end the relationship decreases contact with or withdraws from the partner.

circumscribing stage Knapp’s second stage of coming apart, where relationship partners have become confined to primarily discussing or communicating about safe topics to avoid conflict.

cost escalation disengagement strategy An indirect disengagement strategy in which the individual who seeks to end the relationship works to make the relationship unappealing to the partner.

Summary and Resources Chapter 10

deterioration The diminishment or impairment of the quality and enjoyment of the relation- ship for at least one of the relationship partners. This process is voluntary on the part of one or both partners.

differentiating stage Knapp’s first stage of coming apart, where one or both partners begin to stress their separateness rather than their togetherness.

direct disengagement strategy The individual ending the relationship does so face-to-face and uses verbal communication that makes clear that the relationship has ended.

direct request disengagement strategy In a friendship, one individual specifically requests that communication or the relationship cease.

dyadic phase The second phase of Duck’s relationship dissolution model in which both part- ners are aware of and begin to discuss their relationship problems and the possibility that the relationship could end.

faded away disengagement strategy In a friendship, an indirect termination strategy where the friends unintentionally communicate less and less over time.

feeling caught A difficult situation that occurs when children become mediators between their divorced parents.

grave-dressing phase The fourth phase of Duck’s relationship dissolution model in which both partners cope with the dissolution and work on widely disseminating the termination of the relationship in a manner that helps each partner save face.

hostile interaction disengagement strategy In a friendship, one individual uses aggressive behaviors to terminate the relationship.

incompatibility An inability of couples to get along; they may have little in common or con- sistently have to deal with unresolved conflict or differences.

indirect disengagement strategy The individual ending the relationship uses a strategy that is subtle, ambiguous in nature, and relies on nonverbal communication or avoidance.

intrapsychic phase The first phase of Duck’s relationship dissolution model in which one or both partners evaluate each other’s behaviors and consider whether or not the partner’s actions are reason enough to terminate the relationship.

justification disengagement strategy The initiator explains why he or she wants to end the relationship.

negotiated farewell disengagement strategy Both partners use prosocial communication and cooperation in the process of ending their relationship.

on-again/off-again romantic relationship The cycle of breaking up and renewing a romantic relationship.

openness disengagement strategy The initiator is clear, direct, and honest about seeking to end the relationship.

post-dissolutional relationship (PDR) A relationship that is formed by ex-partners after their initial romance has terminated.

Summary and Resources Chapter 10

purposeful avoidance disengagement strategy In a friendship, an indirect termination strat- egy that involves an intentional decision to reduce or stop interaction with the friend.

relationship termination A situation that occurs when one or both partners in a close rela- tionship seek to end or dissolve their relational ties with each other.

resurrection phase The fifth and final phase of Duck’s relationship dissolution model in which both partners continue to move on and learn lessons from the former relationship that can be applied to future relationships.

romantic reconciliation The return of former romantic partners to a romantic relationship state after termination.

rumination The process of engaging in ongoing thoughts that occur without one’s permission or control.

social phase The third phase of Duck’s relationship dissolution model in which relationship dissolution occurs, both partners are aware that the relationship is now over, and members of both partners’ social networks are aware of the relationship dissolution.

stagnating stage Knapp’s third stage of coming apart, where the partners are at a standstill, and communication continues to further decline.

terminating stage Knapp’s fifth and final coming apart stage, where the relationship actually comes to an end.

Critical Thinking and Discussion Questions

1. Consider a romantic relationship that has ended. Perhaps it is one you experienced or wit- nessed firsthand. How did the causes of dissolution affect how the relationship ended? What was the role of communication before, during, and after the termination of the relationship?

2. Compare and contrast how a romantic relationship ended with how a friendship ended. How does the nature of these two types of close relationships potentially affect the reasons for and communicative strategies of relationship dissolution?

3. After a relationship has ended, what factors or qualities do you think are important in satisfy- ing relationships and competent communication with a former partner? How can communi- cation with a former partner foster such factors or qualities?

4. Have new technologies such as mobile phones and the Internet affected the process and after- math of relationship termination? How? Are these changes entirely positive or negative?