Why Men Think More Fondly of Their Exes Than Women Do
A new study finds men view past relationships with more fondness than women.
Posted Oct 30, 2019
It is no stretch to say that breakups are a difficult and messy affair. But who might be quicker to bounce back, men or women?
This was the focus of new research appearing in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science. A team of psychologists led by Ursula Athenstaedt of the University of Graz in Austria examined the extent to which men and women viewed past romantic partners in a favorable (or unfavorable) light. Interestingly, they found that men viewed their exes more positively than women.
"We find that men hold more positive attitudes toward their female ex-partners than women do toward their male ex-partners," state Athenstaedt and her team. "To the best of our knowledge, the present research is the first to document that men and women differ in how they tend to view their ex-partners."
To come to this conclusion, the researchers recruited 295 individuals to participate in a short survey. To qualify for the survey, individuals had to be in a heterosexual relationship for at least four months and have an ex-partner with whom their relationship lasted for at least four months. Moreover, the past relationship could not have ended more than five years ago.
Participants in the survey were asked to think about their last ex-partner and complete the 18-item Ex-Partner Attitudes Scale. Example items from the scale include, "My ex-partner has many positive traits," "I avoid touching my ex-partner," and "When I think about my ex-partner, I get angry."
The researchers analyzed individuals' responses to the Ex-Partner Attitudes Scale to see if a gender difference emerged. They found that it did: Men were significantly more likely than women to rate their ex-partner more favorably.
The researchers next examined whether their findings resonated with people's intuitions. To do this, they conducted a short follow-up study with 589 participants. In it, they asked individuals to indicate which of the following three statements they most agreed with: “Men hold more positive attitudes toward their ex-partners than women,” “Women hold more positive attitudes toward their ex-partners than men,” or “There are no differences in ex-partner attitudes between men and women.”
Most people—62% to be precise—believed no differences in ex-partner attitudes existed between the sexes; 24% of individuals thought men held more positive attitudes toward ex-partners; and 14% thought women held more positive attitudes. In other words, people's intuitions regarding Athenstaedt's results were far from accurate.
Athenstaedt and her team conclude: "The present research documents a new phenomenon that seems far from obvious to most people. Women tend to have more negative attitudes toward their former romantic partners than men do. While our studies document this stable gender difference, we do not know its specific origins. Even though both evolutionary and gender role theories provide some valuable insights, additional research is needed to pin down the key origins."
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Athenstaedt, U., Brohmer, H., Simpson, J. A., Müller, S., Schindling, N., Bacik, A., & Van Lange, P. A. M. (2019). Men View Their Ex-Partners More Favorably Than Women Do. Social Psychological and Personality Science.