Contact With an Ex-Partner Is Associated With Psychological Distress After Marital Separation

Karey L. O’Hara, Austin M. Grinberg, Allison M. Tackman, Matthias R. Mehl, David A. Sbarra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


In this study, we examined the association between naturalistically observed in-person contact with an ex-partner and separation-related psychological distress (SRPD). One hundred twenty-two recently separated adults were assessed using the Electronically Activated Recorder on three occasions across 5 months. The association between in-person contact with an ex-partner, as a between-person variable, and concurrent SRPD was not reliably different from zero, nor was the time-varying effect of in-person contact. However, more frequent in-person contact with an ex-partner predicted higher SRPD 2 months later, above and beyond the variance accounted for by concurrent in-person contact, demographic, relationship, and attachment factors. Follow-up analyses showed that this effect was present only for people without children; a 1 SD increase in in-person contact offset and slowed the predicted decline in SRPD over 2 months by 112%. In our discussion, we emphasize new ways to think about the role of in-person contact in shaping adults’ psychological adjustment to separation over time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)450-463
Number of pages14
JournalClinical Psychological Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2020


  • divorce
  • interpersonal relationships
  • open data
  • open materials
  • preregistered
  • psychological stress
  • risk factors
  • social processes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology


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