How Much You Hate Your Ex Might Depend On Your Gender - OZY | A Modern Media Company

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Women hold harsher feelings toward their exes than men — but a history of unfair treatment might be to blame.

By Joshua Eferighe

It was like a scene out of Sex and the City. There she was, out in the Big Apple with three of her girls, when one began complaining about how horrible she felt about her boyfriend leaving her.

On cue, her friends corralled around her in support, calling the boyfriend a cad. The part they failed to realize is that she had been cheating on her husband with the boyfriend. This “horrible” man — the boyfriend — had been patiently waiting for her to divorce, but she never had, Susan Winter, a best-selling author, relationship expert and one of the women out that night, tells me. Why? “Because she wanted the money.” That was what finally made him break up with her.

“Women have been historically preconditioned to feeling like a victim because for so many centuries we were helpless and at the whim of men,” Winter says. “And it comes very naturally to a woman to assume that if something has gone wrong with the relationship, that it’s the guy’s fault.”  

That’s part of a broader pattern. Research published in May in the Journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science shows that men view their former partners more favorably than women do. In fact: 

Heterosexual men currently in a relationship are on average 10 percent more likely to have a positive view of their ex, compared to women.

Measurements were made by asking men and women to answer questions about their exes on a five-point scale, ranging from completely true to not at all true. So why do men hold more positive attitudes toward their female ex-partners than women do about their male ex-partners? The research showed that feelings toward former lovers were more positive when it involved more permissive sexual attitudes, and when people felt more supported by their exes — both of which men felt more.

African woman with head on boyfriend's shoulder

Heterosexual men currently in a relationship are on average 10 percent likelier to have a positive view of their ex, compared to women.

Source Getty

Conversely, attitudes were negative when people held the ex more responsible for the breakup. And that, the research found, happens more with women.

“Women are more often victims of sexual or physical aggression in a relationship” and that “is a highly probable part of the story,” says Dr. Ursula Athenstaedt, professor at the University of Graz, Austria, and lead author of the study.

Kemi Sogunle, an author, speaker, and life and relationship coach, says the more a person stays single after a relationship, “the easier it becomes to see the ex from a positive angle.” Once they enter another relationship, “there is also the unconscious comparison,” she adds.

Both Winter and Sogunle point out what they believe is a limitation in the study: It only looked at people in the 18-40 age group. They say age brings maturity, and could change our perception of exes.

Either way, the study is a reminder that it’s time to take a deeper look within to understand why we feel the way we do about our exes.

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