The Scientific Way to Get Over a Breakup
Heartbreak can feel painfully specific, but research shows that it usually follows a typical pattern
After a breakup, your mind is probably filled with a jumble of thoughts, everything from “I’ll make the best of my regained freedom” to “my life is over.” (Sometimes, these thoughts pop-up within the same minute.) There’s self-doubt and pain, along with a constant feeling of “this sucks.”
Breakups do indeed suck. They suck for the person being dumped, and they suck for the person doing the uncomfortable deed. You’ve shared a life, dreams, a sense of identity. And the longer a relationship lasted, the harder it usually is to recover.
But taking a more scientific look at breakups — why and how they happen, what brings on the emotions that follow a split, the psychology of missing your ex — may offer an opportunity for self-analysis. It can give you some distance from the experience that often feels painfully specific.
Will your new scientific understanding magically make you feel better? Hardly. But heartbreak, perhaps, can be considered a melting pot of brain chemicals and predictable behaviors, and understanding its ingredients is a reminder than you’re not alone in your pain.
Why we break up
Every relationship is unique, and you (or your other half) will have your own reasons for calling it quits. But research suggests that most breakups have one of eight broad causes: a desire for more autonomy, a lack of shared interests or character traits, a lack of support, a lack of openness, a lack of loyalty, a lack of time spent together, a lack of fairness, or a lack of romance. (Interestingly, for women, a desire for autonomy is one of the main reasons for a split.)
Other research has examined the factors that make it harder for couples to break up. Galena K. Rhoades, a psychology professor at the University of Denver who studies relationship commitment, has proposed three types of “constraint commitments,” or restrictions that make us more committed to staying in a relationship. Perceived constraints are the interpersonal pressures to stay together. Maybe you’re worried about your partner’s mental health, for example, or that you’ll…