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When love goes sour, the fallout can be severe — just check out the song list of any Taylor Swift album.
But what does science have to say about the emotional aftermath of breakups? It turns out that just like relationships themselves, separations can be complicated. How people respond depends on factors like how they felt about the relationship in the first place, how entwined their self-image was with their partner's and even how their partner reacts on social media.
Here are the cold, hard facts about splitsville.
Breakups are predictableSlide 2 of 15
Breakups are predictable
Ever been through one of those breakups where you were the last person to see it coming? It may sting when your friends nod knowingly when you tell them you're single, but here's even worse news: Science probably could have given you a warning, too.
A 2010 study published in the journal Psychological Science asked 222 volunteers, all of whom were in relationships, to say their partners' names and then give two words they felt were related to them.
Next, the researchers did a test of implicit association, which uncovers feelings people might not even admit to themselves. They paired the partner-related words with either positive words (e.g., "gift") or with negative words ("death") and asked the participants to press a button either when the word was linked to a positive or to a negative.
The idea is that if a person feels positively about the word they gave about their partner, they will be faster to press the positive button when the word is linked to positive words. If they feel negatively, they will be quicker to press the button when the word is linked to negative words.
It turned out that the people who were faster to link their partner-related vocabulary to negative words were also more likely to split up over the next year than people who were faster to link their partner descriptions with positive words, the researchers found. This was true even when controlling for relationship satisfaction and conflict. [8 Myths That Could Kill Your Relationship]
"This suggests that the earliest seeds of relationship decay might be found within attitudes that subjects might be unaware of or are unable or unwilling to report," the researchers wrote.Slide 3 of 15
Breakups are about identitySlide 4 of 15
Breakups are about identity
The more committed a couple, the more that each person's sense of self begins to overlap their partner's, according to a 2010 paper in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. A series of studies — relying on surveys and daily diaries — found that a breakup can disrupt a person's sense of self, leaving them adrift.
College students who'd been through a breakup were more likely to use words like "confuse" and "bewilder" in daily diary entries than those who hadn't, the researchers found. They were also more emotionally distressed than people who hadn't lost their relationships, according to a six-month survey in which students filled out questionnaires each week. Notably, the less clear the students felt about their own self-concept, the more distressed they were after a breakup.
"Couples may not only come to complete each others' sentences; they may actually come to complete each others' selves," the researchers wrote. "When these relationships end, individuals experience not only pain over the loss of the partner, but also changes in their selves."Slide 5 of 15
Dwelling might be healthySlide 6 of 15
Dwelling might be healthy
The post-breakup ritual is sacrosanct: Ice cream, pajamas, sappy movies.
A little bit of wallowing may be a good thing. When researchers asked recently single people to participate in intensive sessions exploring their feelings about the breakups, they found that these individuals actually recovered better than people who participated in just a few short sessions. The results, reported in 2015 in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science, were somewhat counterintuitive.
"At first glance, it might seem like repeatedly reminding participants that they had just broken up — and asking them to describe the breakup over and over — might delay recovery," study researcher Grace Larson of Northwestern University said in a statement. But instead, Larson said, lingering for a while in a self-reflection phase appears to help people put the past behind them.Slide 7 of 15
But don't dwell too muchSlide 8 of 15