Breakup Survival May Not Be So Hard
Many People Overestimate Distress After Relationships Go South, Study Shows
Aug. 21, 2007 - Surviving a breakup is easier than you think, according to a
Breaking up can be hard to do, just as the song suggests. But forget all
that other stuff promoted by country music -- moping around for months,
devouring tons of chocolate, becoming a hermit and whining that you'll never
find love again.
Turns out, ending a romantic relationship is more like ripping off a bandage
than enduring months of a terrible stomachache, at least for most people. The
problem is, most of us grossly overestimate how bad a breakup will be and how
long it will affect us, say Paul Eastwick and Eli Finkel, both psychology
researchers at Northwestern University who co-authored the new study.
"People seem to be very poor at predicting what their emotional
responses will be," says Finkel, PhD, an assistant professor of
psychology. He and Eastwick, a graduate student in psychology, found that
breakups are not nearly as difficult as people imagine.
"We're not trying to say that breakups are this wonderful, happy
experience," says Eastwick. "They are distressing. People do report an
elevation in their level of stress and distress. But when you ask people to
predict how bad it is going to be, they systematically think it is worse [than
it turns out to be]."
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Surviving a Breakup
Eastwick and Finkel asked 69 Northwestern University students, all freshmen
who had been in a dating relationship for two months or longer, to take part in
the study. The participants answered questions about their relationship, such
as how much in love they felt and how badly they would feel if it ended. Then,
they completed biweekly questionnaires online, reporting whether they were
still dating the person.
Eventually, the research focused on the 26 participants, including 16 men
and 10 women, whose romantic relationships ended during the first six months of
the study. On average, they had dated for 14 months at the beginning of the
If the relationship had ended, they answered questions about their distress
level over the next three months. The researchers compared the predicted
distress with actual distress at four different time points after the
Overall, the students predicted a much bleaker picture about surviving a
breakup than what emerged, Finkel and Eastwick found. No gender differences
were found in the mistaken predictions.
Especially likely to predict doom-and-gloom were those who had reported
being greatly in love with their partner, those who didn’t initiate the split,
and those who said they wouldn't be likely to start a new relationship soon if
the current one ended.