Studies on Falling Out of Love and Breaking Up and How to Recover From a Break Up – Research by Dr. Helen Fisher
Helen Fisher, biological anthropologist and author of “Anatomy of Love,” says heartbreak has physiological effects on our minds and bodies. There’s a scientific reason it hurts so much.
by Kelsey Chun
There’s science behind a broken heart—but recovery is possible
… Research has shown why our biology makes breaking up so hard for us, but thankfully it has also provided some helpful tips on what to do if you find yourself in that situation.
… one can better understand the unfortunate aftermath if a romantic relationship should end; it’s something akin to a drug withdrawal. Dr. Fisher and her colleague Lucy Brown also did research on people’s brains after they had just been broken up with, and their findings are in line with Dr. Fisher’s previous research.
While looking at images of their exes during MRIs, three brain regions light up in these heartbroken people: the first is the same brain region that lights up when someone is in love.
Dr. Fisher explains the meaning of this in her TED talk [(Link): The Brain In Love], “When you’ve been dumped, the one thing you want to do is forget about this human being and then go on with your life, but no, you just love them harder.” That brain system is the reward system, and it only becomes more active when you can’t get what you want—a loving partner.
[Self Care Tips After a Break Up]
…While manicures and shopping sprees are certainly nice, real self-care is about taking care of your own emotions, which often looks like being kinder rather than harsher with yourself, letting yourself cry, or saying “no” to activities that might overwhelm you more easily.
On the other hand, self-care might also include doing more, such as getting involved in more activities, hobbies, or projects.
Those who are recovering from alcoholism are encouraged to start new (or old but beloved) activities that interest them that don’t involve alcohol.
In a similar fashion, trying out new projects post-breakup that don’t remind you of your ex (or getting back into activities you enjoyed without him) can help you get your mind off him, find something you’re passionate about, or just enjoy something fun when you most need your spirits lifted.
Acting “out of love”
Staying virtually connected to your ex—texting, talking on the phone, or even just seeing him on social media—can make all the feelings you had (or still have) for him come flooding back.
If being in love is like being addicted to a drug, and a breakup is like drug withdrawal, then having things around that remind you of your ex could be likened to keeping that drug lying around your house—not a good move!
Thus, if you’re trying to fall out of love with someone, it is best to act “out of love” until you actually don’t feel in love.
To set yourself up for success in a breakup, delete your ex’s number from your phone, and unfollow his social media accounts. It can also be helpful to avoid sentimental places you shared, and get rid of pictures of him or gifts he gave you.
… Should you decide to stay peripherally connected to your ex, the fallout of the breakup may be prolonged, or worse.
Maybe you want to remain on good terms or you want him to think highly of you, so you don’t cut off all forms of access to him. However, keeping an eye on his life, even from a distance, may trigger feelings of nostalgia and sadness.
And staying connected may keep you from being able to move on; if you feel connected to him and struggle to fall out of love with him, it might keep you from finding love elsewhere or just enjoying life to the fullest as a single person.
… Finding the support of friends
….Likewise, in recovering from a heartbreaking breakup, investing in the non-romantic relationships in your life can be life-giving. Especially if you’re used to being with or talking with your ex almost every day, the absence can feel stark—video chatting or spending time with loved ones can help to stave off feelings of loneliness.
… Don’t be afraid to seek out friends who have gone through (or are going through) similar situations, too.
The solidarity of someone who has been there, or is currently there, can be exactly the balm your broken heart needs. It can help to talk to a friend who knows what it feels like or one who is on the other side of a painful breakup and can attest that it does indeed get better.
Healing from a break-up should be taken as seriously as healing from a broken arm, says psychiatrist Dr. Guy Winch.
- According to a study from anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher, when humans fall in love, regions of the brain that are rich in dopamine (a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in feeling pleasure) light up and parts of the brain that are used in fear and social judgment are operating at lower rates.
- The surge and decline of hormones in our brains when we experience a breakup are also similar to those felt when withdrawing from an addiction to drugs – and the pain felt during a breakup has appeared on MRI scans as similar to the physical pain felt with a severe burn or broken arm.
