Understanding reconciliatory unwanted pursuit behaviours following temporary breakups and within ongoing relationships

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University of New Brunswick


Unwanted pursuit behaviours (UPBs) describe a wide range of harassment, tracking, and monitoring behaviours that occur in the context of an intimate relationship. UPBs are extremely common following breakups in emerging adulthood and have been associated with pervasive negative mental health outcomes for the victim. UPBs have been divided into ‘lower severe’ reconciliatory-motivated behaviours and ‘higher severity’ retaliatory-motivated behaviours. The purpose of this research was to test a complex model of reconciliatory UPBs in two next contexts, temporary breakups, and ongoing relationships (iUPBs). Participants (n = 502) ranging from 19 to 38 years old (M = 25.9) who had previously experienced a breakup with their current partner were recruited via online crowdsourcing. Participants completed psychometrically sound measures that assess relevant areas of personality, mental health, current relationship characteristics, as well as variables associated with relational goal pursuit theory (RGPT), which includes behaviours, thoughts, and feelings associated with their most recent temporary breakup. Structural equation modelling was used to test our predicted model of reconciliatory UPBs within temporary relationships. UPBs were used by the majority of participants within temporary breakups and ongoing relationships. Using a greater range of UPB strategies within a temporary breakup was associated with greater symptoms of anxiety, while using a greater range of UPBs within an ongoing relationship (iUPBs) was associated with greater symptoms of anxiety and depression and low relationship satisfaction. The final model of UPB use was found to be a strong fit with the data. The latent variable of relational goal pursuit theory (RGPT) mediated the relationships between the independent variables in the model (iUPBs, the perceived quality of alternatives, emotion regulation, anxious attachment) and UPB use during temporary breakups. Among RGPT variables, rumination, breakup distress, and rationalization contributed more to the model when compared to goal-linking and self-efficacy. These findings have important implications for understanding UPBs in different relational contexts, for understanding the mental health and relational outcomes of individuals who use UPBs, and for understanding the complex relationships between variables that underlie these behaviours. The opportunity for educational and clinical interventions to help mitigate the negative outcomes associated with UPBs is discussed.