Do Male and Women Have Different Experiences of Break-ups?


Love is universal to all human experiences through connections in relationships and thus it is a common occurrence to get individuals entering and exiting romantic relationships. Being in a relationships varies and it is based on one’s needs for physical and emotional support, romance, and to some extent, sexual satisfaction. For most individuals, seeking love is a cyclical process that involves forming bonds and going through breakups before eventually finding the right partner. Almost everyone is likely to experience at least one break up from a romantic relationship by the age of 30 years.  Existing studies have shown that at least 85% of individuals have experienced at least one break up in their romantic life (Perilloux 164). The trend of breakups is not something that is new in the contemporary society today, but it is something that has been observed in the past in traditional societies thus they are a recurrent aspect in the evolutionary past of human beings. Breakups or termination of relationships are thought to normally result in negative effects like distress, loneliness, depression, and even loss of self. 

Relationships can thus be demanding and challenging at the same time, and having a healthy relationship is everybody’s dream. Although being in a relationship might be a fulfilling experience, at times they do not work out and partners may part ways for various reasons, which may be valid and sometimes, lame excuses. Considering the breakups, it is thus ideal to have coping mechanisms that will alleviate positive thoughts to ensure someone moves on. The results of relationship breakups and the effects on both males and females may be the same or vary, and it is in this regard that this study aims to establish, with reference to other studies, if there are any significant differences in the manner that males and females cope with breakup experiences.  

Ending or termination of relationships can be very depressing and detrimental to the individual. In most cases, the outcomes of the breakups are negative where individuals experience periods of loneliness, sorrow, and some can even lose their self and are unable to identify themselves. Once the relationship has been terminated, the sad part is dealing with the suffering that ensues till someone accepts and moves one to the next relationship. However, moving on is very difficult and most people find themselves in denial and they are not able to let go and they may end up giving up on relationships. The way different individuals handle the stress resulting from breakups is varied depending on who the terminator of the relationship is and who is on the receiving end (Buss et al. 146). Both males and females show different responses and coping mechanisms towards breakups. 

There is a belief that women will tend to deal with breakups in a far worse ways than men do because they are emotionally more sensitive than men who might be relationally involved with others (Morris, Reiber, and Roman 270). The emotional breakdown in women is however considered to be short lived than for men because for males, they gain more from romantic relationships in terms of practical needs and emotions. Similarly, considering that males take less time to fall in love than females, it will be harder for them to deal with the end of the relationship.

Socialization of men and women is normally different and therefore this contributes to the differences in how they handle termination of relationships. Individuals normally have costs and benefits that arise from their relationships, and thus the difficulty in having to deal with a breakup is dependent on the trade-off between the advantages and costs of the relationship. Given that breakups are associated with emotional breakdowns, individuals who have gone through the experiences in the past are more likely to hurt more than those that have not. In a recent study by Binghamton University sampling over 5,000 participants across 96 countries on how various individuals cope up with breakups, researchers found that when there is termination of a relationship, both parties are traumatised. However, when grading the level of trauma on a scale of one to ten, on average men were found to undergo less trauma immediately after breakup than women. The average level of physical and emotional pain was 4.21 to 6.84 for women, whereas for men, it was 3.75 to 6.58 (Morris, Reiber, and Roman 270). The study noted that evolutionary biology is always in play because in terms of choosing a mate, women are choosier and thus they have more to lose in a relationship breakup. As a result, women will show dysfunctional coping mechanisms immediately after the breakup, but after sometime, they will get over it, while men on the other hand may attempt to restart the relationship and show more commitment to their partner or enter into a rebound relationship. 

Equally, a study by Davies, Sharver, and Vernon on how gender differences influence coping after breakup showed that women are more affected than men (871). The study involved 199 participants with 101 females and 98 males. From the study, it was evident that women were more traumatised when they were on the receiving end of the breakup as compared to men. From their observations, they indicted that tendency of undergoing severe distress may be age dependent because women indicated that they had been through more distress compared to men (Davis, Shaver, and Vernon 871). Perhaps age is a factor that rates how young males may take breakups compared to adult males; because of the lack of commitment in young males, they are likely to move on easily compared to mature males who will have invested so much in the relationship. However, for women at the age of 20s, unlike their male counterparts who increase their mate potential with age, they are more concerned with establishing lasting relationships and thus a breakup has a higher toll to a woman at this age. The study also found out that women are likely to incur more costs in a breakup than men given the kind of emotional investment they put into a relationship.  

 Evolutionary biology shows that in the formation of relationships, women are more likely to invest more emotional and physical resources compared to their male counterparts as a result of biological costs involved, such as pregnancy. Women will therefore be selective in the choice of their partner because they bear the larger burden of parental investment that is the gestation period of nine months and lactation (Morris, Reiber, and Roman 270). Men on the other hand, are less selective because they always pursue short term relationship goals, which is explained by their promiscuous nature. For men, the less they invest in a relationship, the less costly it will be in the event that the relationship is terminated. Therefore, the breakups are dependent of costs associated, which necessitate the adoptions of adaptations that can avoid or reduce the costs so as to be able to cope easily when dealing with dissolution of a relationship. 

