After the Breakup: Adult Perceptions and Expectations of Post-Divorce Intimate Relationships
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The purpose of this study was to examine the complex process adults traverse
in their passage through divorce and in their establishment of post-divorce
intimate relationships. The goal of this work was to describe how adults interpret
their divorce experience, particularly in terms of how it connects with their
ideas about intimacy and post-divorce intimate relationships.
Four theoretical frameworks guided this study. Social constructionism provided a framework for understanding that reaction to a divorce may be impacted by language, in terms of the explanations an individual makes, by social interchange with others, and by the cultural meanings of marriage and divorce that have influenced a person's thinking and perceptions. Attribution theory contributed a systematic approach to understanding how people may construe their divorce in ways that may damage trust, promote a sense of mastery and optimism regarding future relationships, or encourage creative change. Attachment theory provided a conceptual basis for examining the interplay between stability and change in adult conceptualizations of intimate relationships, processes that underlie how adults cope with changing interpersonal situations. Finally, theories of loss and renewal offered a conceptual basis for understanding how reactions to loss evolve over time, and enter post-divorce relationships.
Data were collected through semi-structured interviews with 21 divorced men and women. Analysis of data was guided by the research questions and structured by a phenomenological approach to the analysis of themes and variations of themes found in the interviews. Peer review and triangulation of data were used to ensure trustworthiness in the findings.
This study contributes new understandings about the connection between divorce experiences and post-divorce intimacy. Three conclusions can be drawn from this study. First, data analysis revealed divorce served consistently as a catalyst for interpretation and personal growth. An important component of this interpretive endeavor was the social context within which divorce occurred. Because divorce still carries some stigma in our society, divorce provided a challenge to create positive meanings from this experience.
Second, the idiosyncratic understandings developed through the interpretive process shaped adults' post-divorce perceptions and experiences in intimate relationships. From the attributions made regarding causes of divorce, these adults claim to have made deliberate changes in communication patterns, interactions, attitudes, and expectations from self and partner in intimate relationships.
Third, during this process, some fundamental shifts in mental representations occurred. Changes were linked to gender, with women viewing themselves as more assertive in relationships, and men viewing themselves as more egalitarian and responsible for relationship maintenance.