Young men are often portrayed as insensitive players with a "love 'em and leave 'em" attitude toward the opposite sex, but a new study suggests that they are actually more vulnerable to the emotional ups and downs of romantic relationships than young women.
"The perception is that young men are unfeeling when it comes to relationships, and that all they want is to have sex," said study author Robin Simon, a professor of sociology at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC.
"But these findings reveal that they are emotionally involved, and that they actually benefit more from the good parts of the relationship and are more harmed by the bad than women."
For the study, Simon and co-author Anne Barrett, an associate professor of sociology at Florida State University in Tallahassee, analysed survey data on 1 611 men and women between the ages of 18 and 23 that had been originally gathered for a long-term study of mental health and the transition to adulthood.
First, they looked at whether being in a relationship or having a recent breakup had any effect on the young adults' mental health, as well as whether there were any differences in men vs. women. Then, they examined what effect partner strain and support in an ongoing relationship had on the subjects' mental well-being, and whether there were any gender differences there.
Not surprisingly, Simon and Barrett found that women were more likely than men to experience depression when a relationship ended and benefited more from being part of a couple.
But when the researchers looked at the effects of ongoing relationships on mental health, the tables were turned. Men received greater emotional benefits than women from the positive aspects of a romantic relationship, and they were also more likely than women to be emotionally harmed by the stress of a rocky patch.
Simon said young men might be more vulnerable to the ups and downs of a romance because in many cases it's their sole source of intimacy, whereas "young women are more likely to have a variety of different types of close relationships."
It's also possible, she said, that societal changes have led today's generation of men to become more emotionally dependent on their girlfriends. "The young men in our study came of age at a very different historical time," said Simon.
"These kids had working moms and their dads often depended on that salary, so they're more likely to view marriage as a partnership."
Lack of close relationships
Another expert agreed with the notion that men may be more vulnerable because they don't have as many close, supportive relationships as women.
"In our marriage education workshops, I often hear men remark that their wives are their sole source of emotional support, and it is often the husbands that express the most gratitude for the support and encouragement of other husbands, and wives, in the group," said psychologist Laura E. Frame, supervisor of the Supporting Healthy Marriage Program at Montefiore Medical Centre in New York City.
Frame added that the findings support the idea that young people should be educated about how to establish and maintain healthy romantic partnerships.
"These skills can be taught and practiced, and can go a long way in preventing or mitigating the consequences of relationship strain on mental health," she said. The findings were published in the June issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour. - (HealthDay News, June 2010)