Men, breakups, and coping
One of the main questions I’m asked by guys after a relationship ends is: How do men deal with breakups? This makes sense when one considers that as a tribe, we really don’t like talking about our feelings.
That said, just because men don’t chat about what they feel doesn’t mean they don’t hurt.
As a guy’s counselor, I’m given a front row seat to the male mind in the immediate aftermath of a break up. Contrary to what’s depicted in popular culture, most males don’t drink themselves into oblivion as a tool for coping.
That said, many do find themselves jumping right into new relationships, sometimes just weeks after breaking up. Other develop a voracious sexual appetite, using physical contact as an emotional distraction.
Quick guy break up story
I’d like to share with you the story of a friend of mine named Steve. At 35 years of age, he thought he’d found the woman of his dreams.
After dating her for three years, there had been serious talk about the two getting married – perhaps even starting a family. For all intense and purposes, things seemed to be going great.
Until they weren’t. Yep – they broke up.
There were a variety of reasons that fed into their relational collapse, including problems with trust and infidelity – on both of their parts.
In the days following the split, Steve began hooking up with any woman that was willing.
But deep inside, I knew the guy was hurting.
Confused about some of his post-break up behaviors, he dialed me on his cell to talk. Who better to call than a dude who won’t judge you, right?
His main question to me was: Why am I doing this?
Realizing that men like Steve aren’t given blueprints for breaking up, I was inspired to pen this piece.
We’re going to cover a lot of ground in all that follows. My hope is to universalize common experiences of guys who end up in splitsville. Additionally, I want to create a base of understanding for the women left in their wake.
After reading, I hope you gain new insight into male thinking.
In this article, you will learn:
- Common emotions experienced by guys after a breakup
- 10 typical ways guys break up
- Why some guys act like jerks following a breakup
- Translating “guy-speak” and breakups
- Common male breakup myths
If I had a dime for every time I’ve been told, “When a guy’s relationship ends, he moves on to the next girl. Women sit around and pout.”
Another one I hear is:
“Guys get through breakups by hooking up,” and “It’s easy for guys to breakup because they don’t get emotional.”
I’m sure you’ve heard variations. Here’s the thing. Some of it is true. Others not so much. Let’s take a closer look.
Break ups are hard on guys
Regardless of what you may read elsewhere, I’m here to tell you that breakups are hard on guys. Just like anyone else, they have emotions. Although you may never see it, some even cry.
Common post-break up reactions include:
- Intense sadness
- Feelings of failure
- Emotional numbness
- A sense of loss
The difference between men and women is that after things end, men tend to shield their feelings from the world. Part of this is a function cultural hypermasculine introjects (Mosher & Tompkins, 2010).
Why Guys Become Nasty
In my private conversations with guys, Ive found that the greater attachment to a romantic interest, the more asinine they (initially) act towards a former mate.
I’m not saying this is true for all men. After all, we’re not a monolithic group. But it is a behavior I’ve seen exhibited by many as a means of coping.
You may be wondering why?
I’ll be straight up with you – guys need to appear impervious to pain because that’s how they’re taught to respond. Much of this is linked to typical alpha male characteristics and the need to appear in control.
All of this leads us to the 10 most common strategic approaches taken by men as part of relational disengagement.
10 Common Guy Break Up Strategies
1. Avoidance: This is the most common method. Research has found that decreased contact is the preferred method by guys (Baxter, 1982).
Men will often employ this tactic when intimacy was historically low with a mate and there’s little likeihood of maintaining a friendship.
2. Truth distortion: Not all that common, but some guys will engage in various forms of distortion as a post-break up strategy. Examples include telling friends, “I’m doing fine,” and “I never really liked her.”
The goal is to reinforce an internal message of being impervious. It also couples as a weapon against an ex that signals: You didn’t mean that much.
3. Incremental withdrawal of support: Yet another way guys deal with breakups is by slowly cutting off emotional support. Here, the man will become less available to talk, discuss problems with, and provide comfort.
In this way, the man is telling an ex (indirectly) that he values her less. This is a conscious choice on the part of the guy and is designed to act as an emotional shield.
