The end of a romantic relationship can leave people in a haze of bitterness, resentment and anger.
Movies sometimes show men unable to stomach the very thought of an ex-lover: Think Humphrey Bogart’s character in “Casablanca” or Jim Carrey’s character erasing all memories of his girlfriend in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.’
But it turns out men think about their female ex-partners more fondly than women do about their male exes, a recent study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found.
Women, on the other hand, are better at coping with a breakup and more likely to bounce back, said lead author Ursula Athenstaedt, a social psychology professor at the University of Graz in Austria. It’s believed to be the first study to show men and women differ in how they view their exes.
“We had not expected that there would be gender differences in the beginning,” Athenstaedt told TODAY.
Indeed, a survey that was part of the study confirmed the findings seemed counter-intuitive to most observers. When the researchers asked hundreds of people about their views on how men and women likely felt after a breakup, only about a quarter — 24% — thought men would view their exes more favorably.
The study findings are based on answers from 295 people who were in a heterosexual relationship for at least four months and who broke up with their partners within the last five years.
All recorded their feelings on an “Ex-Partner Attitudes Scale”, where they noted how much they agreed with statements such as: “My ex-partner has many positive traits,” “I avoid touching my ex-partner” and “When I think about my ex-partner, I get angry.”
In general, men had more positive attitudes toward their ex-partner than women did, the authors found.
Another survey of 612 people replicated the findings, and asked additional questions about the participants’ relationship, breakup reasons, coping style and attitudes towards love and sex to try to find out why men liked their exes more.
As expected, men reported receiving more emotional support from their ex-partners during their relationship than women did, and they were also more open to having more than one sexual partner.
That may explain why they think of their former lovers more fondly and try to stay in touch rather than break off all contact: perhaps they don’t want to “close the door" to sex with their exes, the authors speculated.
“Let’s say that men might be open for more sexual intimacy, more than women might be,” Athenstaedt said. “But it could also be that they are simply missing the person who had supported them well during the relationship, and thus appreciate the friendship.”
While women were less fond of their exes, they reported healthier coping strategies after a breakup, such as seeking support from friends. Men tended to “distract” themselves with excessive work and sports, drinking more alcohol or quickly entering rebound relationships.
Women also attributed the cause of the breakup more to their partner or a problem with the relationship itself. Men were more likely to claim that they didn’t know what caused a romance to end, previous research has found.
“Women might have found good reason to break up the relationship and, thus, blame the breakup on their ex-partner,” Athenstaedt said.
“It might be good for both genders to move on, and somehow women seem to overall to have an advantage.”
Longing for an ex-partner affects the quality of a person’s next relationship, so the findings imply men’s new romances might suffer more than women’s, the authors said.
“The lesson could be that former relationship do matter. It might be worthwhile to accept this, process it and to find a way to deal with it,” Athenstaedt said.