Breaking up is hard — but more men find healthy ways to cope than you might think

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — No one likes getting dumped. Sure, it could be a good excuse to curl up on the couch with a gallon of ice cream while binge-watching Netflix, but that won’t do you much good in the long run. Now, a new study by a team at the University of British Columbia finds the most important thing after a break-up is finding support.

“A failed relationship can lead to significant mental stress—men already have higher risks for suicide than women, and marital separation increases that risk four times. By exploring the ways through which men seek help after a breakup, we can potentially design better supports for their mental health,” says study co-author Mary T. Kelly in a university release.

Exposing the mental health effects is important in debunking the stereotype that men do not care or have violent reactions to a break-up. However, the study suggests most men tend to react by looking for help and working through the transition. The help they seek goes beyond professional help. The study offers several creative strategies men take when a relationship ends.

One way men cope is through solitary work and reaching out to peers they can trust. A quarter of survey respondents used internet searches for blogs, coaches, and other resources. These men tended to be on the younger side, or their relationships were short-lived. When they did reach out to friends and family, it was mainly to vent or talk it out, but not necessarily to find a solution. For that, they turned to self-help books.

Breaking up is even rougher for dads

Men in longer relationships, potentially meaning they also had to deal with child custody cases, were more likely to seek out new connections. This ranged from joining a local dads’ group or a group for men going through separation or divorce.

Over half of men sought counseling or other professional mental health services. These men were more likely to report a pre-existing mental illness.

“This paper disrupts the stereotype that men do not go to the doctor and they don’t want help. It shatters the trope that men aren’t emotional and aren’t affected as much as the rest of us by a breakup,” Kelly says. “We also tend to think that men don’t do introspection or vulnerability, but a lot of the men were really engaging in that deep kind of work.”

If you’re currently going through a break-up, study authors conclude that you may want to sit and reflect on the rollercoaster of emotions you may be feeling.

“You can be sad and happy, angry and sorrowful at the same time. Look to reconnect or stay connected with friends and family. Be careful about substance use. Maintain a routine, get some exercise and be open to reaching out for professional help,” advises Dr. John Oliffe, a professor of nursing at The University of British Columbia and Canada Research Chair in men’s health promotion.

The findings appear in the journal Qualitative Health Research.

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About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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