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Stress Health. 2017 Dec;33(5):540-548. doi: 10.1002/smi.2738. Epub 2016 Dec 16.

Cognitive processing in the aftermath of relationship dissolution: Associations with concurrent and prospective distress and posttraumatic growth.

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University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, Canada.
Center on Autobiographical Memory Research, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark.


Non-marital romantic relationship dissolution is amongst the most stressful life events experienced by young adults. Yet, some individuals experience posttraumatic growth following relationship dissolution. Little is known about the specific and differential contribution of trait-like and event-specific cognitive processing styles to each of these outcomes. A longitudinal design was employed in which trait-like (brooding and reflection) and dissolution-specific (intrusive and deliberate) cognitive processing was examined as predictors of growth (Posttraumatic Growth Inventory) and distress (Breakup Distress Scale) following a recent relationship dissolution. Initially, 148 participants completed measures of trait-like and dissolution-specific cognitive processing, growth, and distress (T1). A subsample completed a seven-month follow-up (T2). Higher frequency of relationship-dissolution intrusive thoughts predicted concurrent distress after accounting for brooding and relationship characteristics. Further, higher brooding and lower reflection predicted higher distress prospectively. Concurrent growth was predicted by both higher brooding and more deliberate relationship-dissolution thoughts. Prospectively, T1 dissolution intrusive thoughts predicted higher T2 deliberate thoughts, and the interaction between these two constructs predicted higher T2 growth. Therefore, deliberately thinking of the dissolution was related to positive psychological outcomes. In contrast, intrusive dissolution cognitions and a tendency for brooding had a mixed (paradoxical) association with psychological adjustment.


breakup distress; deliberate thoughts; intrusive thoughts; posttraumatic growth; relationship dissolution; rumination

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