Men Are More Sensitive than Women when Having Relationship Problems

June 17, 2012

The common belief that women are more vulnerable when it comes to emotional ups and downs of romantic relationships has been challenged in a study from Wake Forest University. According to the Professor of Sociology Robin Simon, unhappy romances take a greater emotional toll on the mental health of young men than women, even though men sometimes try to appear tough. Guys just express their distress and vulnerability differently than women.

The study, which involved more than 1,000 unmarried young individuals between the ages of 18 and 23 years, came to the conclusion that young women have a harder time dealing with a breakup, but men are the ones who experience more stress and strain during the emotional rollercoaster of relationships. In other words, while women's mental health is more closely tied to their relationship status, single men's mental health is more tightly linked to the quality of their romantic relationships. So, the ladies tend to get depressed when the relationship ends and are happy by simply being in a relationship, and young guys are more emotionally affected by the relationship quality.

In addition, not only men experienced much more stress during rocky relationships, they also were found to get greater emotional and psychological benefits when the relationship was healthy. Researchers said that these findings contradict the stereotypic image of tough guys who cannot be affected by what happens in their intimate relationships.

Simon, along with a co-author Anne Barrett, associate professor of sociology at Florida State University, suggest a possible explanation for their findings: for young men, their romantic partners are often their primary source of intimacy, while young ladies tend to have more close social ties and are more likely to be closely connected with family and friends. This means that women might have more supportive people to talk to during tough times.

The experts said that for young men problems in an ongoing romantic relationship may also be linked to poor emotional well-being because they may be threatening their identity and feelings of self-worth. Also, Simon explained how different genders express emotional strain in different ways. For instance, while women are more likely to experience depression when they are hurt or sad, their male counterparts express their pain and sadness through abuse or substance use. The study found that the more relationship problems were experienced by men, the more likely they were to use substance abuse measures, including those that determine emotional issues associated with drug addiction. The majority of the young men in the study were either from families where mothers were employed outside the home, had fathers who were dependent on the mother's income, or have experienced a divorce in their family, and this, according to the authors, might make them more sensitive to the ups and downs of their own intimate relationship.

The previous studies have found that a part of women's brain that is linked to empathy and compassion is larger in size than men's, and therefore, right from the birth women are more nurturing. Another factor to be taken into consideration is that society trains girls to express their feelings and emotions, while boys are taught not to cry and not to show their vulnerable spots. In fact, researchers said, the only formally approved emotion for men to express publicly is anger. That is why it is not a surprise that men drown their sadness, vulnerability and emotional pain in alcohol and sometimes even drugs.

Simon and Barrett said that they still need much more research to carry out in order to learn about romantic relationships between men and women in early adulthood, and concentrate more on identity exploration, a focus on the self, and new relationships.

The findings are published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

Tags: Relationships

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