The unbearable heartache caused by a lost love has been a favorite theme of both classic literature and pop culture alike. However, breaking up may not be as big a deal as we tend to anticipate, say Northwestern University researchers. Their new study shows that lovers—especially those madly in love—handle breaking up with much less anguish than they anticipate.
“Our research shows that a breakup is not nearly as bad as people imagine, and the more you are in love with your partner, the more wrong you are about how upset you are going to be when the dreaded loss actually occurs,” said Eli Finkel, assistant professor of psychology in Northwestern's Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and co-author of the study.
In fact, participants who forecast how badly they would feel over a breakup with a partner actually ended up feeling much less distress than they had predicted prior to the relationship's demise.
Interestingly enough, it was those most “in love” that really overestimated the pain they were going to feel. According to the research, love-crazed participants were often certain that the demise of a love as great as theirs could only end in tragic suffering. In reality, they found that their level of distress following their real-life breakups came nowhere near their dire predictions. The people most in love only experienced slightly more distress over their breakups.
“But the overestimates of the most-in-love participants, of how badly they would feel after a breakup, were much greater than the predictions of participants less in love,” said Paul Eastwick, the lead author of the study and a graduate student in psychology at Northwestern. “Their levels of distress were nowhere near their catastrophic predictions.”
The study adds to a growing body of literature that shows that people demonstrate remarkably poor insight when asked to predict the magnitude of their distress following emotional events.
In anticipating a breakup, for example, people might not take account of the good outcomes that follow a breakup, such as the benefits of being single.
Whether the discrepancies between people's predicted and actual distress are caused by their inability to foresee positive life events on the horizon or their inaccurate theories about how quickly they can recuperate, a romantic breakup seems to be less upsetting than the average individual believes it will be, the study concludes.
“People tend to be pretty resilient, often more so than they realize,” Eastwick said. “No one is saying that breaking up is a good time. It's just that people bounce back sooner than they predict.”
Posted by Rebecca Sato
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