Women suffer more than men when their relationship ends, a new study suggests.
Craig Morris, a professor of anthropology at Binghampton University in New York, worked with colleagues to poll more than 5,700 people in no less than 96 countries – although the majority lived in the United States. They were asked about their experiences of relationships ending – how badly it had gone, which partner had been the initiator, and how much emotional and even physical pain they had experienced. The participants were asked to rate the latter on a scale of one to ten.
The researchers found a small but statistically significant difference in the responses given by male and female participants. On average they rated their emotional pain after a breakup as 6.84, compared to a male average of 6.58. Women also reported more physical pain – the average given was 4.21 versus the 3.75 per cent quoted by men. In addition, female subjects reported higher levels of depression and anxiety following a breakup than their male counterparts. Male participants typically said they felt numb, angry or unfocused following a breakup.
Despite their apparently greater levels of pain, women were also found to be more likely to end relationships then men.
Professor Morris noted:
“Breakups seem to ‘hit’ women harder at first, but they do recover, often in better ‘relationship shape’ than before.”
He pointed to evolutionary psychology for an explanation – the theory that basic psychological factors in modern human beings are affected by evolutionary pressures from the past. According to this concept, women have more to lose from the wrong relationship because they are wired to be more selective than men and are also typically more motivated to reproduce and have children within a limited time span. Consequently they experience greater levels of pain when a relationship ends.
Ultimately though, women recover from breakups more quickly than men, Morris added.
“Most women, broadly speaking, seem to be hit hard and fast by a breakup, but are less self-destructive, utilize more social support, and recover faster and more fully.”
Men, meanwhile, “seem to react badly and in some sort of self-destructive/angry fashion often combined with depression. This can last for months or years. Then they just sort of ‘move on,’ usually via another relationship.”
The study was published in the academic journal Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences.