An old client came back to me last week and related his story. After a year or so working to win back his relationship partner, after just two months together, again she announced that she still wasn’t happy and was leaving…again…that very day. It is a sad way for ending a relationship.
No notice indicated, not a peep of complaint reported. It came to him as a complete surprise. He was heartbroken; he is a good person. So as usual, when I run into a situation like this, I start doing issue-specific research and this time, I found some things I would like to share with you.
I am not sure who else will be surprised by this factoid, but it is apparently well established in studies done in 1994, 2000, 2006, and 2009 that women end more marriages than men. I guess I never thought very much about it. So regardless of who asked first, (e.g. who wanted to or who did file the papers first), women appear to be the partner who dumps the other in about two-thirds of the cases.
You can see the same patterns in dating relationships as well. By all accounts, women seem to be more likely to end their dating relationships than us guys. Whether or not the guy actually pulls the plug first, it was the woman who expected, or even anticipated the breakup. This kind of difference in yearning and predicting the ending may just partially explain the gender gap during and after the breakup.
The guys fare worse. Actually, much worse.
Why do They Leave?
A study in 1981 found that it is easier for men to fall in love than women, with women falling out of love more easily than their male partners. On top of that, while the stereotypes suggest that women are more sentimental, in fact, research indicates that they are usually the more cautious one of the couple regarding getting involved in a romantic relationship, and much quicker to leave a troubled one. Women also seem to be more aware of relationship problems and are less willing to stay in an unsatisfactory situation than their men in spite of their emotional investment. Running in parallel with this and consistent with it, is the man’s profound concerns about missing a romantic relationship and their lower likelihood of intending to end it.
Women also seem to be more
aware of relationship problems
and are less willing to
stay in an unsatisfactory situation
Not only are guys less sensitive to relationship issues (I see the ladies nodding their heads) and tolerant of conflict, they are more likely to be the emotionally dependent of the two. Emotional support within romantic relationships tends to be unequal; women often give more than they get. That’s one of the reasons why men are more likely to report that their partner is their main source of emotional support. When you add to that the stereotypical emotional training most men receive as children, it really can be more difficult for men to confide in family or friends after a breakup. Men are trained to go it alone in many cases. Men may reconsider ending a romantic relationship because of the anticipated problems found when seeking a new confidant, or by the pending emotional separation.
Who Fares Better After the Breakup?
A study done in 2000 argues that women are more likely to end marriages because this is in their best interest. Even though they may suffer a decline in income or living quality after their divorce, they see the overall benefit by ending an unhappy or unbalanced marriage. Men, on the other hand, are usually over benefiting from the marriage and are less inclined to end it for those same reasons. In the same vein, women in dating relationships report more emotional distress than men. This difference, small at first, grows greater for couples that have been together for a longer time. On the other hand, checking with the couples that have broken up, women indicate that there is less stress in their lives than the men after the breakup.
The lack of balance in emotional support in romantic relationships seems to take its toll on women’s lives while benefitting the men. This might explain why many women suffer less anxiety and distress than men after a breakup regardless of who dumped whom. It might just be why women are better able to handle rejection than men. They are more likely to pull the emergency stop cord, and are actually better able to cope when the man pulls it first.
What Difference Does It Make?
When you consider the numbers, where women end more relationships/marriages then men because they are less satisfied or are more aware of the problems, reducing the awareness gap benefits both men and women alike. Traditional gender arrangements place the undue burden of monitoring and maintaining relationships on women. Women also take on the added task of ending failing ones. When you add to this that the 20th century masculinity norms keep many men woefully unprepared for the emotional work associated with keeping a relationship healthy, you have a disaster in the making. The man’s inability to anticipate relationship endings, and the discomfort they feel confiding their troubles with friends and family leaves them in an unbalanced, unhappy, and unhealthy situation.
Traditional gender arrangements
place the undue burden of monitoring
and maintaining relationships on women.
It seems pretty clear to me that a better balance of the work involved in maintaining a romantic relationship would make it easier for couples to stay together, which would increase the quality and stability of their lives and leave both people better equipped in the unhappy event of a breakup.
Who could ever say that is a bad idea?
Let me know how things are going with your relationship and how you handle just these sorts of issues
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- Braver, Sanford L., Marnie Whitley, and Christine Ng.1994. “Who Divorced Whom? Journal of Divorce and Remarriage.
- Brinig, Margaret F. and Douglas W. Allen. 2000. “‘These Boots Are Made for Walking’: Why Most Divorce Filers Are Women.” American Law and Economics Review.
- Helgeson, Vicki S. 1994. “Long-Distance Romantic Relationships: Sex Differences in Adjustment and Breakup.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
- Hendy, Helen M., S. Hakan Can, Lauren J. Joseph, and Cory R. Scherer. 2013. “University Students Leaving Relationships (USLR): Scale Development and Gender Differences in Decisions to Leave Romantic Relationships.” Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development.
- Hewitt, B. 2009. “Which Spouse Initiates Marital Separation When There Are Children Involved?” Journal of Marriage and Family.
- Hewitt, B, 2006. “Who Decides? The Social Characteristics of Who Initiates Marital Separation.” Journal of Marriage and Family.
- Kalmijn, M. 2006. “His or Her Divorce? The Gendered Nature of Divorce and its Determinants.” European Sociological Review.
- McClintock, E . 2014. “Why Breakups Are Actually Tougher on Men: A range of studies shows that they’re less steady on their own than women,” in It’s a Man’s, and a Woman’s, World: From mating to gender and sexuality to dating. Psychology Today.
- Rubin, Z 1981. “Loving and Leaving: Sex Differences in Romantic Attachments.”