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Title:Boomerang coupling: the role of differentiation, violence, commitment, and deciding in on-off relationship instability
Author(s):Monk, J. Kale
Director of Research:Ogolsky, Brian G.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Ogolsky, Brian G.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Hardesty, Jennifer L.; Oswald, Ramona F.; Knobloch, Leanne K.
Department / Program:Human Dvlpmt & Family Studies
Discipline:Human Dvlpmt & Family Studies
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Relationship cycling
Abstract:On-again/off-again relationships are associated with a number of poor relationship outcomes, including increased conflict, uncertainty about the future of the relationship, and diminished relationship satisfaction (e.g., Dailey, Pfiester, Jin, Beck, & Clark, 2009; Halpern-Meekin, Manning, Giordano, & Longmore, 2013a). Little insight exists, however, into the intrapersonal characteristics that may predispose individuals to cycle through relationship statuses with the same partner (i.e., on-off cycling; Dailey, 2016). According to Bowen family systems theory (Kerr & Bowen, 1988), differentiation, or the ability to disentangle emotions and thoughts and balance intimacy with autonomy, is considered one of the most important characteristics possessed in interpersonal interaction (Skowron & Friedlander, 1998). Therefore, differentiation may play an important role in relationship instability in the form of on-off cycling. Moreover, known correlates of cycling that are also theoretically linked to differentiation (i.e., relationship violence, dedication, felt constraint, and relationship deciding) are likely important mechanisms in this process. To explore the role of these relational processes in cyclical and non-cyclical relationships, two studies were conducted. Study 1 consisted of 298 individuals in same (n = 148) and different-sex relationships (n = 150) over an 8-month period. Nearly one-third of the sample (32%) reported breaking-up and renewing with their current partner, and those who cycled reported less differentiation, less dedication, less deciding, more felt constraint, and more violence than those who did not break-up and renew their relationships. In the full structural model, differentiation was associated with a decreased likelihood of cycling; however, relationship violence fully mediated this association. In addition to the negative link with relationship violence, differentiation was also negatively associated with felt constraint and positively associated with dedication. To account for the interconnection between partners that is a vital assumption to systems theory (Cox & Paley, 2003) and differentiation in relationships (Kerr & Bowen, 1988), 119 different-sex couples (N = 238 individuals) were recruited through an online panel for Study 2. Over one-third of couples (35%) reported cycling at least once in their relationships. Differentiation was positively associated with dedication for men and negatively associated with felt constraint for men and women. In Actor Partner Interdependence Models (APIMs), men’s differentiation was positively associated with their own dedication, as well as their partners’ dedication. Similarly, men’s differentiation was not only negatively associated with their own felt constraint, but also their partners’ felt constraint. Post-hoc analyses revealed that emotional cut-off (i.e., an indicator of poor differentiation) may play a particularly prominent role in this process. Due to limited variability in violence, negative interaction (i.e., communication danger signs) was also analyzed. Men’s differentiation was not only associated with their own reports of negative interaction, but also their partners’ reports. Similarly, women’s differentiation was associated with their own reports of negative interaction, but the partner effect predicting men’s reports of poor communication was not significant. Cycling moderated several of these associations. Taken together, these studies provide further insight into the role differentiation plays in several relationship processes including on-off cycling. Past research supports that differentiation of self might be a valuable entry point for intervening in relationships (see Miller, Anderson, & Keala, 2004) to promote commitment and positive interaction.
Issue Date:2017-04-14
Rights Information:Copyright 2017 J. Monk
Date Available in IDEALS:2017-08-10
Date Deposited:2017-05

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