Men are tough and women are emotional. Those are the prejudices one researcher from Wake Forest set out to challenge in a study of young adult relationships that involved more than a thousand participants who were 18 – 23 years old. Robin Simon, key researcher for the Wake Forest School of Sociology study, analyzed data from a larger mental health study conducted on young adults in southern Florida, examining the ways in which young men and women respond to relationship struggles through depression and use of substance abuse.
Simon’s goal was to challenge commonly held assumptions that women suffer more emotionally from relationship ups and downs. Simon explains, “Even though men sometimes try to present a tough face, unhappy romances take a greater emotional toll on men than women. They just express their distress differently than women.”
The findings suggest that young adult men suffer more mental health strain from rocky relationships than women and reap greater benefits from healthy romantic relationships. “Our paper sheds light on the association between non-marital romantic relationships and emotional well-being among men and women on the threshold of adulthood,” Simon explained. “Surprisingly, we found young men are more reactive to the quality of ongoing relationships. While current involvements and recent breakups are more closely associated with women’s than men’s mental health, support and strain in an ongoing relationship are more closely associated with men’s than women’s emotional well-being.”
Simon speculates that the reason men’s mental health is more strongly affected by romantic relationships is because it is their primary source of intimacy, where women often have several intimate female friendships that sustain them regardless of the status of their romantic relationships. Simon believes that young adult men may connect the health of their romantic relationship with their self identity, making it easier for them to suffer feelings of poor self-worth when the relationship fails.
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