- Understanding the neuroscience of heartbreak can help us better understand how to heal from the physical and emotional pain caused by a breakup, according to well-known psychiatrist and author Dr. Guy Winch.
by Clifton Mark
Love is a ruthless game that everyone loses sometimes, but it’s not totally your fault
…Statistically speaking, there are nearly as many instances of falling out of love as there are of falling in love. Almost inevitably, somebody is just not going to like you anymore. Why? What can kill a romantic spark?
We got back in touch with Fisher to find out what she could tell us about falling out of love.
She’s a biological anthropologist, senior research fellow at The Kinsey Institute, and Chief Scientific Advisor to Match.com. She’s written six successful books on the science of sex, love, marriage, and gender difference. We asked her why people stop like-liking each other and her answers, backed by decades of research and reflection, will not be comforting.
There are three big categories of reasons they don’t love you anymore: it’s you; it’s them; it’s someone else.
“Is it something I did?” If you are asking this question, you probably haven’t been caught for any of the big stuff: cheating, lying, poisoning their cats. This won’t save you.
When I asked Fisher what kinds of things make people fall out of love, she immediately started naming much more prosaic love-killers.
Snoring, failing to share an interest in hiking, and telling an unimpressive joke all got a mention. Note: she did not say “always telling stupid jokes.” She said telling one bad joke.
The triggers for falling out of love are hair-triggers. Fisher told me to think of the brain system controlling romantic love as an electronic circuit: “It can be turned on and it can be turned off like a switch. You can gain it in a minute or lose it in a minute.”
And the causes of the death of romance are every bit as unpredictable as those of its birth.
Sometimes, even doing things really right can make someone lose interest. Fisher told me that she once fell out of love once after a vacation with her partner that was so incredibly good, that it made the prospect of returning to their normal life seem unbearably dull. It was soon over. People fall out of love with each other for millions of different reasons …
Other times, though, it’s not something you’ve done. …
A basic rule of thumb seems to be that the more someone has going on in their lives (bad or good), the less time they’re going to have to fall head over heels for you.
Fisher recounted a personal example in which an intense connection shorted out because her lover was going through some serious life events at the time. He told her “it’s just not in my bandwidth [to continue our relationship]”.
She told me “It really wasn’t about Helen Fisher; it was about where he was at.” Of course, circumstances can change. Many years later, the pair picked up where they left off, and wound up becoming great lovers.
… ABC: Always Be Courting
But this doesn’t mean we can lower our guard. Romantic love isn’t permanent, and it’s nearly impossible to tell when it will fade. If you want to keep a relationship going, Fisher is utterly clear that you can never stop seducing your partner.
“One of the big mistakes that both men and women make is to wear really bad clothes around the house. Keep that courtship going. Just keep it going. We don’t assume our will be around jobs forever, we don’t assume we’ll keep our friends forever. It’s a mistake to think this person can’t walk. The bottom line is don’t take people for granted. It’s a mistake. Not in this world.”
For over 50 years, Helen Fisher has studied what love does to the brain. Now she’s living it.
Helen Fisher has been studying how the heart—and the brain—falls in love for decades. As a biological anthropologist, Helen led a number of studies that investigated what happens to people’s brains in various stages of love.
The results were game-changing, and launched Helen into the spotlight as a love expert—but what happens when the love expert doesn’t find love herself?
On a recent episode of How To!, Helen opened up about her own heartbreak over the years and how, at 75, she finally found lasting romance. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Some scientists think there is hope for the heartbroken.
Dr. Fisher would agree with Ms. Mays’s technique: She suggests treating the recovery process like you would an addiction, and throw out the cards and letters and keepsakes that remind you of the person.
Don’t maintain contact or ask mutual friends how that person is doing. “You’re just raising the ghost,” she said.
Dr. Fisher, who put 17 people who had just been dumped through brain scanners, found activity both in the V.T.A. and in brain functions linked to attachment and physical pain. “Not the anxiety linked to physical pain, but physical pain,” she said.
Dr. Langeslag also said there is hope for the heartbroken. She ran two studies to see if people could try to make themselves feel less in love. The strategies that worked? First, it helps to think negative thoughts about the person you are trying to fall out of love with. The downside? “Thinking negatively makes you feel less in love, but doesn’t make you feel any better,” Dr. Langeslag said. “Worse, actually.”