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New UBC study finds men seek a variety of support avenues post breakup

Connecting with peers, doing research and professional help are some ways men heal from a break up

Breakups are tough but men are breaking stereotypes by navigating resources to help themselves get through, according to a new study.

The new study out of the men’s health research program at the University of B.C. school of nursing finds that men actually process breakups better than commonly thought.

“We’ve known that men seek help when an intimate partner relationship breaks down, but we always thought it was professional help they sought. Our research shows that they creatively used various strategies,” said study author John Oliffe.

Key research found that younger men and those who were in shorter-term relationships tend to do solitary work which may take the forms of introspection, internet searches for relevant blogs and coaching.

The study was conducted by employing interpretive descriptive methods and interviews with 47 men exploring their mental health help-seeking after a relationship break-up.

Findings were that participants who had more established relationships reached out to friends and family members or community-based groups for support (like connecting with other individuals who are also going through a divorce or who are also parents). Participants with greater mental health challenges, some pre-existing, sought out professional counselling or therapy.

The research paper contradicts the popular stereotype that men don’t want support during a breakup, separation, or divorce, according to researchers.

“It’s also important to shift the narrative. The story that is most often told is that when a relationship breaks down, the man goes into crisis and or perpetrates violence on his partner, but this is not the trajectory for most men. It’s helpful for guys to see that most breakups end with the men working through their challenges by leaning into help,” Oliffe said.

He and co-author Mary T. Kelly said men can be resourceful and resilient as they work their way through painful relationship changes.

“A failed relationship can lead to significant mental stress. Men already have higher risks for suicide than women, and marital separation increases that risk four times. By exploring the ways through which men seek help after a breakup, we can potentially design better supports for their mental health,” Kelly said.

The study shatters the trope that men aren’t emotional and aren’t affected as much as the rest of us by a breakup, she said.

“We also tend to think that men don’t do introspection or vulnerability, but a lot of the men were really engaging in that deep kind of work.”

In terms of resources for men going through a breakup, Kelly said there is not much out there.

“However, our group at UBC is working on a few projects. With support from Movember, we’re building an online resource for men who want to learn more about dealing with relationship conflicts and building relationship skills.

UBC is also currently looking for participants for a new project that will invite men to share their ideas on what contributes to a healthy relationship, she said.

Oliffe shares his advice for men currently experiencing a breakup.

“Take some time and sit with the emotions that go with the breakup. You can be sad and happy, angry and sorrowful at the same time. Look to reconnect or stay connected with friends and family. Be careful about substance use. Maintain a routine, get some exercise and be open to reaching out for professional help,” he said.

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