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The Ambiguous Loss of Singlehood: Conceptualizing and Treating Singlehood Ambiguous Loss Among Never-Married Adults


Ambiguous loss theory provides a framework for conceptualizing and treating singlehood ambiguous loss among adults who desire to be in a long-term committed romantic relationship, such as marriage, but have never been in such a relationship. Adults who have never married may experience an ambiguous loss due to the lack of clear information as to whether their anticipated spouse, who is psychologically present yet physically absent, will materialize at some point. This lack of clear information about an indefinitely missing anticipated spouse tends to create ambivalence about holding on to the prospect that the anticipated spouse will materialize versus moving on through accepting and grieving the loss of the non-materialized anticipated spouse. The absence of rituals for demarcating singlehood ambiguous loss may increase ambivalence. The degree of ambivalence experienced from adult singlehood ambiguous loss likely varies according to the developmental timing of singlehood, decisions between settling and indefinite singlehood, unviable potential spouses, and non-materialized children. Specific treatment recommendations (i.e., avoiding contraindicated treatment approaches, implementing an informed not-knowing stance, and fostering dialectical thinking) and specific interventions for adapting the established treatment for ambiguous loss (i.e., increasing resilience through normalizing ambivalence, tempering mastery, finding meaning, reconstructing identity, revising attachment, and discovering hope) for clients struggling with the ambiguous loss of singlehood are presented.

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Special thanks to Leslie Feinauer, Nicole Gutierrez, Mallory Jackson, Megan Oka, Kimberly Ortiz, Brandon Silverthorn, Andrea Swenson, LaNae Valentine, and Cherilyn Worthen for their thoughtful feedback.

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Correspondence to Jeffrey B. Jackson.

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Jackson, J.B. The Ambiguous Loss of Singlehood: Conceptualizing and Treating Singlehood Ambiguous Loss Among Never-Married Adults. Contemp Fam Ther 40, 210–222 (2018).

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  • Ambiguous loss
  • Single
  • Treatment
  • Therapy