A breakup can be very difficult. It doesn’t matter if it’s messy or entirely mutual, ending a relationship that you put effort into doesn’t feel good.
Does he even care that things have ended?
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This might surprise you, but it turns out that there aren’t too many differences in how men and women approach romantic relationships.
Studies have actually shown that men tend to think more romantically about dating than women do. While some men act like they don’t like their partners, many guys are very invested in their relationships.
So, while many women might express their pain after a breakup more than men, breakups hit guys just as hard. So why do men react so differently than women when a relationship ends?
Put simply, men haven’t been taught to be open about their emotions in the ways that women have been allowed to. It’s less that we’re wired differently. We’re taught to react to our relationships differently, depending on our gender.
Women have a more nuanced grasp of how facial expressions convey emotion1. Why? Because girls are taught to notice and react to how others express themselves more thoroughly than boys.
Girls are taught to interpret and care about how others feel. Parents tend to speak more emotionally to their daughters. Because of this exposure, girls are given more opportunities to fine-tune their social-emotional skills.
For boys and men, there is less social pressure to develop emotional expression. So they have fewer tools to deal with the same range of emotions that women have.
This continues into adulthood. Men are discouraged from expressing their emotions and needs. Even when men gain the courage to tell a counselor that they have been abused by their girlfriend or wife, they aren’t getting enough support2.
Women tend to have more options for expressing themselves after a breakup. They have experience with soothing themselves through difficult emotions. They tend to have multiple intimate friendships and connections to receive support.
When guys feel intensely, they often have rigid boundaries about how they can express that. They may not be able to self-soothe, because men are discouraged from crying, or seeking out things that are perceived as “soft” or girly.
They also tend to share less intimately with their friends than women do.
So a guy’s behavior after a breakup is going to be different than you might expect. He deals with the same negative feelings you do - anxiety, anger, sadness - but he’ll deal with them the way he knows how.
Not every guy is going to have the same thoughts running through his mind after a breakup.
Even with all of my experience as a therapist, I can’t tell you exactly what anyone is thinking. I can only make an educated guess. (But I will admit that I’m probably better at guessing than people who aren’t trained.)
That being said, there are common thoughts that people experience after a breakup, and they relate to grief.
Ending a relationship is breaking an important connection in our lives. Just like moving away from friends or losing a job, breakups can have people thinking in predictable patterns. These patterns might occur in this order or be mixed up. He may follow all of them or just a few.
When something painful happens, one of the first things we do is try to convince ourselves it’s not true. This is a natural resistance to strong negative emotions.
He may be thinking that you’ll come to your senses and take him back. He might be thinking that once both of you cool down, you can talk things out. If things were mutual, he may be looking for reasons that the breakup didn’t need to happen.
This stage can be hard to move through. Human brains are very good at doing mental gymnastics to try to find ways to control the situation.
Denying that the breakup is happening is one of the easiest ways to trick ourselves into feeling more stable.
At some point, denial tends to turn into a search for reasons that things are happening to us. He may start to try to figure out how the two of you got to this point. Unfortunately, that can lead to irrational thinking that just frustrates us further.
It takes a lot less time to regret breaking up than people think. For some, it takes a few weeks for anxiety to set in. For others, it could be just a couple of hours.
It’s possible that he’ll find himself wanting to reach out to you on reflex. He’ll run into moments where he can’t talk to others in the unique language the two of you shared. Maybe he’ll realize that things you did as a couple feel awkward, now.
After losing this kind of connection, the brain wants to restore it. Just like you, his thoughts might be cycling through the good times. The pain of the breakup might make the bad times seem not so bad.
Shame is a deeply rooted and painful emotion. When this emotion comes up, it’s rooted in some belief that you are not enough3. Not successful enough, attractive enough, strong enough, wealthy enough. This lack is tied to who you are as a person.
Men are not immune to this emotion. Guys are much more sensitive about how they are perceived than even other men realize. He may have a tough exterior, but he has insecurities just like anybody else.
Men have a lot of pressure to perform masculinity in our current society. The stress from keeping up this facade can lead to anxiety, depression, and instances of leashing out to reaffirm his masculinity4. This can cause significant distress if he thinks you’ve broken up because he’s not enough of a man.
