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Quantitative Sex Differences in Response to the Dissolution of a Romantic Relationship


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We gathered data that would allow us to examine evolutionarily informed predictions regarding emotional and physical responses to a breakup—a cluster of correlated responses we refer to as postrelationship grief (PRG). We tested predictions of the existing biological model of human mating and looked to replicate or expand on the extant literature by surveying 5,705 participants in 96 countries (Mage � 27 years). Seventy-five percent of respondents experienced a breakup and 75% of those individuals experienced multiple breakups. Most responses differed significantly by sex. Emotional response was more severe than physical, with women expressing higher levels than men in each instance. Distribution of responses was similar between sexes. Intensity of emotional response for both sexes was notable: median (and mean) response of nearly 7 (of 10). Component responses, both physical and emotional, again showed significant variation but similar distributions. Women initiated breakups more frequently. Rejected individuals experienced higher PRG levels than those initiating the breakup or breakups via mutual agreement; however, the PRG experience was still relatively severe for both parties. “Lack of communication,” was the most prevalent breakup cause. This initial investigation suggests that PRG requires continued study.
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Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences
Quantitative Sex Differences in Response to the
Dissolution of a Romantic Relationship
Craig Eric Morris, Chris Reiber, and Emily Roman
Online First Publication, July 13, 2015.
Morris, C. E., Reiber, C., & Roman, E. (2015, July 13). Quantitative Sex Differences in
Response to the Dissolution of a Romantic Relationship. Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences.
Advance online publication.
Quantitative Sex Differences in Response to the Dissolution of a
Romantic Relationship
Craig Eric Morris and Chris Reiber
Binghamton University (SUNY)
Emily Roman
University College London
We gathered data that would allow us to examine evolutionarily informed predictions
regarding emotional and physical responses to a breakup—a cluster of correlated
responses we refer to as postrelationship grief (PRG). We tested predictions of the
existing biological model of human mating and looked to replicate or expand on the
extant literature by surveying 5,705 participants in 96 countries (M
27 years).
Seventy-five percent of respondents experienced a breakup and 75% of those individ-
uals experienced multiple breakups. Most responses differed significantly by sex.
Emotional response was more severe than physical, with women expressing higher
levels than men in each instance. Distribution of responses was similar between sexes.
Intensity of emotional response for both sexes was notable: median (and mean)
response of nearly 7 (of 10). Component responses, both physical and emotional, again
showed significant variation but similar distributions. Women initiated breakups more
frequently. Rejected individuals experienced higher PRG levels than those initiating the
breakup or breakups via mutual agreement; however, the PRG experience was still
relatively severe for both parties. “Lack of communication,” was the most prevalent
breakup cause. This initial investigation suggests that PRG requires continued study.
relationship termination, sex differences, breakups, sexual strategies theory,
postrelationship grief
Romantic relationships appear to be a univer-
sal human experience (Fisher, 1995; Jankowiak,
1995). Most individuals will enter and exit a
series of romantic relationships throughout their
lifetimes based on their varying needs for ro-
mance, physical and emotional support, and
sexual exclusivity (Fisher, 2006a, 2006b;
Jankowiak, 2008). For the majority of individ-
uals, this process is cyclical; most relationships
are not “for life”—individuals will experience
failed relationships before (possibly) forming a
lifelong pair bond (Buss, 2003; Fisher, 2005).
Extant research has shown that upward of 85%
of individuals will experience at least one ro-
mantic relationship dissolution in their lifetime
(Battaglia, et al., 1998; Morris & Reiber, 2011).
The formation and maintenance of romantic
relationships is well represented in evolutionary
research. From Trivers’s (1972) parental invest-
ment model to Symons’s (1979) biological
model of human mating, through Buss’s (2003)
sexual strategies model of human sexual inter-
actions, the proximate mechanisms and behav-
iors (e.g., physical attraction, mate guarding,
sex) and ultimate causation (i.e., reproductive
success) of human romantic attachments have
been major topics of study for human behav-
ioral ecologists and evolutionary psychologists.
However, from an evolutionary perspective, the
termination of romantic relationships is less
Loss of a partner generally provokes concom-
itant emotional reactions. In The Nature of
Grief, Archer (1999) explored grief induced by
Craig Eric Morris and Chris Reiber, Department of An-
thropology, Binghamton University (SUNY); and Emily
Roman, Department of Psychology, University College
We thank Binghamton University’s Evolutionary Studies
Program (EvoS), which provided two grants in support of
the project. We thank Sheena Finlayson of Binghamton
University for her enthusiastic assistance with this ongoing
research program.
Correspondence concerning this article should be ad-
dressed to Craig Eric Morris, Department of Anthropology,
Binghamton University (SUNY), P.O. Box 6000, Bingham-
ton, NY 13902. E-mail:
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Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences © 2015 American Psychological Association
2015, Vol. 9, No. 3, 000 2330-2925/15/$12.00
widowhood, arguing that such grief is a result of
a “trade-off” between costs and benefits. Hu-
mans establish romantic bonds that have multi-
ple advantages and great adaptive value but
there is a cost—a series of emotions and behav-
ioral responses—if a partner dies. Archer called
this “the cost of commitment” (p. 62). Impor-
tantly, these responses are often magnified by
concurrent (possibly preexisting) mental and
physical traits of the individuals involved in the
breakup (e.g., anxiety, addictions, depression;
Barbara & Dion, 2000; Fisher, 2004; Mearns,
1991). Grief often leads to depression that is
often accompanied by, and inextricable from,
related states (e.g., sadness, demoralization,
guilt, boredom) (Keller & Nesse, 2005). Nesse
suggested that the failure of “major social en-
terprises” (e.g., romantic relationship, friend-
ships, careers) often leads to grief and serious
depression. Although the term breakup is a col-
loquialism, it will be used here as a way of
differentiating relationships dissolved by the
choice of one or more of the partners (the focus
of this study) from those terminated by the
death of a partner.
