When we form a connection with another in the most intimate way imaginable, it can feel incredibly difficult to break away from it. In the peak of the relationship, it can seem almost unfathomable that it will ever end. Whether you are wholly invested or not, it’s very easy to live in the moment and endure all the highs and lows that love can offer.
But if you’ve ever broken up with someone of the opposite sex, you may know that one of the biggest heartaches of letting go is the thought that your once-partner doesn’t share the same emotions that you do. They say misery loves company, and when what we define as the appropriate way to mourn a loss is not demonstrated by another, it feels personal, and can even create resentment.
But according to 2015 research from Binghamton University, we may be wasting our time trying to get someone to respond the same way we do.
Researchers from Binghamton University and University College London discovered that the emotional and physical effects felt right after a breakup are different for men and women. The team asked 5,705 participants in 96 countries to recall their last breakup, and dig up the emotional memories involved.
What the researchers found when they asked the participants to rate their emotional and physical pain following that breakup on a scale of one (none) to 10 (horrible) was that women were more likely to feel the strongest effects right after a breakup. Their average rating for emotional and physical pain came in at 6.84 and 4.21, while men reported an average of 6.58 for emotional pain and 3.75 for physical.
As for why there is such a difference, lead author Craig Morris, a research associate at Binghamton University, offered an explanation:
Put simply, women are evolved to invest far more in a relationship than a man. A brief romantic encounter could lead to nine months of pregnancy followed by many years of lactation for an ancestral woman, while the man may have ‘left the scene’ literally minutes after the encounter, with no further biological investment. It is this ‘risk’ of higher biological investment that, over evolutionary time, has made women choosier about selecting a high-quality mate. Hence, the loss of a relationship with a high-quality mate ‘hurts’ more for a woman.
But the researchers also discovered that, thought the effects of a breakup affect women the most, they are also the ones who are likely to make a full recovery as time passes, while men just “move on.” Morris explained that, for men, the loss will fester.
“The man will likely feel the loss deeply and for a very long period of time as it ‘sinks in’ that he must ‘start competing’ all over again to replace what he has lost — or worse still, come to the realization that the loss is irreplaceable.”
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According to Morris, it’s important to understand how breakups affect us because most of us will experience an average of three by age 30, with at least one of those significantly impacting our quality of life for weeks or months afterward.
“People lose jobs, students withdraw from classes, and individuals can initiate extremely self-destructive behavior patterns following a breakup,” he said. “With better understanding of this emotional and physical response to a breakup — Post Relationship Grief — we can perhaps develop a way to mitigate its effects in already high-risk individuals.”
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