Sexual performance is something that can be tied to masculinity. Men who experience sexual dysfunction are often depressed5, withdrawing and criticising themselves. If there have been times where he’s not been able to have sex, he might be considering that as a reason you’ve left.
A lot of men are aware that they have difficulty expressing themselves. If he is one of those men, he may have been emotionally invested in the relationship but unable to show it. He might feel ashamed about his inability to communicate effectively.
Anger is the emotion we feel when something isn’t right. So when we’re dealing with the emotional pain of a breakup, it makes sense when anger springs up.
Being angry and placing the blame on you might help him feel less hurt and anxious. After all, if it’s his ex-girlfriend who was the problem, he doesn’t have to take responsibility for his actions.
Misplaced blame isn’t the only reason he might be angry, though.
Anger is a legitimate and valid response to any hurt. He may think about times when you’ve poked fun at him or made him feel bad. He might think about times when you were hurt and explore his own anger about those situations.
For some people, a breakup is a sign that they’re not good at relationships. If you broke up for similar reasons to his previous relationship, it could reinforce thoughts that there’s something wrong with him.
Those kinds of thoughts can lead to a kind of giving up on making improvements. He might think that all of his relationships are doomed. That kind of thinking is damaging and leads to numbness and difficulty in making connections in the future.
Ultimately, everyone going through a breakup has to move toward acceptance in order to move forward.
Acceptance doesn’t mean he’s happy that the relationship ended. It doesn’t even mean that there are no more hurt feelings. It’s just being able to counter the what-ifs and recognize that the relationship is over.
A man who is at this stage may be reminding himself to move on. He’s not necessarily pushing away old memories, but he’s not dwelling on them either. He can think of your strengths and flaws and recognize that the two of you didn’t fit each other.
He can feel the hurt and know that he can still experience the joys in the world.
How we act is directly influenced by how we think and feel. How he acts is going to depend on his personality and his thinking patterns. Every man is unique, but you might see behavior that fits into the following categories.
After a breakup, it can be easy to think of all of the good things about an ex-partner. A common trait in men’s behavior after a breakup is to want to undo the end of the relationship.
If he’s in denial that the relationship ended, you’ll probably notice that he keeps talking to you with the same level of intimacy. He’s asking about your family and trying to have personal chats.
He’s doing all of the things a boyfriend should do. And all of the things an ex-boyfriend shouldn’t.
He might be trying to deny his own insecurities or force you to “admit” that you’re the problem. It could be his way of stuffing his own emotions down to try to get things to go back to normal.
If he won’t accept that things are over, it’s time to enact a no-contact rule. A clean break can be painful, but continuing to talk like you’re together will not make things easier.
He might not treat you like you’re still together, but you might notice him treating you better. He respects your boundaries. He offers to do things you’ve always had to ask for in the past. He remembers important dates and reaches out to you.
It might feel nice that he’s doing all of these things. It might remind you of the beginning of your relationship. But even if he’s acting exactly how you want, you should pause before deciding to give love another shot.
Ask yourself: what stopped him from acting this way before things ended? Has he really grown into this mature person, or is he love-bombing you? Do either of you believe these changes will last if you get back together?
One of the dominant narratives surrounding gender roles is that men should be providers. If he’s started giving you gifts, money, or assistance with difficult tasks, he might be trying to meet that standard.
Gifts can also be a reliable way to get other people to say nice things about you. If he sends flowers to your office, your coworkers are likely to mention how nice the gesture is. Some people might urge you to be grateful. Others might suggest that the gift is an indication that you should rethink things.
If he’s offering gifts, really think about what it means to accept them. Do you think you can graciously accept a gift while holding your boundaries? Is what he’s giving you appropriate for an ex-boyfriend?
Moving on is the goal of the healing process, but it’s not something anyone can rush. Here are signs that he’s trying to force himself to feel better.
A lot of people treat sex and intimacy as the same thing, but they’re not always linked. Guys tend to think this way when they have a tough time accessing their feelings.
Something casual, like a one-night stand, might be a way for him to try to shield his emotions. If he can have sex without expectations, he might be able to keep himself from getting emotionally invested. While this can be helpful for some people, he’s not going to feel fulfilled if he’s looking for a real connection.
If you find out he’s hooking up with people post-breakup, try to avoid any further information. He’s a big boy, and it’s not your job to figure him out while you’re trying to heal yourself.
