Why Men Suffer Longer from Breakups than Women

Have you ever had a break up so bad that it pained you years later? It’s a very common occurrence to feel a sense of lose for failed relationships no mater how long ago they occurred. However, did you know that failed relationships haunt men longer than women? Yes, it’s true, men feel break-up pain for longer than women do, even if they may not be hit as hard  as women from the break-up initially. Now to be clear here, I am talking about long term, invested relationships, which are very different than shorter lived ‘flings’.

A recent study from Binghamton University and University College London asked 5,705 participants in 96 countries to recall their last breakup, then asked the participants to rate their emotional and physical pain following that breakup on a scale of one (none) to 10 (horrible). Women tended to feel the strongest effects following a breakup. Their average rating for emotional and physical pain being 6.84 and 4.21. The men on the other hand averaged 6.58 for emotional anguish and 3.75 for physical. (Breaking Up Feels Different for Men and Women)

While break ups seem to hit women the hardest emotionally (Perillioux 2008) early on, men suffer the longest from long term effects from break ups (Shoemaker, 2016). Researches saw the women were usually able to make a full recovery from bad break ups, where as men were not, why is this you might ask? Well researches concluded that men will likely feel the loss more deeply later on after the break up as it ‘sinks in’. They come to realize that they must ‘start competing’ all over again to replace what they have lost, or sometimes come to gripes that it is irreplaceable. Also, men tend to try and dwell less on break ups than women, which may be a bad thing when it comes to coping with them in the long term (Grace 2015). Researches found that a group that met with researcher regularly to discuss their break up had “better overall recovery from their breakups” compared to the other group which met with researches only a few times. Men are also not as likely to process emotions in the same way that women are (Stegeren 2005), and lack some of the higher amygdala function to process some feelings that they may mistakenly mislabel, and therefore can have a harder time dealing with break up pain.

So, in short, men suffer from break ups longer because of their decreased tendencies to share with others their feelings about break ups. They tend to take longer to realize what it is exactly that they lost which probably stems from their decreased ability to process emotions compared to women. Therefore women are able to make a full recovery faster than men, who may never make a full recovery at all.

References:

  1. Breaking up Romantic Relationships: Costs Experienced and Coping Strategies Deployed
  2. Breaking Up Feels Different for Men and Women
  3. Participating in Research on Romantic Breakups Promotes Emotional Recovery via Changes in Self-Concept Clarity
  4. Noradrenaline mediates amygdala activation in men and women during encoding of emotional material
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7 thoughts on “Why Men Suffer Longer from Breakups than Women

  1. I also found some information corroborating with what you found about differences in break ups. Choo, Levine& Hatfield (1996) ran surveys on 77 men and 173 women and asked them questions about their perceptions on break ups. The researchers found that men found less joy and relief immediately after a breakup compared to women. It was also noticed that men and women were equally likely to blame themselves for the relationship ending.
    A large difference between men and women was in their coping mechanisms. Men tended to distract themselves by burying themselves in work or other activities, more so than the women studied. Choo, Levine & Hatfield (1996) also noted that it’s possible that depending on the age of the individual, coping strategies may differ. Those studied in the experiment were of college age, so it would be interesting to further explore individuals of differing ages.

    References

    – Choo, P., Levine, T., & Hatfield, E. (1996). Gender, love schemas, and reactions to romantic break-ups. Journal of Social Behaviour and Personality, 11, 143-159.

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    • The Choo, Levine& Hatfield research paper was interesting, especially since they found that men had less joy and relief immediately after a break. Along with men being more likely to lose themselves in their work they were also more likely to participate in ‘rebound relationships’ (Shimek et al. 2014). This is because men find comfort by distracting themselves from thinking about failed relationships, where women are more likely to depend on support networks to deal with this emotional pain. Also, according to the survey, while men found rocky relationships more stressful than women they were also more likely to reap greater emotional benefits from an ongoing happy romance. This would make for an interesting topic for understanding mens emotional state in ongoing relationships.

      References http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/7814010/Men-suffer-more-emotional-pain-from-failed-romance-report-claims.html

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  2. Super interesting topic! A lot of the research I found agreed saying that men fall in love more quickly than women and take breakups much harder as well. What is really interesting to me is that men are more likely than women to find a ‘rebound relationship’ because they to to use distraction mechanisms to “relocate or bypass the negative emotions” (Shimek et al. 2014). Personally, I would have thought that women are much more likely to find an immediate rebound due to them feeling stronger immediate pain and therefore wanting to find pain release as quickly as possible. It does make sense when you look at personal support networks as women use their support networks for support much more than men do. Women are more likely to confide in others and express their pain, leaving men at somewhat of a loss following a breakup.
    C:\Users\tasting\Downloads\socsci-03-00024.pdf

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    • Yes men are more likely yo get into rebound relationships after a break up, they are also more likely to distract themselves with work or other activities as well. This might be because men feel the need to distract themselves from any emotional distress they might be feeling from a breakup, where as women tend to deal with those emotions more immediately. It should also be noted that the type of ‘rebound relationship’ that men and women participate in might also vary greatly and it would be interesting to see in what way this might be.

      References
      Gender, love schemas, and reactions to romantic break-ups. Journal of Social Behaviour and Personality, 11, 143-159.

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  3. I have some thoughts as to why men may feel the breakup harder then women and it stems from the comment you have made about men “…likely feel[ing] the loss more deeply later on after the break up as it ‘sinks in’. I suggest that this may have to do with the recollection of emotional memories. As suggested by Tony Buchanan “long-term memories are influenced by the emotion experienced during learning as well as by the emotion experienced during memory retrieval”. Right after a break up men don’t tend to let themselves think on it in order to avoid the emotional turmoil but once that sinks in they are allow themselves to remember the relationship. Once they are remembering aspects of their old relationship their brains start pattern completion. Pattern completion suggests that a subset of the original experience can activate the memory for the entire experience (Macdonald, 2016) and once those experiences are brought back they can be altered by the emotions experienced during the recollection. This brings the idea that once men are thinking about the relationship, their memories of it are changing because of the new emotions (sadness, anger) they are feeling while remembering them. Emotional memories are also easier to retrieve because they have a lot more context in the brain, meaning that even less information on an event needs to be thought about to bring up the full memory. This could also explain why men feel worse about a breakup later because as they start to think on it they add more context to the memory and thus make it easier to recall and thus are thinking about it a lot more.

    References:

    Buchanan, Tony W (2007). Retrieval of Emotional Memories. Psychological bulletin. Vol 133 (5) Pg 761-779. DOI: 10.1037/0033-2909.133.5.761

    Maconald, Robert (2016). Lecture. Organization of learning and memory in the mammal. The Neurobiology of Learning and Memory [Powerpoint Slides].

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  4. This is a very interesting observation and I the articles were very informative. This could also explain why men who find a new partner and a new relationship dwell less on past relationships than men who fail to do so. Another thing to note is that some men who don’t get over past relationships and stay single usually have a shorter life span. This could be due to the negative emotions that pattern completion brings up. This article ‘Social relationships and Health’, talks about how men who have low quality and low quantity in regards to relationships have a lower life expectancy. I wonder if there could be a direct link with past failed relationships memory retrieval spiking cortisol levels?

    References:
    Social Relationships and Health
    House, James S; Landis, Karl R; Umberson, Debra. Science; Washington241.4865 (Jul 29, 1988): 54

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