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Breakup Survival May Not Be So Hard

Many People Overestimate Distress After Relationships Go South, Study Shows
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Surviving a Breakup continued...

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 breakup.

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.

"People who were more in love with their partner were indeed a little more distressed after the breakup," says Finkel. "But they dramatically overestimated how distressed they would be [later]."

After the initial distress over the breakup, most felt better pretty quickly, the researchers say. “Our first assessment was approximately one week after the breakup,’’ Finkel says, “and the forecasting error [that they would feel distressed] was already apparent that soon after the breakup.”

“Participants were basically back to ‘normal’ -- their pre-breakup level of happiness -- at about the two-month mark,” Eastwick tells WebMD. “That’s on average, of course.”

The study is published in the Aug. 20 online issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Overestimating the Distress

How to explain the findings that surviving a breakup is easier than most people think it will be?

"People don’t know how resilient they are," Eastwick says.

It may be natural to over-predict distress right at the time of the breakup, says Eastwick, because "maybe when you are making those predictions, you are thinking about all the awful things [of not being in a relationship.]"

Soon after the split, however, the person may begin to think about good things that are happening or good things about being single, the researchers say. For instance, the students might look forward to going home at the end of the quarter and seeing old friends or of not having to coordinate schedules. Or it could dawn on them that they may meet someone new to date.

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