Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation
Top

The science of heartbreak: women feel more pain after a relationship ends but we're also more resilient

betty-and-don-draper.jpg

“Once you had put the pieces back together, even though you may look intact, you were never quite the same as you'd been before the fall.” It's a sentiment from Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper that's always resonated with us, and turns out, it's got a glimmer of scientific truth to it too.

A new study has found women feel greater pain than men, emotionally and physically, after a breakup.

Researchers at Binghamton University and University College London asked 5,705 women and men with an average age of 27 in 96 countries to rate the emotional and physical pain of splitting up from their partners on a scale of one (none) to 10 (unbearable). 

In the survey, participants were also asked about their romantic history, including questions such as: Have you experienced a breakup? How severe was the breakup for you emotionally? Who do you feel initiated the breakup? What sort of physical responses did you experience as a result of the breakup?

When it came to emotional anguish, women reported a score of 6.84 while men rated 6.58. The difference was greater for physical pain, where women averaged 4.21 versus men’s 3.75.

Heartbreaking romance: Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby

Heartbreaking romance: Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby

“Put simply, women are evolved to invest far more in a relationship than a man,” Craig Morris, lead author of the study tells Psych Central. “A brief romantic encounter could lead to nine months of pregnancy followed by many years of lactation for an ancestral woman, while the man may have ‘left the scene’ literally minutes after the encounter, with no further biological investment.”

“It is this ‘risk’ of higher biological investment that, over evolutionary time, has made women choosier about selecting a high-quality mate. Hence, the loss of a relationship with a high-quality mate ‘hurts’ more for a woman.”

While they may be hit the hardest when their heart is broken, the study also found that women recover much better and come out emotionally stronger, while men don't necessarily recover; they move onto someone else.

“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,” says Morris. Women hit a moment when they realise, “it’s really over, it’s time to move on”.

On the other hand, “(men) 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.” 

Morris adds that most of us will experience an average of three breakups by the age of 30 and at least one will affect us strongly enough to substantially decrease our quality of life for weeks or months. The study also concluded that the most common reason for splits was “lack of communication”.

Related

rexfeatures-390905ch.jpg

20 of the most powerful quotes on heartbreak in literature

woman waking up.jpg

Advice on how to cope with heartbreak from the wisest women

2252406.jpg

Life after heartbreak: stars on break-ups and divorce

love-letters.jpg

Poignant goodbye letters and moving messages of farewell

hero.jpg

The best ever relationship advice shared by Stylist readers

rexfeatures-953085a.jpg

Literature's most powerful and poignant letters

More

“I’m child-free, not childless – why the difference matters”

One writer on how our language shames women who choose not to procreate

21 Aug 2017

Why people are posting cat photos in response to the Barcelona attacks

There’s a reason behind the influx of felines online

by Kayleigh Dray
21 Aug 2017

The deadly secret hidden within that creepy Game of Thrones hug

Spoilers are coming…

by Kayleigh Dray
18 Aug 2017

Why it’s totally fine if you don’t have a ‘work wife’

Having friends at work is nice – but it’s not the be all and end all

by Moya Crockett
18 Aug 2017

Meteorologist’s epic response to troll who called her “disgusting”

“Enough is enough.”

by Sarah Biddlecombe
18 Aug 2017

Acts of love, humanity and solidarity following the Barcelona attack

In the darkness, there is light.

by Moya Crockett
18 Aug 2017

How you can help those caught up in the Barcelona attack

The ways you can support the victims, survivors and investigation

by Kayleigh Dray
18 Aug 2017

People are furious about Trump’s response to the Barcelona attack

The world is sick of his double-standard on terrorism

by Kayleigh Dray
18 Aug 2017

Ryan Phillipe on how he tackles depression

“I’m thinking about how to focus and steady myself”

by Susan Devaney
17 Aug 2017

Are black girls being forced to grow up too fast?

A study has shown that black girls as young as five are seen as more adult than their white peers

by Kemi Alemoru
17 Aug 2017