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So grateful for my ex: Men hold more positive views of former partners than women do
Many people often continue to harbour positive feelings towards their exes long after the relationship is over.
Break-ups are always hard, with love and companionship giving way to feelings of resentment and the souring of once treasured memories.
Yet people often continue to harbour positive feelings towards their exes long after the relationship is over. And that may be particularly the case if you're a man, according to a recent study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science. Researchers have found that, in heterosexual relationships at least, men tend to view their exes more positively than do women.
Ursula Athenstaedt from the University of Graz and colleagues first discovered the effect when conducting research into whether people's attitudes towards their exes could be altered. Across two studies, a total of almost 300 heterosexual participants completed a questionnaire about their attitudes towards their former partners, rating their agreement with 18 statements like "When I think about my ex-partner I get angry" and "My ex-partner has many positive traits". The researchers' experimental manipulation turned out to have no effect on these ratings — but instead they found that, overall, men tended to have slightly more positive attitudes towards their exes than women.
The team decided to further explore the finding in a third study. They gave the same attitude questionnaire to 612 new participants, all of whom had had a previous heterosexual relationship lasting at least 4 months; some were now in a new relationship while others were single. The participants also completed several other scales, such as rating the degree of social support they had received from their ex-partner, how much they used coping strategies like self-distraction or venting following their break-up, the reasons for breaking up, and their attitudes towards sex and love.
Men again had more positive attitudes towards their exes than women, with an average score on the questionnaire of 3.57 (out of 5) compared to the women's average of 3.11. But men and women also differed on several of the other measures as well. Men had a more "permissive" attitude towards sex (they were more likely to agree with statements like "I do not need to be committed to a person to have sex with her"), for example, and had received more social support from their exes than had women. On the other hand, women had used more coping strategies following their break-ups, and were more likely to say that their partner was the cause of the split. A subsequent analysis showed that these various factors could partly — but not completely — account for the differences between men and women in their attitudes towards exes.
The researchers suggest that the findings may stem from a combination of evolutionary and social factors. Men's permissive sexual attitudes might make them more eager to keep open the possibility of sex with former partners, for instance — and so it makes sense to maintain a more positive attitude towards them. Similarly, men may hold a rosier view of their exes because they were a greater source of emotional support, whereas women tended to receive less support from their partners and more from other sources like friends and family.
But whether these theories hold up remains to be seen. "While our studies document this stable gender difference, we do not know its specific origins. Even though both evolutionary and gender role theories provide some valuable insights, additional research is needed to pin down the key origins," the authors acknowledge. And it's also unclear how far the results generalise. Most notably, the study only included heterosexual participants, so doesn't reveal much about the attitudes of men and women who are gay or bisexual.
Still, having a more positive view of your ex may actually have a detrimental effect on subsequent romantic partnerships, the team suggests — so men's new relationships may be particularly prone to difficulties. In other words, being grateful for your ex may actually make it harder to say "thank you, next".
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Gender and sexual minority populations are experiencing rising anxiety and depression rates during the pandemic.
- Anxiety and depression rates are spiking in the LGBTQ+ community, and especially in individuals who hadn't struggled with those issues in the past.
- Overall, depression increased by an average PHQ-9 score of 1.21 and anxiety increased by an average GAD-7 score of 3.11.
- The researchers recommended that health care providers check in with LGBTQ+ patients about stress and screen for mood and anxiety disorders—even among those with no prior history of anxiety or depression.
Study findings<p>For the study, <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05970-4" target="_blank">published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine</a><em>, </em>Flentje and her team evaluated survey responses from nearly 2,300 individuals who identified as being in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community. Most of the participants were white, while nearly 19 percent identified as a racial or ethnic minority. Multiple genders were represented with cisgender women (27.2 percent) and men (24.6 percent) making up a majority of the participants. Sixty-three percent had been assigned female at birth. For the most part, participants identified their sexual orientations as queer (40.3 percent), gay (36.5 percent), and bisexual (30.3 percent).</p><p>The JGIM study participants were recruited from the 18,000-participant <a href="https://pridestudy.org/" target="_blank">PRIDE Study</a> (Population Research in Identity and Disparities for Equality), which is the first large-scale, long-term national study focusing on American adults who identify as LGBTQ+. It conducts annual questionnaires to understand factors related to health and disease in this population. </p><p>Participants filled out an annual questionnaire (starting in June 2019) and a COVID-19 impact survey this past spring. Flentje noted that on an individual level, some people may not have experienced a big change in anxiety or depression levels, but for others there was. Overall, depression increased by a <a href="https://patient.info/doctor/patient-health-questionnaire-phq-9" target="_blank">PHQ-9 score</a> of 1.21, putting it at 8.31 on average. Anxiety went up by a <a href="https://www.mdcalc.com/gad-7-general-anxiety-disorder-7" target="_blank">GAD-7</a> score of 3.11 to an average of 8.89. Interestingly, the average PHQ-9 scores for those who screened positive for depression at the first 2019 survey decreased by 1.08. Those who screened negative for depression saw their PHQ-9 scores increase by 2.17 on average. As for anxiety, researchers detected no GAD-7 change among the study participants who screened positive for anxiety in the first survey, but did see an overall increase of 3.93 among those who had initially been evaluated as negative for the disorder. </p>
Risks among gender and sexual minorities<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fc3fd1ae68b77bbbf58a6995638d6d65"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/EnUqDjCqg0A?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The LGBTQ+ community is a vulnerable population to mental health concerns because of their fear of stigmatization and previous discriminatory experiences.</p> <p>Previous research by the Human Rights Campaign has found "that LGBTQ Americans are more likely than the <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/general+population/" target="_blank">general population</a> to live in poverty and lack access to adequate medical care, paid <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/medical+leave/" target="_blank">medical leave</a>, and basic necessities during the pandemic," said researcher Tari Hanneman, director of the health and aging program at the campaign.</p> <p>"Therefore, it is not surprising to see this increase in anxiety and depression among this population," Hanneman said in the release. "This study highlights the need for <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/health+care+professionals/" target="_blank">health care professionals</a> to support, affirm and provide <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/critical+care/" target="_blank">critical care</a> for the LGBTQ community to manage and maintain their mental health, as well as their physical health, during this pandemic."</p>
What should health care providers do?<p>The authors of the study recommend that health care providers check in with LGBTQ+ patients about stress and screen for mood and anxiety disorders in members of that community—even among those with no prior history of anxiety or depression.</p><p>As cases of COVID-19 continue to mount, the sustained social distancing, potential isolation, economic precariousness, and personal illness, grief, and loss are bound to have increased and varied impacts on mental health. Effective treatments may include individual therapy and medications as well as more large-scale coronavirus support programs like peer-led groups and mindfulness practices. </p><p>"It will be important to find out what happens over time and to identify who is most at risk, so we can be sure to roll out public health interventions to support the mental health of our communities in the best and most effective ways," said Flentje.</p>
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