4. Permanent Timeout: In many ways, this is a cruel strategy used by some men. Here, the guy might say something like: “Maybe we should have some space from each other.”
When you translate this into guy-speak, it’s almost a surefire bet that he’s calling things off. Moreover, it’s his way of lessening his emotional pain.
5. Jerk: When employing this tactic, they guy will deliberately become obnoxious, rude, argumentative, and outright nasty. The behaviors are designed to send the message: “You hurt me now I’m going to hurt you.”
As alluded to earlier, the more intense the ugliness, the higher the guy’s level of pain. In many ways, this paradoxical approach makes the man feel worse due to intense feelings of guilt.
The only exception to this would be if the guy is a narcissist or sociopath.
6. Direct Dump: This one is exactly what it sounds like; a sudden end to the romance. The decision is announced arbitrarily by the guy and can happen face-to-face, through text or e-mail.
Usually, the girlfriend is not given a choice. An example declarative statement might be: “This isn’t working out. We’re done.”
Men who take this approach are usually very direct and channel alpha characteristics. If there is one benefit linked to direct dumping, it’s this – there’s no misunderstanding where he stands.
7. Dating Other People: Another approach that some guys will use is to suggest that both parties in the relationship date other people. A typical comment might be: Maybe you should try dating another guy? Here, the inference is that you are in the wrong relationship.
Here, the dumper uses ambiguity to provoke a breakup. Think of it as his way of saying he’s going to be looking elsewhere and so should you.
8: Justification: In relationships with guys who require a high degree of autonomy, you will often see the justification strategy employed.
Example: We’re becoming too dependent upon each other and that’s not healthy.
You’ll also see this method used when a guy is not ready to settle down or has trouble with commitment. I’ve personally observed this in men who have intimacy issues.
9. Blame Game: When cycles of negativity become a pattern, a man will sometimes reach for the blame game approach. This one is used more than you might think.
An example might be a couple that starts talking about their problems. Incapable of taking responsibility (or unwilling to) the guy will blame everything on his mate with the goal of forcing things to end.
In counseling, I’ve personally talked to guys who have revealed to me they intentionally do this as a form of gaslighting.
10 Negotiated Goodbye: The final way a guy will break things off with a mate is through negotiations. This approach is preferred because it gives both parties a chance at supportive communication.
Sadly, it’s not one that is often used by men because, in order to do it, they need to be emotionally vulnerable. When it does happen, it usually occurs in longer-term relationships.
Additionally, guys negotiate when both parties know things have been over for a long time but nobody wants to admit it.
Why do guys ghost their ex’s?
When men have shared with me their post-breakup plans, more than a few have told me it’s all about avoiding drama. When you decode that in guy-speak, it means: I don’t want it to get emotional.
As a result, some opt for cutting off all contact; an offshoot of avoidance listed above. In other words, they ghost their ex (Vilhauer, 2015).
“You’ve got to cut her off like she’s dead bro – that’s the only way to do it!” is an example of what one male client shared after asking him if he’d return his ex’s phone calls.
Why some men seem indifferent?
A variation of ghosting is indifference. While less intense than ghosting, it’s just as painful to the “ex”. Using this kind of response, the guy will partake in semi-obligatory conversation while cloaking his feelings.
When men do this, they purposely want to signal any emotional reaction to the breakup. Characteristically, such conversations are dull, monotone, and devoid of feeling.
Why do men jump right into a new relationship right after a breakup?
Have you ever noticed that a lot of guys immediately become attached to someone new right after a breakup?
Here’s why based on my conversations with men:
- He doesn’t want to be alone with is feelings
- He isn’t comfortable with the sense of loss
- To medicate deeply held feelings of rejection
- To boost his sense of self-esteem and self-worth
- He wants to avoid dealing with himself
It’s important to state that guys aren’t the only ones who do this. Women, too, will sometimes get immediately involved with someone right after a split.
But for men – at least in my experience – it’s a lot more common.
Typically referred to as the “rebound” person, the woman the man has freshly attached to acts as a temporary distraction for the bullet points mentioned above.
