Men Tend to Experience Emotional Pain From Breakups More Strongly Than Women, Study Finds

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Key Takeaways

  • A recent study found men were more likely than women to seek help on Reddit regarding relationships.
  • Communication problems were the most frequently discussed challenge, which included difficulty discussing problems and trust issues.
  • Emotional pain from relationship challenges was more often explored than the challenges themselves, with heartache as the most common theme.

It's completely normal for the end of the relationship to have a profound effect on mental health, but it's tough to know who feels the loss more strongly. A recently published study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that men were more likely to seek help with breakups on Reddit, usually in break up specific subreddits like r/breakups.

Researchers analyzed the demographics and language of 184,631 individuals regarding relationships on Reddit over approximately 12 years and found that communication problems were the most commonly mentioned.

Considering how difficult it can be to seek help, this research may provide insights into how to support healthy relationships.

Coping With a Breakup on Reddit

This study explored the discussion of relationship issues on Reddit to understand help-seeking among the general population and found users with an average age of 24 years, and most between the ages of 18 and 24.

Researchers identified similar discussion topics on Reddit when compared to why individuals tend to seek professional help, including communication challenges, intimacy, trust concerns, finances, housework, etc. Based on this, Reddit may provide greater accessibility for some individuals as the platform offers a free anonymous space to discuss relationship issues.

This study found that men were more likely to mention such themes as school, heartache, dating, partying, and language, while women were more likely to discuss themes of money, abuse, physical distance, and housework. The use of binary gender was a limitation of this research, as was the Reddit sample, as those users tend to be male, younger, and American.

Relationships Foster Connections

Neuroscience coach and licensed clinical social worker, Renetta Weaver, LCSW-C, PhD, says, “The absence of healthy attachment and connection in relationships creates emotional and physical problems that men and women try to resolve by seeking help from strangers online."

For Weaver, this study reaffirms that individuals tend to heal in community, as they do not have to know each other to feel their pain. "I wish the public would understand the neuroscience perspective of relationships that explains we are hardwired for connection and attachment," she says.

Renetta Weaver, LCSW-C, PhD

I have seen an increase in patients who have experienced increased anxiety, depression, and lower productivity because of relationship distress since the pandemic.

— Renetta Weaver, LCSW-C, PhD

Given the importance of relationships for individuals to function, Weaver highlights the value of expanding research efforts to include those who are non-binary as well as those who do not subscribe to gender norms.

Weaver explains that relationships can often be the key ingredients to helping us thrive. "In the absence of these ingredients we will experience high stress, weakened immunity, and are more susceptible to physical illness and disease," she says.

In her personal experience as a telehealth provider of mental health therapy, Weaver notes, "I have seen an increase in patients who have experienced increased anxiety, depression, and lower productivity because of relationship distress since the pandemic."

Socialization Plays a Key Role

Licensed psychotherapist, Akua K. Boateng, PhD, LPC, says “Expression is not the only proof of emotional experience. Although men may not express their emotions verbally in the ways women do, their emotions run deep."

Boateng notes that it would be interesting to learn more information as it pertains to emotional needs after relational demise, as well as how gender may impact the choice of therapists in the pursuit of couples counseling. 

In her clinical opinion, Boateng highlights, "When men are socialized to express their emotions verbally, they are typically honest and forthcoming with their feelings." This bodes well for addressing the kinds of communication difficulties that were found to be prevalent in this research.

Akua K. Boateng, PhD, LPC

Expression is not the only proof of emotional experience. Although men may not express their emotions verbally in the ways women do, their emotions run deep.

— Akua K. Boateng, PhD, LPC

Since emotional intelligence and literacy are key components in emotional expression, Boateng says, "Men tend to have challenges with both due to socialization." In this way, by socializing all genders regarding how to communicate effectively, interpersonal dynamics may be improved.

What This Means For You

As this research study demonstrates, help-seeking behaviors regarding relationships on the Reddit platform were most commonly related to communication difficulties. Given how often interpersonal norms are developed through socialization over time, greater efforts can be made to promote healthy communication skills.

Especially when many individuals have already adapted to the pandemic in terms of how they interact with others, managing relationship issues may highlight a further area for growth. If all genders were taught the value of healthy communication from a young age, these skills could be extremely beneficial for a lifetime.

1 Source
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  1. Entwistle C, Horn A, Meier T, Boyd R. Dirty laundry: The nature and substance of seeking relationship help from strangers onlineJ Soc Pers Relat. 2021;38(12): 3472-3496. doi:10.1177/02654075211046635

By Krystal Jagoo
 Krystal Kavita Jagoo is a social worker, committed to anti-oppressive practice.