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Breaking Up Is Not Necessarily Hard To Do

August 2007 - New research published online in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology has found that people were less distressed and coped much better with ending a relationship than they predicted and that this unanticipated effect was particularly marked for those described as "madly in love". The study by Paul Eastwick and Eli Finkel from Northwestern University together with Tamar Krishnamurti and George Loewenstein from Carnegie Mellon University, among others, supports previous evidence of the "remarkably poor insight" shown by people asked to assess their likely response to emotional stress.

Eli Finkel, assistant professor of psychology said:

"Our research shows that a breakup is not nearly as bad as people imagine, and the more you are in love with your partner, the more wrong you are about how upset you are going to be when the dreaded loss actually occurs."

The nine-month longitudinal study assessed 26 people (10 female and 16 male) involved in a dating relationship of at least two months duration that ended during the first six months of the research. Participants completed questionnaires every two weeks for 38 weeks measuring the extent to which they were in love together with predicted and actual distress. Predicted distress reported two weeks prior to breakup was compared with actual distress at four different times afterwards.

Paul Eastwick, graduate student in psychology commented:

"The overestimates of the most-in-love participants, of how badly they would feel after a breakup, were much greater than the predictions of participants less in love. Their levels of distress were nowhere near their catastrophic predictions."

The study concludes that whether the discrepancies are the result of an inability to predict potential positive outcomes or a pessimistic assessment of coping abilities, ending a relationship seems to be less distressing than the average person thinks it will be.

Paul Eastwick concluded:

"People tend to be pretty resilient, often more so than they realize. No one is saying that breaking up is a good time. It's just that people bounce back sooner than they predict."

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