Breakups trigger an interrelated series of
emotions and behaviors (Bakermans-Kranen-
burg & van IJzendoora, 1997; Barbara & Dion,
2000; Fisher, 2006a; Morris & Reiber, 2011).
Boelen and Reijntjes (2009) found that those
who had preexisting issues with depression and
anxiety expressed stronger emotional problems
following a breakup. A longitudinal study on
forecasting error found that those who were
more in love with their partners, who thought it
was unlikely that they would soon enter a new
relationship, and who did not initiate the
breakup, made especially inaccurate predictions
about their responses to the breakup (Eastwick
et al., 2008). Fisher (2004) has argued that “We
humans are soft-wired to suffer terribly when
we are rejected by someone we adore” (p. 1).
After studying individuals who had recently
suffered a breakup, Fisher concluded that: (a)
being rejected in love is among the most painful
experiences a human being can endure; (b) de-
serted lovers often become obsessed with win-
ning back their former mate; (c) separation anx-
iety is expected; and (d) “abandonment rage” is
likely, particularly in men. We argue that, in
many relationships, Archer’s “cost of commit-
ment” must also be paid after a breakup, initi-
ating a complex suite of emotional states (e.g.,
depression, sadness, anxiety, rage), physical re-
sponses (e.g., insomnia, eating disorders, panic
attacks), and behaviors that we refer to as
postrelationship grief (PRG; Morris & Reiber,
Evolutionary approaches to romantic and
sexual relationships in humans are well repre-
sented in the psychological and biocultural lit-
erature. Drawing from the parental fitness
model of Trivers (1972), Symons (1979) pro-
posed a model of human pair bonds based on
gamete size and mobility, in which women are
predicted to invest more physical and emotional
resources in a romantic relationship than men,
due to the requisite evolved biological costs of
a possible pregnancy. Men, if they choose, can
exit a mating encounter with no risk of addi-
tional biological cost. The relatively low cost to
men leads to predictions of higher male promis-
cuity (Symons, 1979). This is the “investment
model” of human pair bonding. Buss (2003)
extended this line of reasoning to include the
“men compete/women chose” model of pair
bonding. This model proposed that men must
acquire and situate their resources in such a way
that they can win intrasexual competitions and
secure mating partners who are carefully eval-
uating men based on their resource acquisition,
display, and deployment (Buss, 2003). Addi-
tionally, Clutton-Brock and Vincent (1991)
demonstrated the sex that has a faster potential
reproductive rate (in this case, men) will face
higher intrasexual competition for mates while
the sex with a slower reproductive rate (women)
will be more selective when choosing potential
In short, (a) men must compete among them-
selves for mate access to a higher degree than
women and are more prone to want multiple
mates (Schmitt, Shackelford, & Buss, 2001);
and (b) women, in general, are expected to be
more selective in choosing a mate, particularly
when employing a long-term mating strategy
because they are likely to need various forms of
assistance (e.g., time, energy, resources) to re-
produce successfully (Buss & Shackelford,
2008). However, conflicting predictions con-
cerning males’ responses to breakups can be
derived from these premises. If males are se-
lected to be highly competitive and promiscu-
ous, the termination of a relationship should not
be particularly traumatic to males, because they
will quickly move to another female. However,
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if females are particularly choosy concerning
partners, the termination of a relationship
should be highly traumatic for males, because
they may expect to have a difficult time accru-
ing a new mate. In addition, it is likely that
those employing a short-term mating strategy
(both women and men) may experience break-
ups differently than those employing a long-
term strategy. However, we know of no current
metric that allows for inclusion of this variable,
because it has been argued that individuals are
likely not consciously aware of the particular
mating “strategy” they are employing at any
given time (Buss, 2003).
Breakups happen to the majority of individ-
uals at some point in their life, usually more
than once, and have the potential to be one of
the most traumatic experiences individuals may
ever face in their lives (Chung et al., 2003;
Fisher, 2004). As part of sexual strategies the-
ory, Buss enumerated the causes for failure of
romantic relationships for ancestral humans.
These include: partner imposing unacceptable
costs, lost resource availability due to illness or
injury, infertility, infidelity, lost mating oppor-
tunities, compelling mating alternatives becom-
ing available, inadequate care for children, psy-
chological abuse, physical abuse, and death of a
partner (Buss, 2003; Schmitt & Shackelford,
2003). More recently, Wade (2012) demon-
strated that sexual conflict—which may include,
but is not limited to infidelity (e.g., unmet sex-
ual expectations, insufficient communication re-
garding sexual behaviors)—is a cause for rela-
tionship dissolution; in this particular instance,
it the man who is more likely to initiate the
breakup with the woman. In a pilot study of
1,735 university students, Morris and Reiber
(2011) found that for individuals who had ex-
perienced a breakup: the termination of a ro-
mantic relationship elicited dramatic physical
and emotional responses in over 95% of respon-
dents and both men and women experienced
PRG with virtually identical frequency and in-
tensity, but expressed PRG very differently.
One study that explored the cause of and
responses to breakups using an explicit evolu-
tionary model found that women had more neg-
ative feelings following a breakup than men
(Perilloux & Buss, 2008). This finding con-
trasted with previous studies that suggested it is
men who experience breakups with stronger
negative emotions than women (Choo et al.,
1996; Sprecher, 1994; Sprecher et al., 1998).
Perilloux and Buss (2008) also found that
women tend to report more personal growth
after breakup, which mirrors the findings of
other research (Bevvino & Sharkin, 2003;
Mearns, 1991; Tashiro & Frazier, 2003). A ma-
jor finding of Perilloux and Buss was that those
who initiated the breakup had significantly dif-
ferent emotional responses than those who were
In contrast to most previous work in this area,
which been based on small college samples, the
current study undertook to investigate breakups
in a large-scale population-based sample in-
cluding variables related to more representative
ranges of cultural, temporal, and sexual ecolo-
gies. We set out to investigate whether results
from earlier work would be replicated in a large
sample and whether existing and expanded pre-
dictions about breakup response are supported.
