Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




John C. Sherblom

Second Committee Member

Kristin Langellier

Third Committee Member

Eric E. Peterson


Leslie Baxter (1982) stated it well when she said: "the breaking up of a relationship is a phenomenon known to most and dreaded by all" (p. 223). One can look at the divorce rate in the United States to see that breaking up and disengaging from close relationships is becoming more of the norm than the exception to life in American society. This research examines the multiple roles and aspects of communication through the process of relationship dissolution and is informed by four theoretical approaches: social exhange, attributional, stage model, and relational dialectics. These four theoretical approaches suggest some specific aspects of the communication roles in the process of relationship dissolution. These specific research questions are kept in mind in the approach to and interpretation of interview data; but, a grounded theory approach is taken in this analysis to examine the communication experience of individuals who have engaged in a relational breakup in the past year. The grounded theory approach is used to build a larger, more complex, inter-connected interpretation of the data based on their perceptions of the communication in these relationships. This analysis is designed to provide a more comprehensive and in-depth analysis of the communication than any of these previously developed approaches. The present model of relationship dissolution examines the beginning, middle, and end phases of a relationship. The beginning phase describes the participants' perceptions prior to the point that they become aware of existing problems in their relationship. Communication is focused on defining "us," the future, and the relationship. The three themes that emerge include expectations, honeymoon, and denial. The middle phase describes the participants' perceptions at the point that their frustrations are becoming increasingly problematic and one or both partners express their concerns to the other. Communication is focused on relationship issues, perceptions, concerns, and communication. The four themes that emerge include frustrations and boiling points, questioning the future, relational problems, communication quality. The end phase describes the participants' perceptions starting at the point that at least one of the partners decides to end the relationship and communicates that to the partner. Communication is focused on re-defining identities, expectations, responsibility, and closure. The four themes that emerge include deciding it's over, communicating the breakup, making sense of the breakup, and closure in re-defining the relationship. The present study supports the findings inherent in the theoretical approaches of social exchange, attribution, stage models, and dialectics concerning relationship dissolution. This study further demonstrates how these approaches can be used together to inform and develop the communication aspects that are inherent in the dissolution process.

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