After a friend’s blisteringly bad breakup, my buddies and I took him out for beers and offered some comforting clichés: “Forget about her, man,” “There’s plenty of fish in the sea,” and “You’ve got to get back on that horse.” We all agreed that he needed to put down the Ben & Jerry’s and stop wallowing.
Though our advice was well-intentioned, new research suggests that it may have been misguided. A paper published this week in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science finds that people who reflect on a recent breakup have an easier time recovering than those who do not.
Grace Larson, a social psychologist and the author of the paper, spent years studying the psychological effects of divorces and breakups, and wondered if the interviews and questionnaires she gave to hundreds of participants helped or harmed their recovery. “We’re basically prying into these really personal events,” the Northwestern University psychologist said over the phone. “Is it possible that we’re having an impact on how they are coping with these events?”
To find out, she recruited 210 recently separated young adults, mostly women, and split them into two groups for a nine-week-long study. Many of the participants had been with their partners for somewhere between a year and a half and two years and had broken up within the six months before the study. On the first day, both groups took a survey that analyzed how they felt about themselves following their breakup, and then took it again nine weeks later. One group met with the researchers four times during that period, during which they were interviewed about their past relationship, and asked to record their own feelings in private. The other group only took the two surveys, at the beginning and end of the study. Larson even experienced her own breakup during the study, which she said helped her empathize with the participants. “It’s a universal experience,” she said.