Science Says You Will Get Over Your Heartbreak

According to a new review of the scientific literature, we humans are hardwired to overcome the heartbreak of breakups. So when you’re feeling like that betrayal, that cheating incident and that resultant breakup will keep you down forever, know that it isn’t true. Your brain has evolved to take you through this difficult period and come out on the other side, ready to love and trust again.

Primary Mate Ejection

Official science terminology refers to a breakup as a primary mate ejection. It sounds less heartbreaking than being dumped, but it means the same thing. Whether your partner has broken up with you or you have ended the relationship because of his or her infidelity, experiencing a primary mate ejection hurts. It’s one of the most emotionally painful human experiences.

To better understand primary mate ejection and its fallout, researchers from Saint Louis University, led by Brian Boutwell, PhD, reviewed studies from evolutionary psychology. The studies ranged from researching the act of the breakup to moving on after rejection and infidelity. The results of the survey demonstrate that not only will you recover from your heartbreak, but you are hardwired by evolution to sever romantic ties and move on to new mates.

The Breakup Evolutionary Advantage

To understand why we might be hardwired for breakups and forging new relationships, we need to consider the purpose of evolution. We evolve in the name of survival. Anything that will help the human race succeed in surviving and producing offspring is an evolutionary advantage. In order to reproduce, we need successful relationships. If you are capable of getting rid of a mate, severing that emotional tie and finding a new one, you have a reproductive advantage. From the opposite perspective, if you can’t move on, if it’s too difficult to get over a breakup, you won’t find and bond with a new mate, which is an evolutionary disadvantage.

Love Is Like a Drug Addiction

The review of the research also included studies of brain scans of people in love. These studies have found that people who claim to be fully and deeply in love with a partner show increased activity in the pleasure center of the brain as compared to people not in love. This is the same area of the brain affected by drug use. When someone uses a drug, like cocaine, it causes a flood of the feel-good brain chemical dopamine.

It may be that this activity in the pleasure center of the brain that accompanies romantic love is what helps us form emotional attachments, much like a drug user gets attached to the drug. Does this mean that losing a romantic partner is like trying to recover from a drug addiction? It may be, but evidence is inconclusive currently. Brain scans of former drug addicts show that there are changes in the brain that may have helped them get over the addiction. It could be that when you have to get over a partner, you will experience similar changes in the brain. To know for sure, Boutwell says, we need more research, including brain scans of people getting over breakups.

The summary of research on heartbreak should be interesting and hopeful for anyone going through a breakup, especially those who have experienced infidelity. Cheating and betrayal add extra layers of misery to the pain of a breakup, but just remember that you have an evolutionary advantage. Your brain is hardwired to get over this and to be able to find love, emotional attachment and trust again.

Posted on September 14th, 2016

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