Stick the Ben & Jerry's back in the freezer and step away from the Nicholas Sparks movie marathon. There's new scientific support for a better method of recovering from a nasty breakup: dwelling on it.
We know, conventional wisdom says you're better off destroying the physical evidence of lost love and sealing the memories in a mental vault labeled "Do Not Open, Hazardous Waste!" But, research published online today in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science suggests that reflecting on your relationship and breakup may be the better move.
The study divided 210 participants who had experienced breakups within the previous six months into two groups. The first group engaged in a series of activities that gauged the participants' emotional states, including interviews, questionnaires, and stream-of-consciousness speaking exercises (during which participant heart rates were monitored) as well as initial and final surveys. The second group only took the initial and final surveys.
After nine weeks, those who'd completed the more intensive assessments had adjusted better to their breakups, reporting less loneliness and emotional disturbance than those whose assessments had been more basic. They also used "fewer first-person plural words" during interviews about their breakups — indicating that they had more successfully psychologically untangled their identities from their former partners, compared to the simple-survey group. Reclaiming a clear, independent sense of self "seems to be a big force driving the positive effects of this study," stated co-author Grace Larson of Northwestern University. "So, I would encourage a person who recently experienced a breakup to consider who he or she is, apart from the relationship."
The takeaway: Looking back on a breakup can be healthy, as long as you extrapolate beyond the relationship's endpoint and reclaim the person you are without your partner. If you're heartbroken and there's no survey-wielding researcher in sight, grab your journal or a voice recorder and let it all out. That self-reflection could be the key to moving on.