Following the analogy of cost and benefit of resource allocation in relationships which can be physical or emotional, it is apparent that men will always compete for partners whereas women will be choosing those men that have the desirable characteristics. In a circumstance that involves children, the woman ends up being the custodian of the children and in this case, she is more likely to have more problems than the man. As a result, when dealing with breakups, these factors come into play where for instance, breakups may not be as traumatising to men because of their competitiveness and promiscuous nature as they will move on easily to the next female partner. Women have been found to be reluctant to easily moving on to the next relationship and they may want to make amends to ensure the dying relationship works (Tashiro and Frazier 117). The reason behind the reluctance can thus be attributed to the level of investment, especially when children are involved, since there is the worry of raising them. Equally, women exhibit high levels of emotional attachment and they may be having high hopes with marriage being in the picture and thus a breakup will mean they are more likely to be traumatised than men. 

Women on the other hand, are choosy on the type of partner they want and if this was the case, males will undergo more stress because of the difficult they will have to go through to get a new partner. Considering the cost of investment therefore, women are more likely to be traumatized in the short term as a result of shock for what they have lost. The investment strategy therefore dictates the kind of mechanisms that an individual will employ in the event the relationship is terminated (Buss et al. 146). However, in situations where an individual has not invested much in in the relationship, chances are that if they move to the next relationship that they might have started, they are less likely to be hurt. 

Studies indicate that men are usually not good in coping with relationships break ups in the long-term, and thus they are more likely to engage in distraction mechanisms that can enable them to overcome negative emotions (Barber and Cooper  261). In most cases, men will enter into recovery relationships that are very instrumental in enabling the switch of attention from the breakup to a new relationship. Recovery relationships are normally a means of dealing with the breakup, and thus they are short-lived and once they are over, the individual may still feel traumatized, especially if they had invested much in the former relationship. 

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Women are choosy beings in nature and they will tend to go for partners with desirable traits who can offer protection. For this reason, they are likely to incur high costs if they lose the protection that their partner provides hence they are wary of breakups. Men on the other hand, use their physical formidability to safeguard their partners and thus for them, they can easily force the woman to remain in the relationship which makes the cost of enduring intimidation to be high (Rhoades et al.  4). As a result, men have an upper hand when it comes to making their female partners not to have another relationship and intimidation leaves the window open for them to make amends and restart the relationship.

Sometimes, the level of investment in a relationship is too high making it impossible to move on. As a result, individuals may engage in intrusive and stalking behaviours on their ex partners. These behaviours are exhibited in equal measure by both men and women, but in different ways. For instance, men are more likely to engage in unsolicited pursuit activities like going to their ex-partner’s place uninvited and at times, resorting to the use of violence and threats (Buss et al. 146). On the other hand, women are likely to resort to stalking their ex-partners and even leaving messages or trying to call to make amends. Men undergoing breakups are more likely to be violent and show aggressive behaviour compared to women, whose first steps are to attempt to restart the relationship and constant stalking. 

Men have been found to employ strategies that avoid breakups like making attempts to maintain sexual access to their partners given that women through evolutionary biology, are seen to prefer long term bonding. As a result of the preference for emotional commitment, men find themselves having an upper hand whenever a relationship seems to be going south and thus they exploit the desire through attempting increased sexual access to their partners by becoming more committed emotionally (Marshall, Bejanyan, and Ferenczi  4). To increase exclusivity to one another, men may suggest marriage, cohabiting or having children together to their partner; therefore, the chances of men preventing breakups are very high compared to women because they can easily increase their commitment levels to their partner. 

Although sometimes breakups result from mutual agreement between the partners, in most cases, they come from one of the partners choosing to walk away from the relationship, thus the other will be on the receiving end of the shock. If the male partner is the initiator and the female partner is the recipient of the breakup, the way she will handle the breakup is completely different from the way a male would and often, it is worse. Studies indicate that in romantic relationships, women are more emotional than their male counterparts and as a result, they are categorized to experience more sadness, anger, guilt, and anxiety immediately after breakup than men (Morris, Reiber, and Roman 270). Women will therefore tend to channel their anger elsewhere by engaging in afflictive and social behaviours that are more like constructive strategies. Men may not feel the emotional weight of the breakup immediately, but it will rather sink in slowly over a long period of time, and for them, they may start new relationships all over so that they can replace what they have lost. Similarly, they are likely to engage in destructive behaviours because of the feelings of anger and the destructive tendencies are seen as ways of maintaining their self-esteem.

