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Men May Actually Take Breakups Harder Than Women, Despite Misconceptions

Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Writer By Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Writer
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Writer, and a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.
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There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to how men and women deal with tough emotions, including relationship-related events like breakups. While some people might assume women take them harder, new research published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships says that might not actually be the case.

Analyzing relationship problems & demographics.

For this study, researchers wanted to gather information about common relationship problems, as well as the demographics related to those problems. "We wanted to understand not only what relationship problems are most commonly experienced by the general public, but who experiences which problems more," Charlotte Entwistle, lead author of the study and Lancaster University Ph.D. student, notes in a news release.

According to the study authors, most of the existing research on the topic comes from people in couples' therapy. The team decided to use online forums to gather information from a broader audience instead. Entwistle points out that only looking at people in couples' therapy limits research to those who have the time, money, and motive to work on their relationship problems.

The new research included an analysis of demographics and psychological characteristics of over 184,000 people posting about relationship issues in an anonymous online forum. Natural language processing was used to both identify common relationship problems and map who was experiencing those problems most.

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What they found.

Based on their analysis, it would appear that men may actually experience more emotional pain than women when their relationships get rocky—or at least, they're more likely to talk about it online.

The findings showed men posted about heartbreak online "significantly" more than women, which goes against widely held gender stereotypes of men being less emotional. This included using language related to regret, breaking up, crying, and heartbreak.

"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," Entwistle says.

According to lead researcher Ryan Boyd, Ph.D., the findings suggest men may not be less emotionally invested in relationships than women are after all; rather, he says it may be the case that men are simply "stigmatized out of sharing their feelings."

"Traditionally, women are more likely to identify relationship problems, consider therapy, and seek therapy than are men," he adds. "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."

Additionally, the analysis found that communication problems were the most frequently reported relationship issue, with almost 20% of people saying they had a hard time communicating about problems with their partner. About one in eight mentioned trust issues in their relationships. The most common theme reported across all types of problems was emotional pain or heartache they caused.

The takeaway.

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If there's one big takeaway from this analysis, according to Boyd, it's that men are just as invested in working through rough patches in their relationships as women.

Even though women are more likely to identify relationship problems, and further, seek help to work on them, the study authors say they hope their findings help to de-stigmatize seeking help when it comes to relationship problems, so everyone can get the help they need—regardless of gender.

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