By John Salak –
Real men may or may not cry, but they certainly get more emotionally crushed than women after a breakup. At least that’s what an international team of psychologists has concluded after taking what is described as the first “big data” dive into the murky realm of relationship problems.
The study was led by researchers at Britain’s Lancaster University and began as an attempt to identify the most common relationship problems experienced by people outside of clinical and counseling settings.
Via a natural language processing method, the researchers examined the demographic and psychological characteristics of almost 200,000 people who posted about their relationship problems on an anonymous online forum. These posts helped researchers statistically identify the most common themes, which in turn resulted in their ability to create a map of sorts on the most frequent relationship problems.
Communication was the most common problem with couples with nearly 20 percent of respondents reporting they had difficulty with discussion problems, while more than 10 percent cited trusts issues as a hurdle. “Most of what we know about relationship problems comes from studies of people in couples therapy, which includes a rather specific subset of people—people who have the time, money, and motive to work on their relationship problems,” said Charlotte Entwistle, the study’s lead author. “We wanted to understand not only what relationship problems are most commonly experienced by the general public, but who experiences which problems more.”
As the project neared its end, the researchers realized they also had the opportunity to test common perceptions about how men and women respond to these issues. “For example, are men truly less emotionally invested in relationships than women or is it the case that men are simply stigmatized out of sharing their feelings,” explained Dr. Ryan Boyd, the study’s lead researcher.
The results in general revealed that people were more troubled by the emotional pain that caused their problems than the problems themselves. What may have come as a bigger surprise is that men discussed the heartbreak associated with the end of a relationship more than women did. “Notably, the fact that the heartache theme was more commonly discussed by men emphasizes how men are at least as emotionally affected by relationship problems as women,” Entwistle said.
Beyond this, the research team found that men more often turned to online relationship help than did women. “Traditionally, women are more likely to identify relationship problems, consider therapy, and seek therapy than are men,” Boyd reported. “When you remove the traditional social stigmas against men for seeking help and sharing their emotions, however, they seem just as invested in working through rough patches in their relationships as women.”
How can this be applied to building healthy relationships? It’s unclear to date, but Lancaster’s work gives surprising insights into how invested men are in relations. Nonetheless, finding the right partner for a long-term relationship still is a difficult task. But McGill University researchers have found that first impressions actually count for a lot when accurately assessing a person’s personality.
Previous studies have found that individuals often get a pretty good reading on another individual in a casual setting where platonic relationships are built. But the team from McGill wanted to take a deeper look at how accurate impressions are during first dates. The research involved having participants fill out questionnaires after attending speed dating events. Lots of first impressions from these events were close to spot on, although admittedly some individuals were harder to read than others. This didn’t necessarily make them unsuitable or inappropriate, just more difficult to assess.
“Some people are open books whose distinctive personalities can be accurately perceived after a brief interaction, whereas others are harder to read,” reported the study’s co-author Lauren Gazzard Kerr. “Strikingly, people who report higher well-being, self-esteem, and satisfaction with life tend to make the task easier,” she says.
Assistant Professor Lauren Human noted that as in earlier studies that examined personality impressions of people in a platonic setting, “Perhaps people that have greater well-being behave in ways that are more in-line with their personality—being more authentic or true to themselves,” Accurate first impressions, of course, may not lessen the pain of a later break up, but it’s good to know that gut instinct still counts.