Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Kelly A. McDonnell

Second Advisor

Dr. Patrick Munley

Third Advisor

Dr. Karen Horneffer-Ginter


Romantic relationship issues are among the most common presenting concerns in university counseling center settings (Benton, Robertson, Tseng, Newton, & Benton, 2003; McCarthy, Lambert, & Brack, 1997). Specifically, romantic relationship breakups have received attention in the literature, as these particular losses tend to generate a myriad of emotions for college students. While numerous studies have explored distress reported after a breakup, few studies have focused on the personal growth individuals could potentially gain after experiencing a breakup (Tashiro & Frazier, 2003). The current study explores both the distress as well as personal growth individuals endorsed subsequent to a breakup.

Since relationship breakups appear to be a salient issue for young adults, it seems important to consider resources that might enable individuals enduring breakups to cope more effectively with their loss. One general resilience resource identified in the literature is Sense of Coherence (SOC) (Antonovsky, 1987), which consists of three components: comprehensibility, manageability, and meaningfulness. Since SOC had not previously been investigated in relationship to personal growth and distress reported after a relationship breakup, the current study endeavors to explore these relationships.

Participants included 150 college students from a large Midwestern university who had experienced a relationship breakup within the past 2 years. Participants completed measures assessing sense of coherence, personal growth, and distress as well as a demographic information questionnaire. Results indicated significant correlational relationships between SOC and personal growth and SOC and distress. Additionally, canonical correlation analysis revealed that participants endorsing a greater sense of coherence and a longer timeline since the breakup occurred, tended to report having more personal growth and less distress. Finally hierarchical regression analyses indicated that the meaningfulness subscale of SOC did not offer a statistically significant contribution above and beyond the other predictor subscales of comprehensibility and manageability in explaining personal growth and in explaining distress post-breakup. Interestingly, the manageability scale emerged as a significant and unique predictor of distress when considered with meaningfulness and comprehensibility. Findings and implications for the mental health field are discussed. Also included are limitations and recommendations for future research.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access