We predicted that men and women would vary
in their expression of PRG behavior, but that the
intensity of the experience would be more sim-
ilar than we would expect by using the men
compete/women chose model. We predicted
that the party who was rejected in the relation-
ship would suffer higher overall PRG but we
also predicted that, in most instances, both par-
ties would suffer relatively high PRG levels.
We sought to explore the causes of relationship
dissolution and to evaluate whether the pre-
dicted evolutionary causes (e.g., male infidelity,
infertility) would be represented in a large,
cross-cultural population. Lastly, we sought to
explore the intensity and expression of PRG in
a large population to evaluate whether the ex-
periences reported by this population would dif-
fer from or replicate prior findings (Perilloux &
Buss, 2008; Morris & Reiber, 2011).
Two studies were conducted online between
June 2012 and March 2013. The invitations and
survey questions were only offered in English.
A secure link led to the survey instructions.
Participants were told this was an academic
survey about past romantic relationship experi-
ences, that responses were confidential, and that
they: were not obligated to answer all questions,
could quit the survey at any time, and could take
as much time as needed (although each survey
was designed to be completed in approximately
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15 min). Respondents could not access either
survey until agreeing to participate in the study,
and were given contact information for the prin-
cipal investigator if they had questions or con-
cerns related to the study. No tangible material
or monetary compensation was offered to par-
ticipants. This method of acquiring an informed
consent follows the recommendations of the
Board of Scientific Affairs’ Advisory Group on
the Conduct of Research on the Internet (Kraut
et al., 2004). The surveys were hosted by Qual-
trics, which has SAS 70 Certification and meets
the privacy standards of the Health Insurance
Portability and Accountability Act. Qualtrics
provides a filter option that permits only one
survey submission from any individual IP ad-
dress to prevent “ballot stuffing.” This filter
option was in effect for both surveys (i.e., no
individual could take both surveys from the
same IP address). All responses were labeled
with random 15-digit alphanumeric codes, and
no other identifying information was associated
with any responses. No names or email ad-
dresses were collected during recruitment or
data analyses. These studies were approved by
Binghamton University’s Human Subjects Re-
search Review Committee, and all research was
performed by certified investigators who con-
formed to the guidelines for the ethical treat-
ment of human subjects.
Approximately 295,000 individuals were in-
vited and 5,705 participated, a response rate of
1.8%. Study B invitations were sent to different
individuals than Study A, but an attempt was
made to keep the approximate proportions of
invitations comparable (i.e., total numbers of
Facebook invitations, academic listervs, and on-
line forums were comparable). The total num-
ber of invitees (about 295,000) reflects only
recorded contacts—the true reach of the survey
is unknowable (e.g., a department chair may
have taken the survey, distributed it to her de-
partment, distributed it university-wide, or all/
some/none of these actions).
Survey contacts were invited to participate in
a brief survey on romantic relationships. No
mention of breakups, divorce, or relationship
termination was made in the invitation. Partic-
ipants provided demographic information and
responses to questions about romantic relation-
ship history and, if applicable, breakups (e.g.,
Have you experienced a breakup? How severe
was the breakup for you emotionally? Who do
you feel initiated the breakup? What sort of
physical responses did you experience as a re-
sult of the breakup?). If respondents had expe-
rienced multiple breakups, they were asked to
identify and confine responses to one breakup of
their choosing (e.g., the most recent, the one
that affected them most). Respondents were
asked to report a self-assessment of their mate
value— using whatever criteria they felt was
applicable—and to rate their emotional re-
sponse and physical response to their selected
breakup on a scale from 0 (none)to10(unbear-
able). Participants were also asked to identify
the components of their emotional and physical
responses; they were provided a list of common
responses that was generated from earlier pilot
research, and were asked to endorse as many as
applied to them. For analysis purposes, total
response was calculated by summing (emo-
tional response physical response) to reflect
how severe a breakup experience was, overall,
on a scale from 1–20. In direct tests of a priori
predictions, we used a two-tailed alpha level of
.05 and calculated Cohen’s d as a measure of
effect size.
The two surveys (A and B) differed in two
major ways. First, due to the high level of
“other” responses to multiple choice questions
(e.g., breakup cause) in Survey A, Survey B was
modified to include a text box allowing partic-
ipants to specify or elaborate on what they
meant by “other.” Because the analysis of these
textual responses is beyond the scope of this
article, quantitative data from the two studies
were combined when possible for the analyses
shown here. In addition, initial analysis demon-
strated that depression was often accompanied
by sadness, yet sadness itself was so frequently
mentioned in the optional commentaries in Sur-
vey A that it was added as an additional cate-
gory of emotional response in Survey B.
Table 1
Demographic Information for Participants Who
Experienced a Breakup
Demographic variables Men Women
N 1,490 2,834
Age, years 26.8 (4.66) 26.46 (4.07)
Income, U.S.$ 26,714 (2.96) 22,589 (2.51)
Self-reported mate value
7.64 (2.01) 7.88 (1.93)
Note. Values are N or M (SD).
Scale range: 1–10.
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Of the approximately 295,000 invited individ-
uals, 5,705 participated. These individuals repre-
sented 96 countries and all 20 of the of the U.S.
Census Bureau occupation types. Only 38% of
respondents were undergraduate or graduate stu-
dents. The five countries with the most respon-
dents were the United States (63%), India (7%),
Canada (5%), and the United Kingdom and Ger-
many (3% each); the remaining 91 countries rep-
resented only 19% of respondents. Demographic
information on survey participants can be seen in
Table 1. Both samples included individuals from
all sexual orientations self-selected from the fol-
lowing choices: exclusively heterosexual, mostly
heterosexual, bisexual, mostly homosexual, exclu-
sively homosexual, asexual, and other. The pro-
portion of self-selected sexual orientation of re-
spondents can be seen in Table 2. The PRG
experiences of this substantial population are the
topic of a forthcoming publication.
