New Study Shows How Women and Men View Exes Differently

What do men and women think about their exes? New research explains the differences.

Staying friends with an ex tends to be a touchy subject. To some, the ability to let the love that you shared carry over into a platonic relationship is a sign of emotional maturity. To others, it's a red flag that suggests the fire hasn't died out, and a threat to any current relationship. Now, a new study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science has found that there may be a gender divide when it comes to views on exes: Men seem to view their former partners more favorably than women do. But the reasons behind this gender divide may surprise you.

The study, led by Ursula Athenstaedt from the University of Graz, involved surveying nearly 900 adults. Each participant was in a current heterosexual relationship for at least four months and had an ex-partner with whom the relationship had also lasted at least four months. What Athenstaedt and her team found was that men generally hold more positive attitudes towards their exes than women do.

The researchers posed a few interesting theories regarding the source of this disparity. Firstly, they said that "women are more likely to hold 'pragmatic' love attitudes, including stronger preference for long-term, more exclusive relationships," whereas men are more likely to "endorse a 'game-playing' attitude to love" and "value sex more strongly as a physical act that gives pleasure."

Simply put, this evolutionary theory would mean women are more likely to view their investment in a relationship as a waste of time if it doesn't result in a lifelong commitment, whereas men are more inclined to view the relationship as a sexually gratifying experience that met their needs and expectations.

The researchers also noted that women were more likely than men to blame their breakup on their exes, and were more likely to report "problematic partner behaviors" such as infidelity or emotional and physical abuse as the reasons for the split. Men, on the other hand, "are more likely to claim that they do not know what caused their past breakups."

Finally, the research showed that women engage in more "constructive coping than men do," seeking support from friends who give them closure and assure them that their ex was not a good partner. Men, on the other hand, "usually experience greater ambivalence," "often remain emotionally attached longer," and "are less likely to believe that their ex-partner was not right for them." It therefore follows that men would be "more likely to preserve positive evaluations of their ex-partners."

Of course, given how much relationship dynamics are shifting in today's society, all of this might change. Recent research has shown that many women struggle with monogamy just as much as men do. And now that women are more financially independent and the pressure to get married has diminished as a result, they are less likely to look to men as a potential lifelong resource, and therefore—perhaps—less likely to feel bitter if a relationship doesn't end with a "happily ever after." For more on this, check out New Study Highlights Why So Many Americans Are Still Single.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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