LANCASTER, United Kingdom — Breaking up is often an unpleasant experience for both people in a relationship. While stereotypes typically paint women as the more emotional partner in any couple, a new study finds that’s not the case when couples fall apart. Researchers from Lancaster University say men appear to experience more emotional pain and heartbreak when a relationship ends.
A team of psychologists originally started this study to examine the root causes of relationship problems. Researchers wanted to map out the most common issues men and women have, but don’t seek relationship counseling to help fix.
“Most of what we know about relationship problems comes from studies of people in couples therapy, which includes a rather specific subset of people — people who have the time, money, and motive to work on their relationship problems” explains Charlotte Entwistle, lead author of the study, in a university release. “We wanted to understand not only what relationship problems are most commonly experienced by the general public, but who experiences which problems more.”
Failure to communicate
In an anonymous online forum involving 184,000 people posting about their relationship issues, study authors found that the number one problem is (as many might expect) communication. One in five people said they have trouble discussing their problems. One in eight admit they and their partner have trust issues. As the team delved deeper into the results however, they noticed a surprising trend.
“As we were conducting the study, we realized that this was an important opportunity to put a lot of common ideas about gender differences in relationships to the test” says lead researcher Dr. Ryan Boyd. “For example, are men truly less emotionally invested in relationships than women, or is it the case that men are simply stigmatized out of sharing their feelings?”
The study found that the most common thing people wanted to talk about in the forum was the emotional pain their problems cause — instead of the problem themselves. When it comes to what these broken hearts are saying, respondents often used words like regret, breakup, cry, and heartbroken.
Unlike the stereotypes revolving around breakups, however, the team finds men were more likely to discuss the heartbreak ending a relationship caused than women. Study authors say this flies in the face of the perception that men are generally less invested in their romances.
“Notably, 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.
Men are more likely to want couples therapy
The study also reveals that men are more likely to seek help from online resources when it comes to their relationships. This may have a lot to do with the stigma surrounding men seeking professional help for emotional or mental health issues in person.
“Traditionally, women are more likely to identify relationship problems, consider therapy, and seek therapy than are men. 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,” Dr. Boyd explains.
“One of the most important things that we’re seeing here is that we’re able to create an incredibly accurate picture of relationship problems that everyday people face based purely on what people say online” Boyd concludes. “This gives us serious hope that we can use help-seeking behavior to better understand all types of social and psychological issues, and in a way that we simply cannot do using traditional research methods.”
The findings appear in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.