College Student Recovery from a Broken Heart

By Knox, David; Zusman, Marty E. et al. | College Student Journal, September 2000 | Go to article overview

College Student Recovery from a Broken Heart


Knox, David, Zusman, Marty E., Kaluzny, Melissa, Cooper, Chris, College Student Journal


Four-hundred and ten undergraduates at a large southeastern university completed a confidential survey about their recovery from a love relationship that ended. Most reported medium difficulty with their recovery with men reporting more difficulty than women. Time and a new partner were most helpful in getting over a broken heart. Most reported that they were either friends or did not see their previous partner. Implications for university faculty, counselors, and students are suggested.

"I thought it was over baby, we said goodbye. But I can't go a day without your face going through my mind.... If this is for the best why are you still in my heart? ... Oh, you're still in my soul" are among the lyrics to a country-western hit, Let Me Let Go by Faith Hill. She sings of a relationship that is over in time but not over in her heart. "Not a sane minute passes without you in it" she continues. College students are not unacquainted with love relationships that have ended and the broken heart which follows. This study examined the recovery patterns of college students who reported having been in a love relationship that ended.

Sample and Methods

The sample consisted of 473 freshmen and sophomore undergraduates at a large southeastern university. Respondents completed a confidential survey about prior love relationships that had ended and how they felt about and reacted to the breakup. Of these respondents, 410 (87%) reported that they had been in a relationship that ended. There were no statistically significant differences between women and men reporting previous involvement in a now terminated relationship. The analysis to follow is based on the responses of the 410 students (280 women, 130 men) who revealed information about how they recovered from a terminated love relationship.

Findings & Discussion

Analysis of the data revealed some significant differences.

1. Sex differences in relationship termination. Women were more likely (50%) than men (40%) (p [is less than] .01) to report that they initiated the breakup. Previous research (Hendrick and Hendrick, 1991; Silliman and Schumm, 1995) has documented more investment in relationship outcomes by women than men. Sociologists explain such a phenomenon as parental investment in a potential good father for their offspring. One respondent recalled, "I got tired of his lack of ambition - I just thought I could do better. He's a nice guy but living in a trailer is not my idea of a life."

2. Sex differences in relationship recovery. Women and men also differed in regard to how much of a problem it was when the relationship ended. When respondents were asked to rate their level of difficulty from no problem to complete devastation on a 10 point continuum, men scored 4.96 and women 4.35. Researchers Choo, Levine, and Hatfield (1996) also found in their study of relationship breakups that men reported less joy and relief than women immediately after the breakup.

We asked our students to explain why men might have more difficulty with terminated relationships. Some of the students said that "men have such inflated ego's they can't believe that a woman would actually dump them". Others said, "men are oblivious to what is happening in relationships and may not have a clue that it is heading toward an abrupt end. When it does end, they are in shock."

3. Racial differences in relationship endings. Blacks were significantly (p [is less than] .01) more likely than whites to report that they had ever been involved in a romantic relationship that ended (88% vs 875%). In addition, blacks were significantly (p [is less than] .02) more likely to report that their last love relationship ended by mutual consent than whites (47% vs 27%). When one partner reported ending the relationship, it was more likely to be the woman. …

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