The longitudinal correlates of breakup distress in early young adulthood: Future distress and future benefits

Shmuel Shulman, Refael Yonatan-Leus

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Objectives: Existing research on romantic breakups focused on the predictors of breakup, or on its emotional and behavioral sequelae. The current study examines the longitudinal correlates of a breakup experience over a period of eight years, and questions whether breakup experiences may also have negative and positive outcomes. Methods: Data were collected from 124 Israeli emerging adults (mean age 20.22 years; 79 females). Participants were approached again at ages 23, 25, and 28. Breakup distress was assessed at each wave. At age 28, participants’ well-being, as well as their romantic capacities, were evaluated. Results: The intensity of breakup distress at age 20 was not found to be associated with future well-being. However, increased accumulating distress explained a greater number of depressive and anxiety symptoms, and reports of feeling insecure about a partner’s availability and responsiveness, at age 28. In-depth interviews with participants about their romantic relationships at age 28 showed that breakup distress at age 20 was associated with greater romantic competence at age 28, explaining better capacity to learn from past romantic experiences and draw lessons for future behavior. In addition, earlier breakup distress was associated with more coherent accounts of romantic relationships at age 28. Conclusions: Findings suggest that young adults are likely to experience a number of breakup events during their twenties, and the accumulating breakup experiences can affect future well-being. The experience of a breakup might not necessarily associate with negative future outcomes, while an earlier breakup experience could also serve as a positive learning arena for future relationships. Social policy: Perception of romantic dissolution in a comprehensive manner could be helpful for understanding that breakups are probably part of the normative development of romantic relationships among young adults, and should not be perceived only from a deficit perspective.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Social and Personal Relationships
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

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© The Author(s) 2024.


  • Breakup distress
  • longitudinal study
  • post-dissolution growth
  • romantic dissolutions
  • young adults


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