Unfortunately for the female, the relationship is doomed from the beginning. That’s because sooner or later, the guy will eventually realize any benefits of the new courtship are short lived.
That’s because, over time, the unresolved feelings the man is holding from the previous relationship begins to surface. This point is particularly true when the guy identifies a pattern of “rebounding” in his dating history.
In this way, men are truly at a disadvantage when taking the long view. I say this because as a counselor, I’m trying to constantly teach guys that it’s best to deal with their feelings in the here and now and not engage in “kick the can down the road” stuff.
Conversely, women are much better equipped to emotionally work through and process feelings of loss so that their next relationship isn’t (hopefully) weighed down with baggage.
Notice I didn’t say baggage-free. In truth, all of us have baggage. But that’s a post for a different day.
What about men who go on a hookup tour soon after a breakup?
Yep, a lot of guys do this. Not saying all of us. That wouldn’t be fair. But a lot of men do hit the proverbial candy store in the days and weeks following a breakup.
As one guy told me, “Hey, I’m free now. I’m going to get as much as I can before I jump into anything new.”
There are lots of other reasons for robo-hookup behaviors. Many mirror the points made above about rebounding.
Common hook up motivations (post break-up) include:
- A need to feel desired
- Medicating emotional pain
- A sense of needing to “catch up” on missed opportunities
- To boost self-esteem
- To prove something to the ex
This may come as a shock to readers but I don’t think hooking up as a coping tool is the worst approach. In fact, there can be some restorative benefits from sexy time.
In addition, it’s important to point out that as a tribe, men are wired to seek out physical contact. And I’m not just saying that to offer dudes a permission slip to get it on.
British researchers discovered that guys gravitate towards hooking up more than they do eating (Sammut, et al., 2015). So if you’ve ever wondered why guys are always thinking about “doing it”, you know the science as to why.
That said, hook up behaviors become unhealthy when they are used as a band aid to improperly treat long-standing emotional pain. In the final analysis, the unresolved feelings need to be dealt with if the guy is to enter a future relationship stronger (and wiser).
In my experience, guys eventually reach a point of self-insight and come to understand that robo-hookups don’t really fix what ails them.
For that to happen, the man needs to be willing to look at himself through the lens of self-compassion and take inventory.
One way this is accomplished is by engaging in acceptance and commitment therapy (also known as ACT); a cognitive approach that guys respond well to.
Myths About Men and Breakups
There are so many myths out there about men and breakups that it’s impossible to list them on all on this one page. Here are some of the “biggies”:
- Most guys chug down beer to lessen pain
- Guys don’t really feel anything after a split
- Most guys turn to food for coping
- Guys are open with their male friends about their feelings
- Men quickly move through post-breakup emotions
Bringing It All Together
When men breakup, you need to know they experience real pain. In the case of my friend Steve, it took him several weeks to recognize that his hookup behaviors were really coping behaviors designed to medicate the hurt deep inside.
According to at least one study conducted by Binghamton University, guys often never “get over” a breakup. Instead, they simply work through (Stauffenberg, 2015).
I hope you found the material shared in this post useful. If you are a male reader, you now have new insight about how some guys deal with breaking up.
And if you are the ex-girlfriend of a guy, much of what’s been presented here likely serves as confirmation for things you long suspected.
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Baxter, L. A. (1982). Strategies for ending relationships: Two studies. Western Journal of Speech Communication, 223-241.
Mosher, D., & Tompkins, S. (2010). Scripting the macho man: Hypermasculine socialization and enculturation. The Journal of Sex Research, 60-84.
Sammut, M., Cook, S., Nguyen, Q., Felton, T., Hall, D., Emmons, S., . . . Barrios, A. (2015). Glia -derived ne urons are required forsex-specific learning in C. eleg ans. Nature, 385-390.
Stauffenberg, J. (2015, August 11). Men may never truly get over a relationship, study says. Retrieved from Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/love-sex/men-may-never-truly-get-over-a-relationship-break-up-says-study-10450413.html
Vilhauer, J. (2015, November 27). This is why ghosting hurts so much. Retrieved from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/living-forward/201511/is-why-ghosting-hurts-so-much