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Chepko Danil Vitalevich

Why you’re hardwired to get over heartbreak

Breaking up is hard to do. The latest science can help us understand why ending a relationship hurts so much.

As far as relationships go, there’s not a lot that’s more unpleasant or downright painful than a break-up. Losing a romantic partner just plain hurts and yet it’s something most people go through at least once if not several times in their life.

What is it about breaking up that makes it so difficult? And when we finally do get over an ex, how are we able to move on?

These are the kinds of questions a team of US researchers interested in the latest break-up science wanted to know. They were curious about why people fall out of love, and how they deal with it when they do, so they compiled all of the studies they could find on the topic.

Evolution of break-ups

They began by looking at why people call a relationship quits. For starters, there are the obvious reasons – most men and women won’t tolerate their partner being cruel to them, for example.

But there are also differences between men and women. In general, guys are more likely to break off a relationship if they learn their partner has been having sex with another man, while women tend to put an end to romance if their partner has been emotionally unfaithful, the study reported. These are of course generalizations – and they don’t mean that most men and women in love wouldn’t be pretty fed up if their partner was unfaithful, regardless of whether it was sexually or emotionally.

Nevertheless, the science of evolution can help explain these differences. When the goal is to pass on genes by having healthy children, if a guy’s partner hasn’t been sexually faithful, he can’t be totally sure these kids are his own. A woman, on the other hand, is always sure. But what’s most important is that her guy help raise the kids, something she can’t bank on if he’s emotionally attached to another woman.

Love addiction

Whatever the reasons, ending a romantic relationship is tough. In fact, it can be as difficult as overcoming an addiction, the researchers also learned. When people fall passionately in love, certain pleasure centres in the brain are triggered. It turns out that these same parts are activated during drug use.

If you think about it, falling in love with someone can be kind of addictive – you can’t get them out of your mind and want to spend all of your time with them. So it makes sense that falling out of love could be similar to getting over a drug addiction.

During the early stages, people might even feel inclined to stalk their ex – they may badly want to see what he or she is up to, and with whom, even if they know it’s probably best they move on. One explanation could be that they’re literally breaking their addiction to their partner.

Finding love again

Fortunately, there’s good news. People are hardwired to get over heartbreak, the review found. “It suggests people will recover; the pain will go away with time. There will be a light at the end of the tunnel," said author Dr Brian Boutwell, in a press release.

There could be parts of our brains that adapt once the addiction to someone is broken, he suggests. This could affect our emotions and behaviour and make it possible for us to have new crushes and begin a new relationship. More research, for example on people who have found love after a break-up, is still needed to prove this hypothesis.

Source: When love dies: Further elucidating the existence of a mate ejection module, Boutwell, Brian B., Barnes, J. C., Beaver, Kevin M.

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