Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Breakups may cause women more emotional and physical pain than men, but less recovery time

Ladies, there may be some good and bad news for you on the breakup front.

A new study from Binghamton University found that women may suffer more emotionally from breakups than men do, but also tend to bounce back — while men may never fully recover.

These differences may all boil down to biology.

"Put simply, women are evolved to invest far more in a relationship than a man," said lead study author Craig Morris, PhD, a professor of anthropology at Binghamton, in a press release. "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."

Dr. Morris and team looked at more than 5,000 men and women from 96 countries.

Participants rated their physical and emotional pain after a breakup on a 1 to 10 scale.

The women tended to be more negatively affected by breakups, reporting higher levels of both physical and emotional pain. Women averaged 4.21 for physical pain and 6.84 for emotional pain. Men averaged 3.75 and 6.58, respectively.

Over the long term, however, women tended to make a full recovery and come out emotionally stronger.

Men, on the other hand, only "moved on."

According to Dr. Morris, a failed relationship can severely decrease a person's quality of life for weeks to months afterward. During this time, people may make decisions or take actions that can affect the rest of their lives.

"People lose jobs, students withdraw from classes, and individuals can initiate extremely self-destructive behavior patterns following a breakup," Dr. Morris said. "With better understanding of this emotional and physical response to a breakup, we can perhaps develop a way to mitigate its effects in already high-risk individuals."

This study was published in the July issue of the journal Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences.

Binghamton University’s Evolutionary Studies Program funded this research.

No conflicts of interest were disclosed.