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Why So Many Men Just Can't Handle Breakups

... and 4 steps to help them start to heal.

Key points

  • A prominent study alludes to a physiological basis to cravings for an ex.
  • The emotions surrounding a breakup can be more profound and less socially acceptable in a man.
  • The brain is has a mechanism that helps us fall out of love and move along.
Source: Pixabay/Pexels

“I’m sorry I annoyed you with my unconditional love.”

Studies show that to the brain, quitting love and heroin are much the same. Our brains often cannot differentiate another human from smack. Take solace in knowing that the love longings for your ex are normal... to an extent.

A prominent study alludes to a physiological basis for cravings for an ex.1 Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to record the brain activity of adults who had experienced a recent unwanted breakup and reported still feeling love for their ex. When viewing photographs of former partners, study participants showed brain activity in the areas associated with reward and motivation, specifically, the release of dopamine, which is also seen in drug addiction.

There Is No Single Effective Cure for Heartache

Although the emotions surrounding a breakup can affect both males and females, they are sometimes more profound and less socially acceptable in a man.2 And it has largely been a mystery how men manage a split. This is the primary reason there are so few books available to men regarding breakups. Look no further than the breakup book covers and titles to validate this claim: He's Just Not That Into You, The Smart Girl's Breakup Buddy, and Breakup Girl to the Rescue, for example. The list is long, and each is cloaked in pink, pastel, and feminine covers.

How long will the pain last? What is considered acceptable by friends? By society? Is the recovery period half the time you were together? There is no mystical breakup algorithm to determine your fixed emotional penance. It takes what it takes. And for everyone, this is different. But everything you need to heal is already within you. Just like the brain is hardwired to fall in love, it also has a mechanism that helps us fall out of love and move along.3

Men's Emotions in Intimate Relationships Have Received Little Attention

Even less has been known about men's mental health help-seeking regarding relationship breakups. Men tend to distract and deny after an initial breakup, whereas women process a loss on the front end, which can help them to heal from the pain sooner.4 Interestingly, however, in the throes of a breakup, men creatively find both informal and professional help.5 According to recent research, men are prevalent users of self-help relationship books, peer and community-based group programs, and e-relationship and mental health resources.6

Additional researchers found that young men facing breakup recovery rely on connections with close friends, facilitating emotional disclosure, and formal online help, which offers valuable anonymity and confidentiality.7 The preceding demonstrates men as actively engaged in managing relationship breakup challenges.8

Although men experiencing relationship breakups may gain benefits from sourcing formal and informal help, mental illness remains a significant health concern for males leaving intimate partnerships. Consequently, identifying troubled partnerships as strategic settings for promoting men's mental health programs is vital.

4 Tactics to Hasten Breakup Healing

The pain of rejection works on the same neural pathways as our physical pain. And oddly, the same painkillers shut down the intensity on that pathway. Over-the-counter headache medicine seems to help with breakups.9 Here are four other tactics to usher you to the other side.

1. Contrary to widely held beliefs, closure is not necessary. The shortest route to ending heartache is not with the source. It is within you and not with your defector. When you are broken up with, your ability to reconcile who you are is upheaved. Despite what you might be thinking, you never need to know why your ex did anything they did. They were never the reason you thrived. You are the captain now.

2. Add "going ghost" to your to-do list. An effective opposite action tactic is to "go ghost." Going ghost includes not responding to your ex's "Hey, stranger" text. Conversely, an "I miss you" doesn't equal "I want to get back together and adopt Russian toddlers." Going ghost is one of the most sagacious devices for self-preservation. If you and your ex have children together, then you'll inevitably need to discuss issues such as welfare and access. However, it's best to keep these interactions to a minimum and at a McDonald's PlayPlace just off the highway.

3. Therapist? Do you mean Tinder? A breakup can lead to depression, isolation, self-accusation, or worse. You don't always need to make grief clinical, but it's imperative to know when to seek outside professional help. The easiest index to use is if your emotions are starting to interfere with daily life functioning, including sleep.

4. When your head says "no," make sure your heart falls in line. Following a breakup, you miss having someone around. It's an old habit to say "goodnight" or sext on a random weeknight to someone who won't call the cops. Now you stare thunderstruck at a silent phone, willing it to ding with a text while feeling a dreadful void from losing that regular communiqué. But if you reach out, it's akin to another hit for a recovering addict: It will satiate the cravings for a bit, but you're only resetting your recovery clock. "Happy blocked-iversary."

Remember: "It's called a breakup because it's broken." I read that on a pink breakup book cover somewhere.

Facebook image: pathdoc/Shutterstock


Albert Einstein College of Medicine. (2010). Study links romantic rejection with reward and addiction centers in the brain.…

Entwistle, C., Horn, A. B., Meier, T., & Boyd, R. L. (2021). Dirty laundry: The nature and substance of seeking relationship help from strangers online. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 38(12), 3472–3496.

Boutwell, B. B., Barnes, J. C., & Beaver, K. M. (2015). When love dies: Further elucidating the existence of a mate ejection module. Review of General Psychology, 19(1), 30–38.

Morris, C. E., Reiber, C., & Roman, E. (2015, July 13). Quantitative Sex Differences in Response to the Dissolution of a Romantic Relationship. Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences. Advance online publication.

Oliffe JL, Kelly MT, Gonzalez Montaner G, et al. Mapping Men’s Mental Health Help-Seeking After an Intimate Partner Relationship Break-Up. Qualitative Health Research. 2022;32(10):1464-1476.

Ogrodniczuk J. S., Beharry J., Oliffe J. L. (2021). An Evaluation of 5-Year Web Analytics for HeadsUpGuys: A men’s depression e-mental health resource. American Journal of Men’s Health, 15(6).

Best P., Gil-Rodriguez E., Manktelow R., Taylor B. J. (2016). Seeking help from everyone and no-one: Conceptualizing the online help-seeking process among adolescent males. Qualitative Health Research, 26(8), 1067–1077.

Fletcher R. J., St George J. M. (2010). Men’s help-seeking in the context of family separation. Advances in Mental Health, 9(1), 49–62.

Dewall, C. N., Macdonald, G., Webster, G. D., Masten, C. L., Baumeister, R. F., Powell, C., Combs, D., Schurtz, D. R., Stillman, T. F., Tice, D. M., & Eisenberger, N. I. (2010). Acetaminophen reduces social pain: Behavioral and neural evidence. Psychological Science, 21(7), 931–937.

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