Women may be the emotional individuals when they are at the receiving end of the breakup, but they are more likely to be the responsible party of the breakup. They tend to be initiators in the breakup process and as a result of this association role, it is presumed that they will experience less emotional trauma in situations where they initiated the breakup (Buss et al. 146). Women are able to see when the relationship is not working earlier than men because they are cognisant to relationship problems, hence they become psychologically prepared for the certainty that comes with the breakup. On the other hand, when the woman leaves, the man becomes more vulnerable and traumatised especially being the recipient. When this happens, men handle such breakups in a worse manners than women could do; owing to the fact that they have stronger feelings, they thus experience more loneliness, sadness, and eventually depression for some.

The odds of men being more emotionally distressed after termination of a relationship are more likely to be high compared to women, and this is attributed to the fact that men fall in love more easily than how women do. The ability to fall in love quickly therefore means that men are able to recognise the feeling of love towards their partners than the way women will do, and thus when breakups happen, they are faster to undergo emotional breakdown (Barber and Cooper  261). In contrast, when women are in a relationship, they tend to be rational in their approach and thus the process of choosing a partner before committing is normally slow, hence they are able to be contained whenever undergoing trauma.  Equally, how fast someone falls in love in a relationship is proportionate with how romantic they are ready to get and romanticism causes some connection between the partners. Consequently, whenever breakups occur, men are usually casualties and their lives may change completely.

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According to the attachment theory, women and men express different levels of distress after breakups. A study by Marshall, Bejanyan, and Ferenzi to establish any existing differences on the levels of distress exhibited by both women and men indicated that there was significant level of distress exhibited by both after termination of relationships (4). Descriptive statistics from the analysis of the results indicated that women had a higher level of distress with a mean of around 55.95 compared to the mean variables of men involved in breakups which was around 51.17. Similarly, their study found out that women tend to undergo more trauma than men, although men are likely to take longer to recover from whichever minimal trauma they might have experienced after the break up (Marshall, Bejanyan, and Ferenczi  4). Nonetheless, trauma affects both men and women to a certain extent; however, the main difference comes in on how they move on after the break up. Regardless of this trauma, women tend to show greater levels of social development after termination of romantic relationships as compared to men. 

Management of the distress after a break up is very essential in the social development and recovery process of the individual, and as such, both women and men have different ways of moving on based on the each individual’s psychosocial being. Immediately after breakup, women are more likely to seek psychosocial support from friends and family as a way of managing the distress. They can go as far as contacting their friends on social media, which provides them with an elaborate network of people to share with and get support from (Tashiro and Frazier 117). On the other hand, men will try and manage distress by keeping to themselves or by engaging in other physical activities and pleasure like going out with boys, drinking, or at times, they can seek to have sexual pleasure. As a result of keeping their distress to themselves, they are likely to take long to recover and this may worsen the situation. Men will at times feel horrible checking on their ex-partners and they end up cutting contacts completely after breakup. Therefore, the interventions employed  by each individual in the management of distress and trauma after termination of a relationship is very essential in influencing how one will cope with the situation, and eventually move on or rather establish other social connections and grow from the experience (Burgeois and Leary 105). Seeking psychosocial support accelerates the process of recovery, which explains why women are more likely to recover faster from relationship breakups than men.

Coping mechanisms after breakups equally vary and individuals such as men may resolve to engage in secondary behaviours, such us opting to engage in casual sex so as to massage their emotions and enhance their self-esteem (Burgeois and Leary 105). Coping mechanisms are therefore the strategies that individuals employ in attempts to manage or resolve their challenging psychological needs. Men employ distractions or rather dampening strategies like engaging in sport or working among other physical activities that can act as distractions (Davis, Shaver, and Vernon 871). Physical recreation and avoidance are some of the ways men will try to deal with a breakup thus ensuring that their mind is preoccupied somewhere, which increases the possibility of them having rebound relationships or engaging in casual sex. Rebound relationships are considered to be relationships that individuals enter into after breakups and whose main agenda is to alleviate any kind of distress one may be undergoing.

Sometimes, individuals engage in casual sex as a result of feeling insecure where they question their desirability and love hence they are out to prove their self-worth.  Normally, it is men who are troubled because women have been found to go through the process quietly without engaging in unnecessary sex. Men usually find themselves in a panicking situation and they tend to think that they can prove their self-worth to their ex partners by showing them that they can get any woman (Rhoades et al.  4). Some can go as far as having sex with strangers or even reaching out to their ex-girlfriend so that they can have sex and be even. They do this a way of preoccupying their mind so that they can stop thinking about their past relationship. Low self-esteem and the emotional imbalance experienced by individuals after break up that may lead to behaviours such as having casual sex indicates that both men and women will look means of toning down their distress (Marshall, Bejanyan, and Ferenczi  4). However, some individuals have a tendency of engaging in physical exercises as a way of managing distress and also engaging in other activities that can occupy their mind so that they can overcome depression resulting from the breakup.

