Life can change a lot after a breakup or the death of a romantic partner, including our sense of perceived control. People experiencing the loss of a relationship experienced different patterns of perceived control after the loss, according to the latter research by Eva Asselmann from HMU Health and Medical University Potsdam and Jule Specht from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

“Our findings suggest that people sometimes grow from stressful experiences—at least in terms of specific personality characteristics,” the study authors said in a press release. “In the years following the loss of a romantic partner, the participants in our study became increasingly convinced of their ability to influence their lives and futures through their own behavior. Their experiences have allowed them to cope with adversity and manage their lives independently, allowing them to grow.”

Perceived control is a person’s belief that they have influence over both internal and external factors in their lives. People with better health and general well-being also tend to have a greater sense of perceived control.

A romantic relationship is closely related to perceptions of control—leading to a more satisfying relationship, according to press release. However, remove one of these elements – health, well-being or a relationship – and the sense of control can go with it.

Using an annual questionnaire, Asselmann and Specht collected data from a multi-decade household survey in Germany, focusing specifically on three time points—1994, 1995, and 1996. Of the 1,235 people who had experienced the loss of a relationship, 423 were divorced. and 437 had partners pass away.

The results showed that those who had experienced the loss of a partner or relationship saw an initial decline in perceived control during the first year of separation, but saw a gradual increase over the years. According to the study, women are more likely than men to experience a decline in perceived control, and younger people have a greater sense of control than older people.

Those whose partners died had an increase in perceived control in the first year after the loss and saw an increase in perceived control over time. However, younger people face far more harmful effects than older people after the death of their romantic partner.

The study found no relationship between divorce and perceived control. According to the researchers, more evidence is needed to better understand the relationship between perceived control and relationship loss.

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