Breaking Up Is Not So Hard to Do
Tuesday, August 28, 2007; 12:00 AM
TUESDAY, Aug. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Getting kicked to the curb by the love of your life is actually far less emotionally devastating than most would predict.
That's the word from new research that found men and women who claim to be deeply in love are the worst at making accurate predictions about a possible break-up and vastly overestimate their potential despair.
"We're not saying, by any stretch of the imagination, that breaking up is a good time, or that people enjoy it -- a breakup is a distressing experience for most people, " explained the study's lead author, Paul W. Eastwick, a doctoral candidate in Northwestern University's department of psychology. "But what we're talking about is how upset people are going to be. And it turns out that it's not nearly as catastrophic as people predict."
The finding is published in the August issue ofThe Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
To gauge the accuracy of pre-break-up forecasting, Eastwick teamed with Northwestern psychology department professor Eli Finkel, alongside researchers from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Together, they followed the relationship experiences of 69 Northwestern University undergraduate freshmen over a nine-month period.
At the start of the study, all the participants were between the ages of 17 and 19, and all had been dating for at least two months. They then completed online questionnaires biweekly over a 38-week period to track their relationship status.
Every successive survey asked those still coupled up to characterize the depth of their current love and to predict their emotional state of mind two, four, eight, and 12 weeks after a theoretical split. All were also asked how soon they might enter into a new relationship following any break-up.
Freshmen who broke with a partner or were dropped by a partner were asked to describe - -several times over the following 10 weeks -- how happy they felt post-relationship, and how upset they were that it had ended.
Thirty-eight percent of the participants --16 men and 10 women-- ended their relationship within the first six months of the study. On average, those relationships had lasted 14 months.
Focusing solely on this group, the researchers found that, on average, the participants' predictions of emotional cataclysm offered just two weeks before a split far exceeded the actual distress they underwent for three months after the split.
And, although both real and imagined distress diminished as time went on, the spread between actual and predicted anguish stayed constant throughout -- with predicted distress far exceeding actual distress even months after a relationship had ended.
In addition, those who said they were more in love before a split did experience slightly more distress after a break, but they were also much more likely to overestimate the ardor of breaking up. By contrast, those who said they were not in love before a split or indicated they would get into a new relationship within two weeks of a split were found to be "quite accurate" at visualizing a true post-break experience.