Reasons for Romantic Breakups in Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood: A Developmentally Informed Examination
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Objectives: Using a developmentally informed perspective, two studies were conducted towards systematic investigation of breakup reasons, their associated processes and outcomes in adolescence and emerging adulthood. In Study 1, a developmentally-framed measure of breakup reasons was developed, and differences in breakup reasons by age, gender, and dating stage (casual versus serious relationship) were examined. In Study 2, the link between depressive symptoms, reflecting poor post-breakup adjustment, and breakup reasons was examined. The mediating role of negative cognitive style, and moderating effects of gender and dating stage were tested. Methods: In both studies, a sample of 796 youths (15-25 years old, M = 17.76, 60% girls) reporting breakup reasons responded to questionnaires examining variables related to their development and romantic participation. Results: In Study 1, we developed a five-subscale measure reflecting youths breakup reasons. Youths most important reasons for breakups captured problems related to a) romantic affiliation, b) intimacy, c) autonomy, d) own infidelity, and e) partners status. Lack of romantic affiliation was the most important reason for breakup for all the youths. Boys reported dissolution due to own infidelity more often than did girls. Casually dating youths broke-up due to lack of romantic affiliation more often than youths at a serious romantic relationship stage; the latter reported inadequate intimacy as breakup reason more frequently. In Study 2, breakup reasons and depressive symptoms did not form a significant direct link. However, path analysis revealed that negative cognitive style significantly mediated the relationship between status breakup reasons and depressive symptoms. Further, the path between intimacy-based breakup reasons and depression was moderated by dating stage of youth. Gender did not moderate the link between breakup reasons and depressive symptoms. Conclusions: We discuss the multi-faceted and complex nature of romantic dissolution attributions in adolescence and emerging adulthood. The role of developmentally-framed breakup reasons as mechanisms that can help explain poor, as opposed to non-problematic, post-dissolution adjustment among adolescents and emerging adults is reviewed. The findings underscore the importance of developmentally-informed understanding and investigation of breakup reasons, as well as the need for further, longitudinal examination of their role in youths individual and interpersonal development.