Respondents reported self-assessments of mate
value on a scale from 1–10, with 10 being highest.
Men (N 1,092) reported a mean mate value of
7.54 (SD 1.95, Mdn 8); women (N 1,756)
reported a mean mate value of 7.84 (SD 1.81,
Mdn 8). In this sample, over 90% of individuals
rated themselves as 7 on a 10-point Mate Value
Scale, which rendered that metric unusable in our
analyses. Across both surveys, 2,834 women
(84%) and 1,490 men (79%) reported experienc-
ing a breakup. Of these, 2,318 women (82%) and
1,159 men (78%) experienced multiple breakups.
Of those who had experienced multiple breakups,
women experienced an average of 4.10 (SD
2.58) and men, 3.86 (SD 2.22). These respon-
dents were asked to address one breakup of their
choosing for the remainder of the survey queries.
The length of these selected relationships aver-
aged 2.9 years (SD 2.68) for women (N
2,813) and 2.51 years (SD 2.47) for men (N
1,482), t 4.576 (4,158), p .001. Responses
addressing relationship length were not submitted
by .07% of women and .05% of men. For women
(N 2,695), the mean level of emotional response
was 6.84 (SD 2.52) and for men (N 1,409),
6.58 (SD 2.58), t(4102) 3.115, p .002, d
.102. This difference was statistically significant,
but with a very small effect size. Physical re-
sponse levels were lower overall; the mean PR for
women (N 2,682) was 4.21 (SD 2.94) and for
men (N 1,398), 3.75 (SD 2.93), t(4078)
4.677, p .001, d .157. Again, the sex differ-
ence was statistically significant, but with a small
effect size. The distribution of physical and emo-
tional response levels by all respondents of each
sex can be seen in Figure 1. The basic components
of emotional and physical responses identified by
all male and female respondents are shown in
Figure 2. The initiator of the breakup, as reported
by all respondents of each sex, is shown in Figure
3. Figure 4 shows emotional, physical, and total
response levels.
Respondents to Survey A were asked what caused
their breakup.
Response options were not mutually
exclusive. The results for women (N 1,966) and
men (N 1,125) are shown in Figure 5. The emo-
tional, physical, and total response based on the
cause of breakup is shown by sex in Figure 6.
The purpose of this study was to examine
evolutionarily informed predictions regarding
emotional and physical responses to a break-
up—a cluster of correlated responses that we
refer to as PRG. We sought to test multiple
Respondents to Survey B were asked to “describe what
caused your breakup” in text form only. This resulted in
1,123 responses, totaling 40,752 words. These results re-
quire qualitative analyses that are beyond the scope of this
initial inquiry.
Table 2
Distribution of Male and Female Self-Reported Sexual Orientation
heterosexual Bisexual
homosexual Asexual
Men 72% 11% 5% 2% 7% 1% 2%
Women 61% 21% 8% 2% 3% 3% 2%
From the Asexual Visibility and Education Network: “Asexuals may regard other people as aesthetically attractive without
feeling sexual attraction to them. Some asexual people also experience the desire of being romantically attracted to other
people without it being sexual” (Asexual Visibility and Education Network, n.d.).
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Distribution of Response Levels to a Breakup
Emotional Response Level
stnednopseR fo noitropo
Physical Response Level
stnednopseR fo noitroporP
Figure 1. Distribution of emotional (A) and physical (B) response levels to a breakup, by
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
predictions of the biological model stemming
from the work of Trivers (1972), Symons
(1979), and Buss (2003), and looked to replicate
or expand on the extant findings.
Nearly three quarters of respondents had ex-
perienced a breakup. Of these respondents, an
additional three quarters had experienced mul-
tiple breakups—roughly four each for both
sexes. Because the mean age of respondents of
both sexes was approximately 27 years, we con-
clude that having multiple breakups, relatively
early in life, is the norm rather than the excep-
tion. This suggests that just as mate attraction,
mate guarding, and mate retention tactics are
products of evolution, so too must be PRG
itself, as well as a means of mitigating the PRG
experience and “moving on.” As Fisher (2004)
asked: “Why did our ancestors evolve brain
links to cause us to hate the one we love?
Perhaps because it enabled jilted lovers to ex-
tricate themselves and start again” (p. 43).
In most instances, the mean responses to a
breakup differed significantly by sex, however,
virtually all effect sizes (using Cohen’s d) were
negligible to small. Emotional response to a
breakup was substantially more severe than phys-
ical response for both sexes, with women express-
ing significantly higher levels than men in each
Component Responses of Those Who Experienced A Breakup
Emotional Response
Anger Anxiety DepressionNumbness Fear Lost Focus Inabilty
stnednopseR fo noitroporP
Physical Response
Food Panic Immune Insomnia Weight
R f
Figure 2. Components of emotional (A) and physical responses (B) to a breakup, by sex.
The x axis legend in panel A is Anger; Anxiety; Depression; Emotional numbness; Fear;
General loss of focus; and Inability to function at school or work. The x axis legend in panel
B is Nausea and/or inability to eat; Panic attacks; Reduced immune system function;
Insomnia; and Unwanted weight loss/gain.
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instance. However, the distribution of responses is
remarkably similar across the sexes—an occur-
rence not predicted by a coarse interpretation of
the biological model. Equally striking is the inten-
sity of the emotional response for both sexes.
