Contrary to what many of us might assume, it would appear that the ups and downs of romantic relationships take a greater
emotional toll on young men than women, according to new research from the US. The researchers said young men were more
affected emotionally by the quality of relationships while women tended to be more affected by whether they had a relationship
or not and by break ups.
A report on the research by Drs Robin Simon, Professor of Sociology at Wake Forest University, Winston Salem, North Carolina, and Anne Barrett, Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at Florida State University, appears in the June issue of Journal of Health and Social Behavior, and is available online.
For the study, Simon and Barrett examined data from a long term study of mental health and the transition to adulthood that involved over 1,000 unmarried young adults aged from 18 to 23 living in South Florida.
They looked for potential links between various dimensions of relationships and symptoms of depression and substance dependence and abuse.
Their analysis revealed that:
- Gender differences varied across dimensions of relationships.
- Current involvements and recent break ups were more closely linked to women's mental health than men's.
- Support and strain in an ongoing relationship were more closely linked to men's emotional wellbeing than women's.
- Men get greater emotional benefits from the positive aspects of an ongoing relationship.
"Women express emotional distress with depression while men express emotional distress with substance problems," said Simon.
"Surprisingly, we found young men are more reactive to the quality of ongoing relationships," she added, noting that a possible explanation could be that for young men their romantic partner is most likely their primary source of intimacy, whereas women are more likely to have a number of close relationships with family and friends.
Another explanation could be that strain in a romantic relationship threatens young men's sense of identity and feelings of self-worth.
Also, while young men are more affected by the quality of their current relationships, young women tend to be more affected by whether they are in a relationship or not, said Simon, and they are more likely to get depression when it comes to an end, or feel a greater benefit from simply being in a relationship.
In their paper, Simon and Barrett concluded that:
"Our findings highlight the need to consider the period in the life course as well as experiences of specific cohorts of men and women when theorizing about gender differences in the importance of intimate relationships for mental health."
Simon said we still have a lot to learn about relationships in early adulthood and more research is needed on this stage of life when young adults tend to be focused on the self, exploring identity, and forging new relationships.
"Nonmarital Romantic Relationships and Mental Health in Early Adulthood: Does the Association Differ for Women and Men?"
Robin W. Simon and Anne E. Barrett
Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Jun 2010, vol. 51, no. 2, pp. 168 - 182.
Source: Wake Forest University.
Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD