Do Guys Have a Harder Time Dealing with Breakups?

Since I have started offering myself as a resource on break-ups, I have noticed one trend which kind of surprised me.I have been hearing from more men than women! I never would have guessed that this would happen, since most books and other resources about coping with a break-up are geared toward women. Isn't it women who talk more about relationships? Aren't we the ones who are more oriented toward all of that kind of stuff? I mean, romantic movies are called "chick flicks" for a reason, right?

So why are more guys reaching out about breakups than gals? Aside from a few who seem to have been smitten and are hopeful that I will help them heal their hearts in ways more personal than professional (sorry fellas, I don't provide that kind of service!), the majority are quite sincerely looking for guidance in recovering from what for them has clearly been a difficult, painful experience.

Here are a couple of my thoughts about why this might be the case:

#1: Guys May Feel Hurts Harder

One of the biggest complaints that women have about men in relationships is that they don't want to talk about emotional topics, which leads some women to accuse the men in their lives of being insensitive. However, the opposite may be true. John Gottman, who is probably the leading marriage, divorce and relationship expert in the world, found a fascinating difference between the men and women in the couples he studied:

Gottman found that the women he studied were emotionally and physiologically more able to soothe themselves and calm down after feeling stressed. In contrast, he found that a man's adrenaline kicks in quite readily and does not calm down so easily.

Gottman also found that the male cardiovascular system remains more reactive than the female and slower to recover from stress. For example, if a man and woman suddenly hear a very loud, brief sound, like a blowout, most likely his heart will beat faster than hers and stay accelerated for longer. The same goes for their blood pressure — his will become more elevated and stay higher longer.

When male subjects are deliberately treated rudely and then told to relax for twenty minutes, their blood pressure surges and stays elevated until they get to retaliate.When women are faced the same treatment, they are able to calm down an lower their BP during those twenty minutes.

In other words, there is physiological evidence that men are more easily overwhelmed by relationship conflict than are their female partners. The term for this emotional and physical overwhelm is "flooding".

While these rules don't necessarily apply to every individual male and female, Gottman has found that the majority of couples do follow these gender differences in physiological and psychological reactions to stress. (He and his colleagues also found similar gender-based differences among same-sex couples as well, so that interactions within female same-sex couples are more emotionally expressive than in male same-sex couples).

In any case, it follows that if men have more trouble dealing with emotions in general, they may have a harder (and longer) recovery from the hurt of a breakup once they allow themselves to feel that hurt. It also explain why many men will try so hard to avoid feeling anything after a breakup, since letting themselves feel those feelings is actually riskier for them than it is for women.

#2: Guys have less built-in support

Again, there is no hard and fast rule here and some individual men and women may not fall along these lines, but in general women have a lot more resources for social support after a break-up. They usually can talk about how they're feeling about it with family and friends without feeling embarrassed. And the people in their lives will usually expect them to talk about it and will even ask them about it.

In contrast, the average guy will avoid talking about the breakup because a) he doesn't want to get flooded by emotion from talking about it; b) he is embarrassed to admit that he cares because it is less socially acceptable for him to do so; c) most of his guy friends aren't good at talking about emotional stuff either, so they will avoid it and he will avoid making them uncomfortable.

In fact, for most straight guys their most important source for talking about emotions is their female partner, and a break-up often leaves them without any outlet just at a time when it might be helpful to talk. Because even if talking is risky for guys, most of them learn that under the right circumstances it can be extremely supportive and helpful.

Like when they decide to reach out to me, or someone like me. So hang in there guys, I know break-ups are hard for you too (maybe even harder).

The good news is that it is also just as possible for you to learn and grow from the experience, and be wiser and happier in the times ahead.


Anonymous said...

Hi Sasha. Just wanted to say that I´ve really appreciated your posts on breakups. I´m still hurting big-time 6 weeks after the end of a 6 month relationship and I see myself in many of your posts. I broke the 60 day rule (again) last week so am starting over.

It´s a shame (for me, anyways) that you´ve moved into another area of counselling. But I hope things are going well.

Cheers, Sean

Sasha Carr, Ph.D. said...

Thanks for the compliment and I'm so glad you've found the posts to be helpful. While I haven't been keeping current with this blog I do continue to support clients who are dealing with breakups and other challenges. Anyone who is interested in learning more may contact me at sasha@inneriginition.com

Sasha Carr, Ph.D. said...

A research study in Canada reports that men are more likely than women to be clinically depressed after a divorce