Considering that a response level of 0 indicated
“no effect” while 10 indicated “unbearable,” the
median (and mean) response of nearly 7 for both
men and women is notable. As with intensity of
response, the component responses, both physical
and emotional, showed statistically significant
variation in most instances, but similar distribu-
tions by sex. Important, perhaps predictably, is the
higher rate of a “fear” response in women as well
as the extremely high rate of insomnia for both
men and women. Unwanted weight loss or gain
was also far more common in women than men,
but if the qualitative analyses mirror our pilot
study (Morris & Reiber, 2011), this response will,
contrary to the stereotype, involve substantial un-
wanted weight loss.
Women initiated breakups more often than
men. Women reported initiating the breakup
39% of the time versus men at 37%, with a
mutual decision at 24%. Men reported initiating
the breakup 28% of time versus women at 47%,
with a mutual decision at 25%. These findings
mirror the trend, but to a lesser degree than
those found in a 100-year survey of U.S. di-
vorce rates by Brinig and Allen (2000), who
found that women initiated the divorce in al-
most 70% of legal cases. Those who were re-
jected also suffered significantly higher levels
of overall PRG than those who initiated the
breakup or in instances where the relationship
was dissolved by mutual agreement. However,
it should be noted that, regardless of the initia-
tor, the PRG experience was still relatively se-
vere for both parties.
The biological model suggests that infidelity,
primarily male, is by far the most common
cause of breakups (Symons, 1979; Einon, 1994;
Buss & Schmitt, 1993; Drigotas & Barta, 2001;
Schmitt et al., 2001). The data from this larger
population does not support that argument.
“Lack of communication” was selected nearly
twice as often as infidelity, by roughly half of
men and women as the number one reason for
the breakup. However, these causal options
were not mutually exclusive and, furthermore,
the high rate of “other” as a breakup cause
clearly demonstrates that the complexity of this
phenomenon requires additional study.
This initial investigation into PRG suggests that
the topic is one that avails itself to continued
study. Although the survey response rates were
low (approximately 2%), the sample size is quite
large. Also, the attentiveness with which partici-
pants engaged the surveys (approximately 87% of
participants completed the full survey) and the
surfeit of qualitative data gathered from the op-
tional additional comments (over 400,000 words
of text) suggest that continued investigation along
these lines will provide meaningful information
on relationship termination.
Limitations and Future Directions
Any Internet-based survey presents its own
set of limitations. The reach of the surveys in
unknowable, and therefore a true response rate
is incalculable. However, valuable data are at-
Self Partner Mutual
stnednopseR fo noitroporP
F=34.8; df=1; p<.0001
Figure 3. Initiator of breakup by sex. F(1) 34.8, p .001.
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Emotional Response
Self Partner Mutual
)01-1( leveL esnopseR lanoitomE
Total Response
Self Partner Mutual
Physical Response
Self Partner Mutual
F=855.0; df=1; p<.0001
F=1173.3; df=1; p<.0001
Figure 4. Mean (standard deviation) emotional (A), physical (B), and total (C) response
levels by initiator of breakup and sex. Panel A: F(1) 1,291.2, p .001; panel B: F(1)
855.0, p .001; and panel C: F(1) 1,173.3, p .001.
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tainable using the Internet if the project is ap-
proached in a logical and diligent manner (e.g., be
inclusive with the targeting of groups, striving for
representative group samples). Moreover, anony-
mous and confidential Internet-based research is
an ideal way to let subjects “speak with their own
voice” on sensitive topics (e.g., sexual behavior,
pornography use, sexually transmitted infections)
without interviewer bias and other dilemmas as-
sociated with lab interviews.
In addition, the survey was offered only in
English—a conscious choice. Although the sur-
vey host service offered thorough translation
options, we felt the subject matter and question
wording would, literally, get lost in translation.
Hence, although 89 countries are represented,
the participants were all English speakers. This
may alter the true “cross-cultural” nature of the
As with any survey instrument, particularly
one distributed internationally, survey design
is fundamental. To ensure that our data cap-
tured the reality of participants, our method-
ology included a pilot survey, an initial sur-
vey, and a final survey that were refined at
each step to address any issues that appeared.
For example, participants spontaneously
noted “sadness” so often in the “other” cate-
gory of Survey A’s emotional responses (via
optional comments) that we included it as a
separate category in Survey B—one that was
widely selected (83% of men and 82% of
women selected this new category in Survey
B). This is a key example of letting subjects
speak for themselves.
Mate value clearly plays a major role in any
study of this type (Buss & Schmitt, 1993). How-
ever, in this sample, over 90% of individuals
rated themselves as 7 on a 10-point Mate
Value Scale with a median value of 8, which
rendered that metric unusable in our analyses. A
more sophisticated survey instrument would
yield more accurate information that would be
particularly valuable as related mate value dif-
ferences in PRG response.
Cause of Breakup
Lack of communication
Actions of others
stnednopseR fo noitroporP
F=161.1; df=4; p<.0001
Figure 5. Distribution of cause of breakup as reported by sex. F(4) 161.1, p .001.
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Physical Response
Cause of Breakup
Lack of communication
Actions o
( l
nopseR lacisyhP
Emotional Response
Cause of Breakup
Lack of communication
ctions of others
opseR lano
F=8973.1; df=1; p<.0001
F=532.8; df=1; p<.0001
Total Response
Cause of Breakup
Lack of communica
Actions of othe
)02-1( leveL esnopseR latoT
F=13212.7; df=1; p<.0001
Figure 6. Mean (standard deviation) emotional (A), physical (B), and total (C) response
levels by cause of breakup and sex. Panel A: F(1) 8,973.1, p .001; panel B: F(1) 532.8,
p .001; and panel C: F(1) 1,3212.7, p .001.
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Lastly, as with any study of this scope on a
complex human behavior, more questions were
raised than were answered. Other lines of in-
quiry are apparent and immediate:
1. Will the information gathered vary and/or
be correlated with complex identities
(e.g., relationship history, life history
stage, sexual identity)?
