Be it in pop culture or everyday discussions, romantic relationships form an integral part of human life. Over the years, extensive research has been conducted on them and how they influence our interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships. However, there has been little emphasis on the correlation between romantic relationships and self-concept, especially following a breakup.
Self-concept is the perspective an individual has on their own behaviours, habits and abilities. This also provides one with clarity on themselves and their personalities.
A new study by researchers from Florida Atlantic University and Ursinus College probes into how romantic relationships impact our sense of self. Titled “Putting me back together by getting back together: Post-dissolution self-concept confusion predicts rekindling desire among anxiously attached individuals,” the study was conducted through extensive questionnaires and assessments.
At the start of the research, the authors hypothesized that individuals with high attachment anxiety — anxiety experienced about relationships with immediate social circles such as parents, friends and partners — are more likely to rekindle past relationships. They also argued that people indulge in such behaviour to better navigate their struggles with self-concept following the breakup.
This study was conducted in two parts with 361 participants, all of whom had gone through a breakup in the last two years. The first study aimed to understand an individual’s desire to get back with an ex-partner in the immediate aftermath of the breakup while the second study documented a person’s current desire to get back with an ex.
The study posed statements such as “I need a lot of reassurance and love from my partner” and “I am nervous when my partner gets too close to me,” and asked participants to rate how much they agree to the statements on a scale of 1 to 7. Through this, researchers gauged attachment behaviours amongst participants. Similarly, statements such as “My beliefs about myself often conflicted with one another” and “I wished I was more consistent with my feelings” were presented to subjects to understand their concept of self.
While getting back with an ex might temporarily provide respite from dealing with self-concept, it can be more harmful in the long run.
The study found that individuals with higher levels of attachment anxiety are more significantly inclined to rekindle past relationships as a way to deal with their confusing self-concept. They also tend to face more challenges with self-concept following a breakup. Most importantly, it was observed that when there is intervention and support for people to navigate through confusing self-concept, they are less likely to rekindle their past relationships.
While we may be tempted to slide into an ex’s DMs, research suggests it might not be the healthiest solution. While getting back with an ex might temporarily provide respite from dealing with self-concept, it can be more harmful in the long run.
Studies show that each time a couple breaks up and gets back together, there is a decrease in the quality of the relationship. Furthermore, this decrease in quality results in a higher chance of the relationship ending which puts the individual back to square one.
While this study is just an introductory one, researchers are hoping that longer and more detailed research examining the correlation between the end of a relationship and self-concept will help people navigate and develop a stronger sense of self in more robust ways.