Similarly, reaching out to their ex partners is common tendency among women as they seek to make up after break up. Men on the other hand as indicated before, repress the feeling of being distressed and as a result, they never want to make any contact with their ex-partners because they just want to be alone. For women, it is easier to get along with fellow women and thus opening up is easier; once they do this, they can share and discuss issues disturbing them making them able to overcome negative emotions easily (Buss et al. 146). The involvement of women in social support groups and networks is profound and as a result, they are prone to use their social groups to solve their relationship problems. Sharing in a group for instance, increases chances of getting emotional comfort because of the different functions and views available from the network. Women are said to be more effective in these social support networks compared to men because of their shying away from sharing. After a breakup, men will isolate the people that they can confide in and most tend to have only one, who is their female partner and once they break up with her, it leaves them exposed and vulnerable. Women tend to focus on these groups for collaboration and psychological protection thus enhancing their ability to manage distress emanating from a breakup. 

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Although women become walloped in emotions immediately after the breakup, they have shown adaptability and tendencies that ensure that they recover faster than men. On the contrary, men shield themselves from emotions in ‘man caves’ and thus they are unable to recover faster. They literary have no one to confine to because they tend to pretend that they are independent and shell their emotions thus as a result, they find themselves in hard situations and are unable to manage the emotions and distress that ensue after breakups (Tashiro and Frazier 117).  Men feel the pressure of having to move on faster instead of managing emotions after breakup and thus they continue to deal with the distress for long. Therefore, it should be noted that the interventions embraced by each individual are normally aimed at establishing psychological and emotional comfort for the individual. As a result, the kind of intervention that an individual adopts reflects their need to have a stable psychological and emotional state.

Men view their relationships as a very important accomplishments instead of partnerships thus they are more affected after breakups because they regard that as failure, contrary to how women view it, as they see it as loss of the person. The kind of detachment exhibited by men enables them to move on to the next relationship with ease compared to women who will probably take their time before committing to another relationship. For men, it is a cycle that has to continue no matter the cost involved and for them, the sooner the better because it is a sense of fulfilment (Davis, Shaver, and Vernon 871). Men are more concerned with their self-worth and considering they were in a relationship they feel that they have to fill the void left in their hearts as soon as possible. 

Sometimes, there are positive emotions that result from a breakup, especially in situations where the relationship derailed the development and personal growth of the individual. Self-realization and rediscovery may prompt someone to start journaling as a means of dealing with the breakup (Tashiro and Frazier 117). Normally, women can reflect on the relationship and dissect it from the genesis to the end, and thus some tend to start writing or journaling as a way of recapturing memories, while at the same time, keeping busy and avoiding negative thoughts. As a result of capturing positive thoughts about the relationship in journaling, there is the likelihood that one will experience positive emotions such as happiness, relief, confidence, satisfaction, comfort, and optimism.

In conclusion, breakups are considered complex processes that require individuals to employ different coping mechanisms to overcome the distress and trauma that arises from them. As a result, men and women have different mechanisms of adaptability to cope and hence maintain their self-esteem, especially for men. Although the coping mechanisms may cut across both genders, there are prevalent differences between men and women on how they adjust to life after breakups. From the discussion, it is apparent that the coping mechanisms employed are dependent on a number of factors, such as growth rate after a relationship, level of emotional distress, costs and extent of emotional and physical investment, and to some, level security. 

Therefore, losing in a relationship has its own costs and as discussed, each cost requires a specific coping mechanism. For instance, it is evident that women will experience more trauma and distress immediately after breakup than men who may not feel it immediately because they avoid or shell such feelings and emotions. The cost of a breakup is overwhelmingly high for women considering the level of investment they have in a relationship from an evolutionary biology point of view. Consequently, the level of distress after a breakup is likely to be either minimum or very detrimental on the individual. This is because after termination of the relationship, one is likely to experience some loss in form of emotional and physical investment, sexual access, and for men, they will lack someone to confide in because most of them do not have many confidants except their female partners. For these reasons, the problems resulting from breakups are many and varied and there is no single coping mechanism that can provide solutions to all of them hence there is need to adopt specialized mechanisms to handle various distinctive relationship problems. Although it is everyone’s plea that their relationship does not end, it is important to expect such occurrences and make preparations for ways to deal with them.

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  1. Barber, Lindsay L., and M. Lynne Cooper. “Rebound Sex: Sexual Motives and Behaviors Following A Relationship Breakup.” Archives of Sexual Behavior 43.2 (2013).
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  6. Morris, Craig Eric, Chris Reiber, and Emily Roman. “Quantitative sex differences in response to the dissolution of a romantic relationship.” Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences 9.4 (2015): 270.
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