There’s no two ways about it, breakups are rarely an enjoyable experience. Even if you’re breaking free from a particularly toxic partner, or when instigating the split is entirely your own move, from actually doing the deed (like a band aid is our best advice) to those first few weeks flying solo when all you’re trying to do is fight back the tears, quell the anger, or just get used to the fact that your person is no longer always there, breakups are pretty much always a rough ride.
Saying that, some are way worse than others. According to recent studies, the level of respect the ‘dumper’ displays for the dumpee’s sense of self during the split, can have a bigger effect on the emotional fallout than anything else.
This is something which may go a long way in explaining that searing punch-in-the-face-delivered-by-an-amped-up-Dwayne-Johnson-heartache you felt after being dumped by somebody who, if you’re really honest, you hadn’t actually spent that much time with yet, compared to the fleeting hurt you experienced after splitting with your long-term college love where marriage was on the table.
“Research indicates that the real difference between a hard and an easy breakup actually lies in whether your partner ‘endorses you’ on the way out,” explains Marianne Vicelich, relationship expert and author of Destruction: Free Yourself From The Narcissist.
“For instance, our confidence is deeply affected when we receive a ‘character assassination’ of sorts by our former partner, or when our self-esteem is strongly aligned with how we feel our ex perceives us.”
The real vindication to be had here, however, may lie in the research that backs up the idea that breakups are indeed worse for men. Sure, if we follow the rom-com guide to life (bad advice for both ends of the gender spectrum, obviously), the story goes that women cry into a bucket of ice cream while men line up tequilas at the strip club, the former feeling the effects of a breakup far more intensely than the latter.
But if you’ve ever bumped into an ex three months post-breakup and wondered just how on Earth they’ve got their life together so quickly – Queer Eye-worthy makeover, new love interest waiting in the wings, generally healthy outlook on life etc – you’d be right for suspecting that quite possibly, women handle breakups better than men.
Why Are Some Breakups Worse For Men?
While the initial pain of a breakup is likely just as acute for both parties, the way in which men generally tend to deal with emotional upsets can mean they eventually end up suffering the most. Why? Because men don’t talk as much.
Respondents to the survey by mental health charity The Lions Barber Collective found that men are often utterly useless at actually going through official channels of any sort when in need of mental health help. When sh*t hits the fan, only 54% bother to see a medical expert or build up any dialogue with a psychologist.
According to Sheela Mackintosh-Stewart, a marriage consultant and family lawyer: “Men and women approach and process relationships in very different ways, and this is the same when it comes to breakups. In general, women tend to be more open about their feelings with their support network of friends and family and will talk about their breakup more freely.
“In contrast, men tend to suppress their emotions and often feel embarrassed to show their true feelings to anyone, particularly other men.
“They usually carry on with a bravado, insisting that they are not overly affected by the split and as a result, they often experience a greater inner turmoil following the end of a relationship.
“In short, many men try to move on quickly convincing themselves that they are fine, while not dealing with their true emotions.”
The Worst Breakups Are The Most Personal
We don’t mean personal as in you managed to do it face-to-face, rather than leaving a Post-It note. Rather, it’s largely agreed on by experts that the most damaging breakups come as a result of feeling that you’ve been rejected due to who you essentially are as a person.
“In my view, breakups are indeed worse when people feel that they have been rejected for who they are and due to their personal flaws, rather than accepting that a breakup happened as two people were just not right for each other – for example due to differences in their values, life goals or compatibility,” explains Mackintosh-Stewart.
“When a sense of personal rejection is involved, it takes much longer to pick yourself up as your own self-worth and confidence has been badly dented.
“Such rejection can cause destructive thought patterns, triggering feelings of self-doubt and lower self-esteem as people ask themselves ‘Am I good enough?’ and ‘What’s wrong with me?’
“This can not only knock people’s confidence in themselves, but also make them wary of forming future relationships for fear of being rejected again.”
Cheating May Cause The Most Long-term Damage
Perhaps as expected, when affairs, infidelity or a betrayal of trust is at the root of your breakup, this can result in the deepest emotional scar tissue.
“Infidelity often makes splits very bitter as deep feelings of hurt and betrayal tend to lead to emotions of wanting to punish your former partner in the form of obstructing behavior,” confirms Mackintosh-Stewart.
“These actions benefit no one however, and can be extremely damaging where children or shared finances are concerned. The emotional baggage and trauma of infidelity commonly results in difficulties surrounding trust issues in subsequent relationships too.”
Intense Relationships Always Leave A Mark
Given that intense relationships are often packed full of passion, fireworks and tangled emotions, it’s perhaps only logical that these rank pretty high among the worst of breakups.
“When the attachment to another person is incredibly strong it can often be coupled with a lot of insecurity and anxiety when the relationship is ending.
“There is a complex psychological theory behind this called schema chemistry, which essentially refers to the vulnerabilities we have in early life that make us more prone to be attracted to particular partners,” explains Dr. Touroni.
“When we couple-up with these types of partners, although we can develop very intensely powerful relationships, they are often fraught with anxiety, and in their nature are very explosive, unstable and insecure.
“When these types of relationships come to an end, because the nature of the attachment is amplified by our own vulnerabilities from early life, we’ll often find the recovery process much harder.”
You’ll Need Time To Grieve
Thankfully your partner hasn’t actually died, they’re just leaving you, but according to psychologists there’s still a vital grieving process to be had in the wake of a bad breakup, especially if it occurs later in life, or with somebody you’d already mapped out a future with.
“Splits can be made even worse if you have been married or committed to each other for a long period of time, building a life and future together. Experiencing a split much later in life meanwhile, can not only seem more unexpected, but also more devastating,” says Mackintosh-Stewart.
“You will start to question whether you really knew your partner because the person you planned to spend your years with is no longer there for you. Suddenly the rug has been pulled out from under your feet, leaving an incredible sense of loss and bewilderment behind as you become companion-less.”
But Women Have It Rough Too
While recent studies concur with Mackintosh-Stewart’s take on why breakups can be worse for men, that’s not to say that women have an easy ride of it.
“How bad a breakup is will often depend on what that relationship stands for in your life – so if your entire sense of self and identity is placed on that relationship, then the breakup will be very difficult to overcome,” explains Dr. Touroni.
“Women may be more prone to doing this than men, because generally speaking, they are more likely to have the goal of finding a good partner, having a family and settling down.
“Even career-driven women often have the expectation they can be equally successful in their career and relationship. When this is the case, women may be more likely to be the most negatively affected by a split.”
So what’s the best way to deal with a bad breakup?
“Breakups are never easy, whether you instigate it or are the one on the receiving end of your partner’s decision. In most cases it can be a traumatic and emotionally draining experience that can be difficult to bounce back from,” concludes Mackintosh-Stewart.
“While it’s only natural to reflect on why a relationship broke down, it should always be done with a view to learn from the mistakes made, and to help you ‘choose right’ as you approach a new relationship.”
Sound advice if we’ve ever heard it.
This story was originally published on FashionBeans.