Being in a committed romantic relationship involves feelings of intimacy and attachment between partners and desiring that the relationship continues into the future. Those who are committed to their partners manage relationship conflict more constructively, are less likely to cheat, and are more likely to stay together for the long haul. Commitment is clearly important in ongoing romantic relationships; however, it may also influence the how former partners feel about each other after their relationships end. New research suggests that people who were more committed to a romantic relationship have healthier relationships with their exes after breaking up.1
Drawing from a larger community study conducted in Los Angeles that tracked individuals’ relationships over the course of a year, researchers analyzed data from 143 people who were in a relationship at one point in the study (“Time 1”), but had broken-up four months later (“Time 2”). At Time 1, romantically involved participants reported on many aspects of their relationships, including their level of commitment. At Time 2, after they had broken up, participants indicated the type of relationship they currently had with their exes (e.g., no contact, friends, best friends, etc.), how much contact they had with their exes, and the extent to which they had positive and negative emotions when thinking about their exes. Researchers combined responses to these three questions into an overall score representing the current level of closeness with the former partner. Finally, participants indicated how much they wanted to get back together with their ex (“desired reunification”) and how likely they were to get back together (“reunification likelihood”).
The research team found that Time 1 relationship commitment was related to Time 2 closeness with an ex. In short, those who felt more attached to their relationships and wanted their romantic relationships to continue tended to have better relationships with their former partners after breaking up relative to those who were less committed to their romantic partners at Time 1. One possible explanation is that if you feel closer to your ex, it may be because you want to get back together with him/her, however the researchers conducted additional analyses and found that the association between Time 1 commitment and Time 2 closeness with an ex still held when accounting for desired reunification and reunification likelihood. In other words, the link between commitment and closeness with an ex is not solely due to wanting to get back together.
After a breakup, who can still be friends? Based on the results of this study, committed romantic relationships are most likely to transition into friendships with an ex. An important part of commitment is wanting the relationship to continue in the future; committed relationships are more likely to continue even after a breakup…they just switch gears and become friendships.
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1Tan, K., Agnew, C. R., VanderDrift, L. E., & Harvey, S. M. (in press). Committed to us: Predicting relationship closeness following nonmarital romantic relationship breakup. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
Dr. Le’s research focuses on commitment, including the factors associated with commitment and its role in promoting maintenance. He has published on the topics of breakup, geographic separation, infidelity, social networks, cognition, and need fulfillment and emotions in relationships.