When it comes to breakups, we often assume that women take it hardest, partly due to the Bridget Jones narrative of heartbroken females sobbing into the Sauvignon.
But new research has revealed men may actually suffer more emotional pain than their female counterparts.
The first-of-its-kind study, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, analysed online relationships, mapping out the most common relationship problems experienced by couples outside the therapist’s office.
The international team of psychologists, led by researchers at Lancaster University, used natural language processing methods to analyse the demographic and psychological characteristics of over 184,000 people who had posted their relationship problems to an anonymous online forum.
And the analysis revealed that it was men and not women who suffered most when their relationship took a turn for the worse.
“Most of what we know about relationship problems comes from studies of people in couples therapy, which includes a rather specific subset of people — people who have the time, money, and motive to work on their relationship problems,” explains Charlotte Entwistle, lead author of the study.
“We wanted to understand not only what relationship problems are most commonly experienced by the general public, but who experiences which problems more.”
While it came as no great shock that communication and trust were some of the most common issues discussed, the research team were surprised at the gender difference which appeared in the theme.
“As we were conducting the study, we realised that this was an important opportunity to put a lot of common ideas about gender differences in relationships to the test," Dr Ryan Boyd, the lead researcher of the study and lecturer in behavioural analytics, explains.
“For example, are men truly less emotionally invested in relationships than women, or is it the case that men are simply stigmatised out of sharing their feelings?”
The data analysis revealed that the most common theme mentioned by people talking about their relationship problems was about the emotional pain caused by the issues - rather than the problems themselves.
According to the researchers, the theme that kept cropping up was about the “heartache” that was felt, and the team recorded the use of specific words like: “regret”, “break up”, “cry”, and “heartbroken”.
Contrary to their expectations, the team’s findings showed that the male participants discussed heartbreak significantly more than women, suggesting that the stereotype of men being less emotionally invested in relationships than women may be somewhat incorrect.
“Notably, the fact that the heartache theme was more commonly discussed by men emphasises how men are at least as emotionally affected by relationship problems as women,” Entwistle added.
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The researchers also found that men were more likely to seek online, professional help than women, to deal with their relationships.
“Traditionally, women are more likely to identify relationship problems, consider therapy, and seek therapy than are men," Dr Boyd explains.
“When you remove the traditional social stigmas against men for seeking help and sharing their emotions, however, they seem just as invested in working through rough patches in their relationships as women.”
The team’s findings have significant implications in the public eye as well as in clinical settings, with researchers noting that developing a more accurate picture of relationship problems will help to understand when and why things go wrong in relationships.
In turn, this could help couples avoid the common setbacks in trying to living happily ever after.
The study’s authors also suggested that the findings may help to de-stigmatise people seeking help, by showing just how common relationship problems are, and illustrating that men are just as likely as women to talk to a professional about their problems.
“One of the most important things that we’re seeing here is that we’re able to create an incredibly accurate picture of relationship problems that everyday people face based purely on what people say online," Dr Boyd adds.
“This gives us serious hope that we can use help-seeking behaviour to better understand all types of social and psychological issues, and in a way that we simply cannot do using traditional research methods.”
The research comes as it was also recently revealed it is now possible to predict the success of a relationship.
Scientists have discovered, in a new study, how to tell whether a couple will stay together or split up. Psychologists claim behaviour during the early days of dating can reveal how the union will progress.
They found those who had similar needs, but different interests, tended to be together for longer.
Science also recently uncovered the reason so many people stay in relationships that really aren't working.
The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that thinking about the other person in the relationship and how much breaking up might impact them has a major influence on deciding whether or not to leave.
Previous research has indicated that people may stay in an unhappy relationship if the alternative options ie being on their own, or a lack of available alternative partners, seem less appealing.
But this latest study suggests people don’t just think about their own wants and needs when they’re deciding whether to quit a relationship, but those of their soon-to-be ex.
Additional reporting SWNS.