For a serial monogamist, being single needs to be avoided as much as possible. He might find himself in a few rebound relationships as he avoids dealing with his own emotions. Such relationships can also be baked in a need for external validation if he has low self-esteem.
He will probably see the same problems in his new relationship that he was dealing with before.
If you see that he’s gotten into a deep relationship shortly after the end of yours, know it’s probably more about him than it is about you.
There’s a strange phenomenon that occurs when people are hurting. Sometimes, we engage in self-destructive behaviors to reduce or control the pain.
Wait, going to the gym is bad?
A lot of guys deal with hard emotions by pushing themselves physically. It’s actually not a bad coping mechanism when done in moderation. But for some people, overtraining is a real problem.
Working out to excess is often a way of trying to control the environment by controlling how the body looks and feels.
Leave his gym selfies alone. Don’t even look at them. Focus instead on your own physical wellness as part of your healing.
Not all self-destructive tendencies are active. Maintenance tasks are the basis of our well-being. Neglecting one’s self-care can make it significantly harder to function.
If he’s not sleeping, eating regularly, or even showering, it’s a sign that he’s not doing so well.
It’s still not your responsibility to take care of him, even if you notice he’s looking particularly sad and scruffy. If you feel comfortable doing so, let a friend of his know that he could probably use some support.
While alcohol, weed, and other substances aren’t inherently bad, they’re not great for someone experiencing difficult emotions.
Alcohol specifically, is a nervous system depressant, which often dulls our perception of unpleasant emotions. That’s why people want a drink after a hard day at work, it can make people forget their frustration or anxiety. Weed can have a very similar impact.
Unfortunately, there are two issues with using substances to deal with emotions.
First, when the only response a person makes to hard situations is to drink or smoke, it becomes harder and harder to tolerate unpleasant emotions. Things a person might have been able to deal with before can become unbearable.
Second, the more someone uses substances, the higher their tolerance is. That means they need more to achieve the desired effect. In such cases, that person is sober less and less often.
If your ex had issues with alcohol, weed, or other substances, it can be concerning to see him at the bar more often. I would recommend letting someone he trusts know that you’re worried, so that he has someone he can talk to.
Healing is a very personal experience. In order to move forward, a lot of us need to take a hard look at ourselves and get ready to make some changes. Here are some of the things you might see if he’s ready to be better for himself.
One of the first steps to getting to a place of emotional growth is to accept that humans are social creatures. We do our best when we have a support network we can rely on.
It might take him a little while to fully lean on his friends, but even just being close to others can help a person feel better. He might spend time with old friends, or find a new group of people to spend time with.
Trying new things and getting better at them is great for a person’s sense of self6. There’s no fancy reverse psychology trick to it - new hobbies just make people feel better.
Hobbies stimulate us to be more creative and curious. They help people look at the world, and themselves differently. And they often help people to expand their social circle.
Dealing with all of this can be messy and painful. Sometimes the thoughts, emotions, and problems are too big for friends to take care of. Getting the help of a professional coach or therapist is one of the things that tells me a man is ready to move forward.
Men care about relationships very much. Connection in a relationship is a two-way street and a man can be just as invested in a relationship as his partner. Men have different ways of showing their affection, but they still can feel hurt after a breakup.
The skill of recognizing and responding to emotions isn’t something we’re all born with. We have to be taught and practice those skills to get better. Men don’t get the same opportunities to practice that women do. Often, that means they have difficulty expressing themselves.
For some people, it takes just a few hours to regret ending a committed relationship. For others, it can take longer. It depends on why you broke up, what reminds him of the relationship, and the positive experiences you shared in the relationship.
There’s no way to know exactly what’s going through his head unless you ask him. But because a breakup severs the connection between him and someone important in his life, it’s a safe bet that he’s mourning, and thinking in predictable patterns related to grief.
This depends on the man, but changes in behavior might help you to understand his emotional state. If he’s stopped taking care of himself, thrown himself into a new relationship, or started trying to win you back, he’s probably having a hard time.
Breaking up hurts everyone involved. Unlike women, men are often discouraged from expressing how they feel, but that doesn’t mean they’re unaffected. Men grieve the end of relationships just like women do, and their behavior can reflect that.
Have you ever felt like an ex didn’t care after the breakup? Let us know how you took care of yourself during that time.