2. Does the PRG experience vary cross-
culturally and, if so, in what ways?
3. A pilot study (Morris & Reiber, 2011)
demonstrated that men and women may
“feel” a breakup in similar ways, but their
postbreakup behavior varies dramatically.
Will this finding be replicated in this
wider sample?
4. What is causing the “second peak” in
physical response levels? Is it individual-
based (e.g., a result of attachment style,
relationship history, age) or relationship-
based (e.g., dependent on the cause of the
5. Of particular importance as this project
moves beyond simple sex differences is
whether intrasexual variation in PRG re-
sponse may be more significant than inter-
sexual variation in both intensity and ex-
6. Lastly, in our pilot study and both iterations
of the survey reported here, women consis-
tently participated nearly three times as often
as did men. How do we gather more infor-
mation on the experiences of men, and what
will we find? Are they the epitome of the
“promiscuous male” who has so little invest-
ment in relationships that they have no re-
sponse to a breakup and thus no reason to
participate in such a study? Are they exam-
ples of the purported “loser male” who has
limited access to a romantic partner?
We suggest that men who recover quickly
from a breakup while experiencing low levels
of PRG may be those who possess sufficient
resources so that future mates will readily
choose them. Males who have low resources
and are unlikely to be selected by “choosey
women” should experience severe and long-
lasting PRG. However, by expressing a strong
negative response to a breakup, a man may be
signaling to rivals and potential future part-
ners that he expects to have a difficult time
acquiring a new mate—a behavior that is,
evolutionarily, harmful to reproductive suc-
cess. Therefore, the most adaptive behavior
for men who have experienced a recent
breakup may be to behave as if the breakup
has not affected them—men who are “win-
ners” would not care about the breakup be-
cause they would have the ability to quickly
move on to another relationship. Conversely,
or perhaps for this very reason, is it possible
that a portion of the male population suffers
PRG so severely that they are unable even to
consider participation in any such study that
addresses a past romantic failure?
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Received February 12, 2015
Revision received May 18, 2015
Accepted May 18, 2015
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... Yttredahl et al. (2018) specifically recruited female participants based on evidence that failed interpersonal relationships are more predictive of depression in women than in men (Kendler, Hettema, Butera, Gardner, & Prescott, 2003), and that women have an increased likelihood of depression (Weissman et al., 1996) and are more prone to depression relapse (Oquendo et al., 2013). However, research also indicates that the intensity of the emotional response following a romantic relationship breakup does not differ based on sex and remains notable for men (Morris, Reiber, & Roman, 2015). Similar findings have been found in terms of recovery following a romantic relationship breakup (Barber & Cooper, 2014). ...
... This highlights the underrepresentation of men in research on RAR. However, research indicates that the recovery (Barber & Cooper, 2014) and the intensity of the emotional response following a romantic relationship breakup remains significant for men (Morris et al., 2015). Thus, it is important for future research not to disregard the experiences of men and to be more inclusive of men. ...
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Romantic attachment rejection (RAR) is a highly prevalent phenomenon among young adults. Rejection by a romantic attachment figure can be a painful and incapacitating experience with lasting negative mental health sequelae, yet the underlying neurobiology of RAR is not well characterized. We systematically reviewed functional neuroimaging studies of adult RAR. Four functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies that measured participants’ responses to real or imagined RAR and met inclusion criteria were evaluated. These included studies were published between 2004 and 2018. Brain activity in adult participants with an RAR appears to be influenced by the stimulus used to elicit a reaction as well as by attachment styles. Brain regions that show a significant change in activation following a rejection stimulus include cortical regions (cingulate, insular, orbitofrontal, and prefrontal), and subcortical regions (angular gyrus, hippocampus, striatum, tegmental area, and temporal pole) and correspond to (i) pain, distress, and memory retrieval; (ii) reward, romantic love, and dopaminergic circuits; and (iii) emotion regulation and behavioural adaptation. Further neuroimaging studies of adult RAR, as moderated by stimulus and attachment style, are needed to better understand the underlying neurobiology of RAR.
... Therefore, the romantic relationships dissolution could not bring higher levels of break-up distress to males. Besides, a survey of 5705 adults in 96 countries and regions showed that males suffer less physical and emotional distress than females after the romantic relationships end (Morris, 2015). However, contrary to the above research results, some researchers had different findings. ...
... However, the results revealed that males experienced more break-up distress. Although, this finding differs from some published studies (Field et al., 2009;Perilloux & Buss, 2008), it is consistent with the other studies (Carter et al., 2019;Hill et al., 1976;Knox et al., 2000;Morris, 2015). In unmarried romantic relationships, females are more cautious when choosing their partners, and are more inclined to stop losses in time once they detect problems (Hill et al., 1976). ...
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It has been well documented that Machiavellianism has a positive effect on break-up distress. However, there are few research explored the internal mechanism. In this study, we investigated the mediating role of self-concealment and the moderating role of gender. Machiavellianism Personality Scale, Self-Concealment Scale and Break-up Distress Scale was distributed through an online questionnaire platform. A sample of 869 undergraduate students was received, and their age ranged from 16 to 25 years old (M = 19.48, SD = 1.15). As we predicted, the relationship between Machiavellianism and break-up distress was partially mediated by self-concealment. The direct effect of Machiavellianism on break-up distress and the mediating effect of self-concealment were moderated by gender. Specifically, compared with boys, the effect of Machiavellianism on self-concealment was stronger for girls, while the effect of Machiavellianism on break-up distress was stronger for boys. These findings confirm how Machiavellianism affects break-up distress and provide new intervention ideas for solving the psychological crisis of college students after the dissolution of romantic relationships.
