Do men and women handle break-ups differently? Do men feel emotional pain after they break up with you? Do men feel heartbroken after a break-up? Do men cry after breaking up with you? Do men regret breaking up with you? These are among the so many questions we all want to know about men, break-ups and how they handle emotional pain.
I am so glad this is finally being researched on. My experience working with men and women going through a break-up and trying to attract back their ex is that at the core, we are all human. We all hurt and feel emotional pain regardless of our gender, social status, education, age etc. We may express it in different ways, it doesn’t mean we hurt less or that we are less invested in relationships.
But for the longest time, we’ve been told that women are more invested in relationships and experience emotional pain more than men when the relationship ends. But a new study of online relationship support finds that men tend to experience emotional pain more than women when their relationship takes a turn for the worse.
This follows another study by Wake Forest Professor of Sociology Robin Simon and Anne Barrett, associate professor of sociology at Florida State University that indicated that even though men sometimes try to present a tough face, unhappy romances take a greater emotional toll on men than women. They just express their distress differently from women.
1. Men are more reactive to the quality of ongoing relationships
“Our paper sheds light on the association between non-marital romantic relationships and emotional well-being among men and women on the threshold of adulthood,” Simon says. “Surprisingly, we found young men are more reactive to the quality of ongoing relationships.”
While young men are more affected emotionally by the quality of their current relationships, young women are more emotionally affected by whether they are in a relationship or not, Simon says. So, young women are more likely to experience depression when the relationship ends or benefit more by simply being in a relationship.
Simon suggests a possible explanation for the findings: For young men, their romantic partners are often their primary source of intimacy — in contrast to young women who are more likely to have close relationships with family and friends. Strain in a current romantic relationship may also be associated with poor emotional well-being because it threatens young men’s identity and feelings of self-worth, she says.
2. Men express emotional distress with substance problems
She also explains how men and women express emotional distress in different ways. “Women express emotional distress with depression while men express emotional distress with substance problems,” Simon says.
That means the harmful stress of a rocky relationship is more closely associated with men’s than women’s mental health. The researchers also found that men get greater emotional benefits from the positive aspects of an ongoing romantic relationship. This contradicts the stereotypic image of stoic men who are unaffected by what happens in their romantic relationships.
Simon says there is much still to learn about these relationships between men and women in early adulthood, so she advocates for more research on this prolonged and varied period in the life course that is characterized by identity exploration, a focus on the self, and forging new relationships.
The new study of online relationships by international team of psychologists led by researchers at Lancaster University goes further.
“Most of what we know about relationship problems comes from studies of people in couples therapy, which includes a rather specific subset of people — people who have the time, money, and motive to work on their relationship problems” said Charlotte Entwistle, lead author of the study. “We wanted to understand not only what relationship problems are most commonly experienced by the general public, but who experiences which problems more.”
Using natural language processing methods, the team analyzed the demographic and psychological characteristics of over 184,000 people who posted their relationship problems to an anonymous online forum. The researchers were then able to statistically determine the most common themes that came up across each post, creating a “map” of the most common relationship problems.
3. Communication problems were the #1 most frequent problem
Results showed that communication problems were the #1 most frequent problem mentioned, with nearly 1 in 5 people noting difficulty discussing problems, and 1 in 8 mentioning trust issues in their relationships.
Previously unexpected patterns emerged from the data as well, including key gender differences in which themes were used the most.
“As we were conducting the study, we realized that this was an important opportunity to put a lot of common ideas about gender differences in relationships to the test” said Dr Ryan Boyd, the lead researcher of the project. “For example, are men truly less emotionally invested in relationships than women, or is it the case that men are simply stigmatized out of sharing their feelings?”
4. Emotional pain caused by the problems in the relationship Vs. the problems themselves
Analyses revealed that the most common theme mentioned by people talking about their relationship problems was about the emotional pain caused by the problems, rather than the problems themselves. The most common theme was about “heartache” and was comprised of words like regret, breakup, cry, and heartbroken.
5. Men discuss heartbreak significantly more than did women
Contrary to their expectations, the team’s findings showed that men discuss heartbreak significantly more than did women. These findings suggest that the stereotype of men being less emotionally invested in relationships than women may not be accurate.
Charlottle Entwistle said: “Notably, the fact that the heartache theme was more commonly discussed by men emphasizes how men are at least as emotionally affected by relationship problems as women.”
6. Men were more likely to seek relationship help than women in online settings
Additionally, the researchers found that men were more likely to seek relationship help than women in online settings.
