Break ups. They’re never fun. The tears, the anger, the messy nights out and the emotional eating are all telltale signs of a heart in torment.
So, if men and women are capable of feeling emotional pain when a break up occurs, why is it so hard to understand why he’s ‘being distant’ or she ‘still wants to be friends?’
Well, the reason for this is linked to the social role relationships play and how they feed into our perceptions of self-worth, as well as the fundamental ways men and women deal with the same emotions differently.
“Studies have shown that both men and women derive self-esteem from being in a relationship, so both genders suffer a sense of loss and identity conflict when a romantic relationship ends,” psychologist Melanie Schilling told HuffPost Australia.
“Interestingly, the research has found that men and women experience different types of loss after a break-up. Generally speaking, men get their self-esteem from the social status of being coupled-up, whereas women get it from the sense of connection. These differences are likely to impact the way men and women behave after a break-up.”
It seems that experiencing different types of loss during a break up translates into the ways men and women deal with heartbreak. While women are more likely to rely on their social support networks in the form of friends and family, men will manage a broken heart by getting out and being active.
“Typically, when a break up happens, women seek out supportive family and friends to confide in and men — well they get busy,” Schilling said.
“The research shows that women need to connect [feelings] and men need to do something [action]. It’s not uncommon to see post-break up women in huddles of girlfriends, sharing a cocktail and the intimate details of the break-up. It’s equally common to see men starting a new sport, going on a holiday or getting online and seeking a new relationship.”
So, is a man’s break up method or a woman’s more effective? Let’s be honest, the faster we can deal with heartbreak and get back to our normal, life-loving, less-mopey selves the better, right?
Well, it’s important to note that while the sexes process a break-up differently, both experience the same sense of grief and loss.
In Australia, it’s socially acceptable for women to be openly emotional with the people around them, meaning that they are able to deal with negative emotions like sadness and regret faster than men.
“Women have permission to be open and talk about it … we are allowed to have those moments — ‘What’s wrong with me?’, ‘He’s not good for me’, we can be down and out,” Dr Nikki Goldstein told HuffPost Australia.
“If a guy said the same things as a woman when they go through a break-up probably one of the things he will be called will be … weak and that is really sad because we have a generation of men who are told to suck it up and get on with it.
“With a break-up what can come out is secondary behaviours and it might be things like hitting the booze or going out and having a lot of casual sex … We are not living in a society where men are allowed to be hurt and have that time to be vulnerable,” Goldstein said.
Schilling told HuffPost Australia that this kind of attitude that can mean men suppress emotions and therefore, take longer to get over a relationship.
“Many men go into their metaphorical ‘man cave’ after a break-up to shield themselves from the emotional impact of the loss. Many men feel the social pressure to ‘man up’ and move on, rather than dwelling on the emotions. This only serves to prolong the experience of loss and extends their period of grief,” Schilling said.
Among all these differences, the bottom line is that men and women deal with the same emotions when going through a break up. The differences arise in the way sadness, grief and loss are dealt with.The advice on how to best deal with a break up therefore, is the same for both sexes.
“Talk about it, write about it, meditate on it,” Schilling said. “Whatever it takes to process the break up and reach your own level of acceptance about why it ended. Spend time with people who will support you and encourage you to nurture yourself, people who will allow you to just be in the moment.
“Don’t feel pressured to move on before you’re ready, check-in regularly with your emotional self and give yourself time out from social activity if you need it. Be kind to yourself and use the opportunity to invest in YOU.”