Men Are More Likely To Suffer Heartbreak After A Breakup, According To Researchers

When it comes to breakups, there are a lot of stereotypes. People believe that women are emotional wrecks for weeks afterward, while men rebound and move on fairly quickly.

But new research out of the U.K. is showcasing that when it comes to breakups, men aren’t as emotionless and stoic as they may seem, and actually suffer far more than we realize.

Breakups

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Photo Credit: cottonbro / Pexels

Breakups are one of the most distressing events in life. Breakups can have long-lasting consequences too, such as feelings of despair and loneliness, but also other symptoms like trouble sleeping or a loss of interest in activities once found enjoyable. It can take weeks or even years to get over a breakup.

People tend to think that breakups affect women the most (like the stereotype that women immediately binge on ice cream following heartbreak), but new research out of the U.K. is debunking that belief.

The Study

two hands reaching for each other against a blue sky
Photo Credit: Hanna Morris / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Hanna Morris / Unsplash

So how do breakups affect men and women? Led by a team of psychologists from Lancaster University, they sought to find out, using a social media app you’re probably familiar with.

Published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, the team first figured out that when facing relationship issues, people often seek advice and support from others. With the rise of social media, much of that help has gone digital in the form of social networking sites, like Facebook. But others opt for a more private option.

How The Study Was Conducted

A close-up of a Reddit app with a notification.
Photo Credit: Brett Jordan / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Brett Jordan / Unsplash

Researchers used language processing tools to explore 12 years’ worth of posts from Reddit’s r/relationships subreddit. The study excluded comments and focused only on the posts themselves, and only from users who’d made a single post to the subreddit were used.

Researchers also used the “flairs” attached to an individual post to gain additional insight (such as “dating” or “infidelity”), as well as basic information shared by the user (age and gender). In total, they used submissions from 184,000 posts.

Why Social Media?

A man and woman engage in a heated argument during a couples' therapy session with the therapist observing.
Photo Credit: Anthony Shkraba / Pexels
Photo Credit: Anthony Shkraba / Pexels

Traditionally, these types of studies are performed in professional settings, such as couples’ therapy. But these researchers chose Reddit for a reason—it’s a treasure trove of data.

“Individuals can leverage massive communities of complete strangers for relationship help, receiving support that is personalized, information-rich, and free from the immediate social pressures created by in-person support networks…[users] may be more likely to seek help through online platforms due to the anonymity that they provide,” reads the study.

What The Results Revealed

A tiny red robot made out of paper holds a heart that's broken in two.
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Photo Credit: burak kostak / Pexels

So, what did the results show? Of all respondents who sought help on r/relationships, 54.6% were men and 45.4% were women. Also, the people who typically seek relationship help in more traditional settings (like therapy) range between 38–41 years of age. In the study, most users were in the 18–24 age bracket.

Communication was a central reason for users seeking help. Meanwhile, “heartache” was the most discussed theme, followed by time, casual dating, personal qualities, trust issues, intimacy, partying, and abuse.

Men And Women

A man sits down on a bench looking upset while a woman stands up further away and looks at him.
Photo Credit: RODNAE Productions / Pexels
Photo Credit: RODNAE Productions / Pexels

The study sheds light on an interesting gender disparity. “Heartbreak” was the most discussed theme, and people seem to be using Reddit to express their distress and seek emotional support. This suggests “the emotional pain experienced following relationship problems or dissolution is perhaps the strongest motivator of reaching out for social support—more so than seeking to resolve any particular problem.”

This also reinforces the researchers’ theory that “men may find anonymous, online relationship help settings preferable to in-person contexts, likely due to [the] stigma attached to help-seeking behavior in men.”

One Caveat Worth Mentioning

An upset man sits at a table and looks outside the window with his head in his hand.
Photo Credit: Andrew Neel / Pexels
Photo Credit: Andrew Neel / Pexels

The study, however, presented researchers with a caveat worth mentioning: because the data was gathered from an anonymous forum, they don’t know whether the advice they received was of high enough quality to actually help people facilitate healthier relationships.

If the advice is poor, they caution, internal and external relationship problems could be exacerbated.

Going Forward

A man holds a heart balloon and a woman approaches it with a needle.
Photo Credit: cottonbro / Pexels
Photo Credit: cottonbro / Pexels

Researchers are optimistic that going forward, newer language technology will allow future research to delve deeper into the complexity of human relationships.

The results show that while breakups affect everyone differently, the degree of that suffering can vary. Contrary to traditional stereotypes, breakups seem to hit men the hardest, and turning to online and anonymous forums such as Reddit can help them seek help and clarity without judgment.