Men experience more intense pain after emotional breakdowns, online study finds



A new study on online relationship support finds that men tend to experience more emotional pain than women when their relationship breaks down.

An international team of psychologists led by researchers from Lancaster University conducted the first-ever big data analysis of relationship problems. The study began as an attempt to create a map of the most common relationship issues faced by people outside of clinical and counseling settings.

“Most of what we know about relationship problems comes from studies of people in couples therapy, which includes a fairly specific subset of people – people who have the time, money, and motivation to work. about their relationship issues, ”said Charlotte Entwistle, lead author of the study. “We wanted to understand not only which relationship issues are most commonly experienced by the general public, but who experiencing what problems more.

Using natural language processing methods, the team analyzed the demographic and psychological characteristics of more than 184,000 people who posted their relationship issues to an anonymous online forum. The researchers were then able to statistically determine the most common themes that emerged from each post, creating a “map” of the most common relationship issues.

The results showed that communication problems were the most frequently mentioned problem, with almost one in 5 people noting difficulty discussing the issues and 1 in 8 reporting problems with trust in their relationships.

Previously unexpected patterns also emerged from the data, including the main gender differences in which themes were used the most.

“As we conducted the study, we realized this was an important opportunity to test many common ideas about gender differences in relationships,” said Dr. Ryan Boyd, researcher. principal of the project. “For example, are men really less emotionally invested in relationships than women, or are men just stigmatized for sharing their feelings? “

The analyzes found that the theme most often mentioned by people talking about their relationship issues was emotional pain caused by the issues, rather than the issues themselves. The most common theme was “heartache” and consisted of words like regret, to break up, shout, and sorry.

Contrary to their expectations, the team’s results showed that men discuss grief much more than women. These results suggest that the stereotype that men are less emotionally invested in relationships than women may not be correct.

Charlottle Entwistle said: “Notably, the fact that the topic of heartache is brought up more often by men underlines how men are at least as emotionally affected by relationship problems as women.

Additionally, researchers found that men were more likely to seek relationship help than women in online environments.

Dr Ryan Boyd noted that “Traditionally, women are more likely to identify relationship problems, consider therapy and seek therapy than men. However, when you remove the traditional social stigma against men for asking for help and sharing their emotions, they seem just as invested in the tough times in their relationships as women do. “

The team’s findings have implications for the general public, as well as for clinical settings. Researchers noted that developing a more accurate picture of relationship issues helps us better understand when and why things go wrong in our relationships, potentially helping couples avoid the more common setbacks of romantic success. The study’s authors also suggest that the findings may also help de-stigmatize help-seeking by showing how common many relationship problems are and showing that men are just as likely as women to ask for help. help in the first place.

The researchers say this work also indicates important future directions for further research. “One of the most important things we see here is that we are able to create an incredibly accurate picture of the relationship issues that everyday people face based solely on what people are saying online.” said Dr Boyd. “It gives us serious hope that we can use help seeking behavior to better understand all types of social and psychological issues, and in ways that we simply cannot do using traditional research methods. . “


Entwistle C, Horn AB, Meier T, Boyd RL. Dirty Laundry: The Nature and Substance of Seeking Relationship Help From Strangers Online. Journal of social and personal relationships. Posted online October 23, 2021: 02654075211046635. doi: 10.1177 / 02654075211046635

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