In a paper published last year (“Non Marital Romantic Relationships and Mental Health in Early Adulthood: Does the Association Differ for Women and Men?” The journal of Health and Social Behavior, June 2010) the authors found that when a romantic relationship ends, young men suffer more emotional distress than women. Previous studies of how men and women past young adulthood are emotionally affected by pains in love indicated both sexes being similarly affected.

So, why the differences between young men and older men?
As a psychotherapist that has worked for over thirty years with men and women as well as couples, dealing with the ups and downs of love and the tumultuous and often unexpected endings of love relationships, I am not at all surprised to hear that men suffer a great deal when love relationships don’t work out for them. In fact, it is my experience that men suffer more than women AT ALL AGES, NOT ONLY IN YOUNG ADULTHOOD when a love relationship breaks up.

All studies on the effects and benefits of marriage on men and women indicate that men fare much better – they are healthier, live longer, are happier - when they are in good love relationships versus being alone, the benefits greatly outweighing the liabilities. For women, on the other hand, there does not seem to be a striking difference whether they are with someone they love or are alone. Men tend to rely on women not only for emotional needs, but also for social and recreational activities, and for staying connected to the family and the community at large. When relationships end, there are multiple losses for men to cope with. As women, on the other hand, become less and less dependent on men for financial support, they tend to be more independent and able to maintain different sources of support, connection and emotional outlets.

Historically, popular belief claimed women to suffer more than men when romantic relationships went awry. However, this belief had to do more with cultural stereotypes than gender. It had to do with what it meant to be a man or a woman in a culture where emotions and women were devalued and women were mostly seen as “weak” and “emotional,” the two terms being used almost synonymously. Men did not express their emotions; hence were thought to be stronger and more resilient than women

The difference between younger men and older men, in my clinical experience, is a reflection of the way these two groups of men deal and express their emotions, not of age-specific issues. This difference has to do with how culture is evolving – some call this process the “feminization” of our culture – toward valuing emotions and supporting healthy acknowledgment and expression of them.

Typically older men, who reflect the culture in which they grew up, continue to hold on to a male image of stoicism and toughness. In this image there isn’t much room for feelings. Older men tend to be uncomfortable with them, because they don’t know how to express and communicate them. They tend to minimize, repress and avoid emotions as their main means of coping with them. They tend to act them out using booze, over investing in work, or getting involved with other women.
They typically may not seek therapy, but when they do they are often surprised and uncomfortable with their tears, apologetic abut their emotional struggles, and confused by the intensity of their feelings. They tend to be judgmental of their ways of dealing with the loss of love, and struggle with their emotions, at times being ashamed of them.

Younger men, on the other hand, have to deal less and less with some of these stereotypical restrictions historically associated with manhood. They are more comfortable with their feelings and acknowledge and express them more openly. They have grown up in a more gender-equal universe, surrounded by strong female figures whose roles in the family often equaled or surpassed men’s. Hence they are more emotionally expressive and open to acknowledge the value of emotional relationships in their lives. Let’s welcome these cultural changes, as they are kinder to men and more beneficial to the development and longevity of healthy love relationships.

Author's Bio: 

Daniela Roher, PhD is a psychotherapist in private practice with offices in Carefree, AZ and in Scottsdale, AZ. Daniela has worked in this field helping individuals and couples better understand their emotions and teaching them how to manage and regulate them, without letting them get overwhelming or frightening. She has been in this profession for over thirty years, both in Europe and the U.S. Aside from her reputation as a clinician, Daniela has developed a national reputation with her blog.