In the eternal words of ABBA, breaking up is never easy, I know. What we don’t seem to know is how to get over said breakup. Do we just go looking for a rebound? Do we eat a tub of ice cream? Do we decide to enroll at Harvard Law School where we realize that we can do better? People have different approaches to getting over an ex, and now science has had their say on some of them as well.
Researchers at the University of Missouri-St. Louis looked at three strategies people employ to move on from a relationship that just ended. The research is based on 24 subjects, aged 20 to 37, coming out of relationships that lasted on average 30 months. They were split into four groups that focused on one of three coping mechanisms plus a control.
The first group was told to think negatively about their exes. The second one was to accept what happened and acknowledge that the love they feel for the person is a normal part of the process. The third focused on things unrelated to their exes. The fourth group wasn't asked anything in particular. The participants in the study were then asked to fill in a questionnaire and the team measured their emotional attachment to their former partners. The subjects were then shown pictures of their exes while undergoing an electroencephalogram reading.
As reported in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, the research team found that all three strategies worked to reduce their emotional response towards their exes in the short term, but there were caveats. The first group felt less love towards them, but they also ended up in a worse mood. The second group didn’t feel any better and their love for their exes didn’t change. The third group felt happier overall, but the approach didn’t change how much in love they were with their exes.
The study shows that these are all effective ways to feel a bit more in control of your feelings, especially if you feel lost after a breakup, but they shouldn’t be seen as long-term solutions. Getting over a relationship cannot be done in an afternoon.
Interviewed by TIME magazine, lead author professor Sandra Langeslag said: “love regulation doesn’t work like an on/off switch. To make a lasting change, you’ll probably have to regulate your love feelings regularly.”