... What is particularly revealing from our analyses is that the main motivators identified for relationship help-seeking in the digital space were generally consistent with the main reasons for seeking relationships help identified from previous research in more traditional, professional contexts. Specifically, in line with previous research highlighting communication difficulty as the most common motivator for seeking professional relationship help (Doss et al., 2004;Duncan et al., 2020;Roddy et al., 2019), as well as being the leading cause for romantic breakups (Morris et al., 2015), communication was also found to be the most-discussed relationship problem within our sample (discounting the general topic of heartache). Other core themes captured from the r/relationships discussions are also consistent with the main reasons for professional relationship helpseeking, such as issues relating to intimacy, trust, finances, and housework. ...
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Interpersonal relationships are vital to our well-being. In recent years, it has become increasingly common to seek relationship help through anonymous online platforms. Accordingly, we conducted a large-scale analysis of real-world relationship help-seeking to create a descriptive overview of the nature and substance of online relationship help-seeking. By analyzing the demographic characteristics and language of relationship help-seekers on Reddit ( N = 184,631), we establish the first-ever big data analysis of relationship help-seeking and relationship problems in situ among the general population. Our analyses highlight real-world relationship struggles found in the general population, extending beyond past work that is typically limited to counseling/intervention settings. We find that relationship problem estimates from our sample are closer to those found in the general population, providing a more generalized insight into the distribution and prevalence of relationship problems as compared with past work. Further, we find several meaningful associations between relationship help-seeking behavior, gender, and attachment. Notably, numerous gender differences in help-seeking and romantic attachment emerged. Our findings suggest that, contrary to more traditional contexts, men are more likely to seek help with their relationships online, are more expressive of their emotions (e.g., discussing the topic of “heartache”), and show language patterns generally consistent with more secure attachment. Our analyses highlight pathways for further exploration, providing even deeper insights into the timing, lifecycle, and moderating factors that influence who, what, why, and how people seek help for their interpersonal relationships.
... This investigation shed light on how the loss of a relationship could trigger both a prolonged grieving process and depression. Likewise, a study that developed an instrument for measuring yearning found that it was a significant factor during the grieving process after the death of a loved one, a romantic breakup, or homesickness [62]. Such findings could imply that a grieving process where yearning is present could be experienced after a social loss related not to death, but to a change in a relationship dynamic. ...
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... Secondly, instead of stress-provoking, romantic relationship dissolution can sometimes be stressrelieving and not-applicable for this hypothesis. Thirdly, despite potential biases in participant recruitment and study design, sex differences in emotional responsiveness (36) and resilience (37) to romantic relationship dissolution are suggested. A significant sex difference in depression prevalence is also wellacknowledged (38). ...
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... Laut einer neueren Studie, in der 5.705 Personen in über 96 Ländern befragt wurden, leiden Frauen zwar emotional und physisch heftiger unter einer Trennung, jedoch verarbeiten sie diese dadurch auch besser. Dies unterstützt die Annahme, Männer verdrängen ein Beziehungsende eher als Frauen (Morris 2015). ...
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... Women blame their male partners more often for breakups than men blame their female partners (Choo et al., 1996). In addition, women more frequently report problematic partner behaviors as the reason for a breakup, such as infidelity, substance abuse, and mental or physical abuse (Amato & Previti, 2003;Morris, Reiber, & Roman, 2015). Men, in contrast, are more likely to claim that they do not know what caused their past breakups (Amato & Previti, 2003). ...
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Love has been ignored in group analysis for too long. This article describes different forms of love and attachment love styles. Techniques to assess and work with love are introduced. The social unconscious of love and lovesickness must be made conscious to prevent it from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Technologies impact on dating, relationships and love. Groups can help patients address feelings and behaviour arising from these. Love can be curative provided psychotherapists allow loving feelings to emerge in therapy and work with them. Frequently, being in love or unrequited love results in irrational, destructive behaviour, sorrow and disenfranchised grief. Why love can be disappointing is discussed. Since lovesickness may be diagnosed as depression, using the term lovesickness for emotions and behaviour arising from love related difficulties is proposed. This reduces stigma, because lovesickness is normal.
Romantic heartbreak is common, affects all genders, and does not spare the adolescent or adult. While some recover and experience growth beyond their pre-break-up state, others do not fully recover. What are the factors that facilitate or impede recovery? Could there be restoration for heartbreak? These are some questions that this study set out to explore. Using a phenomenological lens, eight Caucasian adult females who self-reported as experiencing heartbreak from heterosexual and same sex relationships were interviewed. Emerging themes from transcribed and coded interviews included relational evolution, decline, end, rumination, and recovery. While each relational phase transitioned to the next, the path of rumination influenced participants’ level of recovery. Results indicated that participants who exhibited productive rumination eventually achieved a state of mental and spiritual renewal. Several implications are discussed, including how counselors may help to facilitate productive client rumination and renewal post heartbreak.
Ghosting is a relationship dissolution strategy in which the ghoster elects to cease all forms of communication with their partner without explanation. The partner tends to be unaware that they are being ghosted. As a result, the ghosted partner is left to manage and understand what lack of his/her partner’s communication means. The present study was designed to explore if people who are ghosted are more likely to ghost others by analyzing to what extent ghosting initiation is correlated with ghosting victimization, and by also examining to what extent intentions to ghost are related to ghosting behaviors (both being ghosted and being a ghoster). It also examined the relations between ghosting initiation behavior and intention and individual, interpersonal and relationship factors, such as self-esteem, sense of power, moral disengagement, assertiveness, empathy concern and conflict resolution styles. Data were collected from 626 adults (mean age = 29.64 years; SD = 8.84) using online surveys. This study confirmed a close connection between ghosting initiation and ghosting victimization, and a moderate one between ghosting initiation and intentions to ghost. However, the majority of the examined factors did not correlate with ghosting behavior and intention, or displayed weak relations. The present findings suggest that ghosting is an emerging phenomenon in modern communication that warrants further investigation.