Dr Ryan Boyd noted that “Traditionally, women are more likely to identify relationship problems, consider therapy, and seek therapy than are men. When you remove the traditional social stigmas against men for seeking help and sharing their emotions, however, they seem just as invested in working through rough patches in their relationships as women.”
The team’s findings have implications for the general public, as well as clinical settings. The researchers noted that developing a more accurate picture of relationship problems helps us to better understand when and why things go wrong in our relationships, potentially helping couples avoid the most common setbacks to romantic success. The study’s authors also suggest the findings may also help to destigmatize help-seeking by showing how common many relationship problems are, and by showing that men are just as likely as women to seek help in the first place.
The researchers say that this work also points to important future directions for additional research. “One of the most important things that we’re seeing here is that we’re able to create an incredibly accurate picture of relationship problems that everyday people face based purely on what people say online” said Dr Boyd. “This gives us serious hope that we can use help-seeking behavior to better understand all types of social and psychological issues, and in a way that we simply cannot do using traditional research methods.”
I ended my relationship with a woman I loved and still love because of the drama. At the end I just didn’t know what she wanted and my mental state couldn’t take it nomore. I think she’s bipolar but will not yet admit it. It’s been 7 days since we broke up and i’m finally realizing how badly I was affected by all the constant fighting and mood swings. I’m sad but feel relieved, if there is such a thing. She wants me back but no way am I going back.
I do think there is some validity to what you are saying regarding how men and women communicate with each other. It sounds like you prefer an approach where you address each situation and experiences as it’s own vs. trying to adhere to a set of standards and rules. I enjoyed reading your article.
Thanks. You’re right, I promote the approach where we address each individual, situation and experience as unique. However, I do recognize that there are some basic “rules” for how we communicate in a way that we get along. But the emphasis should not be on the “rules” but rather on the being attentive to the individual and to the experience. My clients who switch from the rules-based approach tell me when they allow the experience to unfold instead of trying to control it with a bunch of rules, they not only feel more relaxed and more themselves (authentic) but also things flow more smoothly and naturally. This is, in my humble opinion, how relationships ought to be and ought to feel!
I agree with you 100% on the venus-mars view on romantic relationships. One thing you did not mention is that it encourages a state of fear, prejudice and judgement largely because of the trumped up fear of “the other”.
So true! Sadly, the trumped up fear of “the other” seems to have worked. Today, women are suspicious of the male gender and men are scared of the female gender. Communication between the sexes is like a bare-foot walk through hell.
I’ve been a long time fan of your website and the information you have written has helped out a lot. I’m curious though, what is it that you don’t like or believe about the Mars-Venus as it pertains to relationships?
Ooooo-hohoho! You got me going… :>)
I just don’t think/believe the Mars-Venus approach to man-woman relationships is based on reality. It creates this notion that women and men are sooooo-soso different – like from two different planets – which from personal experience (btw, I”ve been told over and over by men that I’m more of “a man” than a woman -and it was supposedly a compliment…heheee) and from working with thousands of men and women over the years is simply NOT true!
Men and women are actually more alike – same human race, same planet earth – than different. When it comes to love and relationships, we all want the same thing – to love and to be loved. The way we go about it may be different but it’s more a function different “personalities” and different “social conditioning” than gender/sex differences. Two people of the same gender/sex may have the same biological make-up but be very different from each other in the way they think/feel/communicate. In other words, there is no monolithic “women from venus” or “men from mars” species.
To say men think/feel/communicate one particular way and women think/feel/communicate one particular way is to limit the “human experience.” No wonder so many unhappy and frustrated women and men who’ve spent lots of time – and sometimes whole lives – educating themselves on how to communicate with the other “species” have never really experienced the whole range of the wonderful human experience also known as a “loving fulfilling relationship”!
My approach is: We are all – men and women – “one species” from one planet and we all can speak the one universal language – the language of love! We just have to figure out each other’s unique “accents” and “communicate” with the INDIVIDUAL – not the gender/sex!
I think the research is true for all couples; not just young adults. I’ve been dating someone for almost two years, we are in our 50’s, and the emotional roller coaster of emotions is taking its toll on both of us when dealing with family issues, ex-spouses and over-all day to day living.
It doesn’t matter your age or gender, if you loved someone enough to be heartbroken, you can’t avoid the emotional roller coaster.
Break-up emotional pain and how to move past it in a healthy and empowering way is the focus of my book: It’s Just A Break-Up