A broken heart is bound to happen to just about anyone. According to Arash Emamzadeh for Psychology Today, over 80% of people have had their hearts broken at least one point in their lives. Although we might wish heartache was more preventable, the reality is that most people experience this pain at one point or another, regardless of how hard they may try to avoid it.
Although many people have studied relationship dynamics and their impact on individual emotions, this paper that was recently published in the Marsh issue of Personal Relationships specifically examined the experience of a broken heart, specifically in relation to romantic relationships.
Through various studies, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and YouGov examined romantic relationship break-ups to find the root cause of their terminations. While conducting several surveys, researchers asked participants’ if they ever had their hearts broken, if this was also true presently, and what were the specific details of the break-up. After collecting responses, researchers categorized the participants’ experiences into the following categories, from most to least frequent:
- 41% of the participants’ breakups were mutual breakups
- 27% of the participants’ breakups were infidelity related
- 15% of the participants’ breakups were rejection related, where one partner did not reciprocate any romantic feeling
- 11% of the participants’ breakups were due to other romantic experiences (i.e. one individual was not single while the other potential partner was)
- 6% of the participants’ breakups were non-romantic related experiences (i.e. a death of a family pet)
Whichever way a breakup can have a serious impact on an individual’s personal development. Of course, it’s important to recognize that not all break-ups can lead to negative results. In many cases, breakups can give people the potential for self-growth and offer new opportunities for happiness. Researchers conducted another study of 198 participants (45% male with an average age of 36 years old) in order to see how people perceived their break-ups. When explaining their most significant heartbreaks they had endured, participants were asked to categorize these interpretations as opportunities for “self-growth”, “self-deterioration” or no transformation at all. Those who had reported to endure a romantic-related heartbreak often had varied interpretations of the heartbreak. Some participants stated that they “[learned] to always keep [their] eyes on the prize, no matter what life throws at [them].”
Another study focused particularly on the Big Five Personality Inventory (neuroticism, openness to experience, extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness) and the Experiences in Close Relationships measure (ECR). Some example items you may see on an ECR include “I’m afraid I will lose my partner’s love” and “I find it difficult to depend on my romantic partners.” In a study of 194 undergraduates, being single and neurotic, avoidant attachment, or anxious attachment to a partner was more associated with a “current” state of heartbreak.
Despite how inevitable or daunting heartbreak may seem, normalizing it as a common life happenstance can mitigate the harmful aftereffects of it. The study of the breakup’s implications is perhaps the most telling of this truth, as it can either lead to growth or damage of our own selves. While the pain is part of the heartbreak, examining the heartbreak through a positive, opportunistic way encourages not only strength, but healthier relationships in the future.