Full-text available
Following the break-up of a romantic relationship, individuals experience varying degrees and constellations of emotional and physical trauma. Colloquially referred to as "heartbreak," we term this experience post-relationship grief (PRG). A strict adherence to sexual strategies theory suggests that males and females may experience PRG differently since males have evolved to favor promiscuity and females, to favor mate stability. This suggests that PRG may be more pronounced in females than males. Another plausible argument could be made that since males must compete for mates in this model, a breakup signals a costly resumption of mate competition tactics for males. To evaluate these predictions, we analyzed quantitative and qualitative data collected through a self-report questionnaire that was administered to 1735 university students. Three times as many females as males responded, and nearly four times as many females offered free-response comments when prompted. Of the 98% of respondents who reported experiencing a breakup, 96% reported emotional trauma (such as anger, depression and anxiety) and 93% physical trauma (such as nausea, sleep loss and weight loss). The intensity of PRG was virtually indistinguishable between males and females. However, the expression of PRG varied between genders across a series of recurring themes; females focused on broad self-esteem and trust issues, while males reflected more narrowly on the actual intensity and duration of PRG. PRG levels were lower in individuals initiating the breakups than in those who did not.
Full-text available
The purpose of this investigation was to identify the factors associated with the distress experienced after the breakup of a romantic relationship, both at the time of the breakup (assessed retrospectively) and at the time the questionnaire was completed. Four categories of variables were examined as possible correlates of post-breakup distress: variables associated with the initiation of the relationship, characteristics of the relationship while it was intact, conditions at the time of the breakup and individual difference variables. The sample consisted of 257 young adults (primarily college students; 83 male and 174 female) who had experienced a recent breakup (M = 21 weeks since breakup). The variables most highly associated with distress at the time of the breakup were non-mutuality in alternatives (i.e. partner having more inter-est in alternatives), commitment, satisfaction, greater effort in relationship initiation, being `left' by the other and fearful attachment style. The variables most highly associated with current distress were commitment, duration of the relationship, fearful attachment style, dismissing attachment style and time since breakup.
Sexual conflict-what happens when the reproductive interests of males and females diverge-occurs in all sexually reproducing species, including humans. This book is the first volume to assemble the latest theoretical and empirical work on sexual conflict in humans from the leading scholars in the fields of evolutionary psychology and anthropology. Following an introductory section that outlines theory and research on sexual conflict in humans and non-humans, ensuing sections discuss human sexual conflict and its manifestations before and during mating. Articles in these sections address a range of factors topics and factors, including: sexual coercion, jealousy, and partner violence and killing; the ovulatory cycle, female orgasm, and sperm competition; chemical warfare between ejaculates and female reproductive tracts. Articles in the next section address issues of sexual conflict after the birth of a child. These articles address sexual conflict as a function of the local sex ratio, men's functional (if unconscious) concern with paternal resemblance to a child, men's reluctance to pay child support, and mate expulsion as a tactic to end a relationship. The book's concluding section includes an article that considers the impact of sexual conflict on a grander scale, notably on cultural, political, and religious systems. Addressing sexual conflict at its molecular and macroscopic levels, it is a resource for the study of intersexual behavior.
Is a relationship breakup harder on certain people? To address this question, the present study investigated the relationship of individuals' attachment styles to various reported aspects of a relationship's dissolution: initiation of the breakup, emotional reactions to the breakup, reasons for the breakup, and experiences and perceptions following the breakup. One hundred nineteen undergraduates completed an extensive questionnaire concerning a past romantic relationship that had broken up. Feeney, Noller, and Hanrahan's (1994) Attachment Style Questionnaire (ASQ) provided continuous measures for five attachment styles or "attitudes": confidence, discomfort with closeness, need for approval, preoccupation with relationships, and relationships as secondary. Principal-components analyses served to derive criterion indexes from the breakup questionnaire measures, which were individually regressed on the five ASQ scales. As predicted from attachment theory, respondents scoring high on preoccupation with relationships (reflecting anxious/ambivalent attachment) showed distinctive responses to the relationship breakup, in contrast to those scoring high on other attachment styles. Specifically, those strongly preoccupied with relationships reported (a) that their partner was unhappy in the relationship and had initiated the breakup, (b) having experienced difficulty adjusting to the breakup and feeling it had been a mistake, and (c) more negative emotion and less positive emotion following the breakup. Implications of these findings are discussed.
A survey was conducted to determine whether men and women and those who possessed different love schemas, differed in their emotional reactions to romantic break-ups or in the strategies they employed to cope with them. Seventy-seven men and 173 women from the University of Hawaii who had been passionately in love, dated, and then broken up were interviewed. Men were less likely to report experiencing joy or relief immediately after a break-up than were women. Men and women also relied on somewhat different coping strategies for dealing with a break-up. Although men and women were equally critical of their own roles in break-ups, women were more likely to blame their partners than were men. Men were more likely to bury themselves in work or sports. Love schemas were also correlated with reactions to break-ups. The more "secure" people were, the easier they found it to cope. The "clingy" suffered the most, while the "skittish," "casual," and "uninterested" suffered the least from relationship dissolution. Love schemas were also found to be correlated with the coping strategies employed in theoretically meaningful ways.
Given the potential negative ramifications of infidelity, it is not surprising that researchers have attempted to delineate its root causes. Historically, descriptive approaches have simply identified the demographics of who is unfaithful and how often. However, recent developments in both evolutionary and investment-model research have greatly furthered understanding of infidelity. The field could gain additional insight by examining the similarities of these prominent approaches.
Several models of relationship dissolution imply a sequence of steps or stages, for which there might exist a cultural script. Previous research has identified a script for first dates. The present research attempted to identify a relationship dissolution script by asking men and women to list the steps that typically occur when a couple breaks up. Analysis of their 1480 responses indicated a 16-step ordered script for relation-ship dissolution. The relationship dissolution script is discussed in terms of approach-avoidance theories of conflict and relevant relationship dissolution theories.