Robert DeNiro’s estranged wife, Grace Hightower, is allegedly trying to make their divorce public, a move that’s likely to irritate the famously private Oscar winner, who filed for divorce from Grace in December.
News of Amazon chief Jeff Bezos and wife MacKenzie Bezos divorcing sparked questions about how the split could affect the world’s most valuable company’s stock. While there were questions, there wasn’t panic. Investors are in wait-and-see mode. The news, which came Wednesday via a tweet from Jeff Bezos, barely moved Amazon’s share price. It closed Friday at $1,640.56……..
The aftermath of a breakup can be devastating. Most people emerge from it intact, but research has shown that the end of a romantic relationship can lead to insomnia, intrusive thoughts and even reduced immune function. While in the throes of a breakup, even the most motivated people can have a difficult time determining how best to get on with their lives.
Now, in a small new study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, researchers tested a variety of cognitive strategies and found one that worked the best for helping people get over a breakup.
The researchers gathered a group of 24 heartbroken people, ages 20-37, who had been in a long-term relationship for an average of 2.5 years. Some had been dumped, while others had ended their relationship, but all were upset about it—and most still loved their exes. In a series of prompts, they were coached using three cognitive strategies intended to help them move on.
The first strategy was to negatively reappraise their ex. The person was asked to mull over the unfavorable aspects of their lover, like a particularly annoying habit. By highlighting the ex’s negative traits, the idea goes, the blow will be softened.
In another prompt, called love reappraisal, people were told to read and believe statements of acceptance, like “It’s ok to love someone I’m not longer with.” Instead of fighting how they feel, they were told to accept their feelings of love as perfectly normal without judgment.
The third strategy was distraction: to think about positive things unrelated to the ex, like a favorite food. Just as distracting oneself can help reduce cravings, it may also help a person overcome the persistent thoughts that come with a breakup.
A fourth prompt—the control condition—didn’t ask them to think about anything in particular. Next, the researchers showed everyone a photo of their ex—a realistic touch, since these often pop up in real life on social media. They measured the intensity of emotion in response to the photo using electrodes placed on the posterior of the scalp.
The EEG reading of the late positive potential (LPP) is a measure of not only emotion but motivated attention, or to what degree the person is captivated by the photo. In addition, the researchers measured how positive or negative the people felt and how much love they felt for the ex using a scale and questionnaire.
According to the EEG readings, all three strategies significantly decreased people’s emotional response to the photos relative to their responses in the control trials, which didn’t use prompts. However, only people who looked at their lover in a negative light also had a decrease in feelings of love toward their ex. But these people also reported being in a worse mood than when they started—suggesting that these negative thoughts, although helpful for moving on, may be distressing in the short term.
Distraction, on the other hand, made people feel better overall, but had no effect on how much they still loved their ex-partner. “Distraction is a form of avoidance, which has been shown to reduce the recovery from a breakup,” says study co-author Sandra Langeslag, director of the Neurocognition of Emotion and Motivation Lab at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, so the strategy should be used sparingly to boost mood in the short term.
Love reappraisal showed no effect on either love or mood, but still dulled the emotional response to the photo. The authors classify love for another person as a learned motivation, similar to thirst or hunger, that pushes a person toward their partner in thought and in behavior.
That can in turn elicit different emotions based on the situation. When love is reciprocated, one can feel joy, or, in the case of a breakup, persistent love feelings are associated with sadness and difficulty recovering an independent sense of self.
Classifying love as a motivation is controversial in the field; other experts believe that love is an emotion, like anger, or a script, like riding a bike. However, the endurance of love feelings (which last much longer than a typical bout of anger or joy), the complexity of these feelings (both positive and negative) and the intensity of infatuation all signal a motivation, the authors write.
To get over a breakup, heartbroken people change their way of thinking, which takes time. Just as it can be challenging to fight other motivations like food or drug cravings, “love regulation doesn’t work like an on/off switch,” Langeslag says. “To make a lasting change, you’ll probably have to regulate your love feelings regularly,” because the effects likely wear off after a short time.
Writing a list of as many negative things about your ex as you can think of once a day until you feel better may be effective, she says. Though this exercise tends to make people feel worse, Langeslag says that this effect goes away. Her past research found that negative reappraisal also decreased infatuation and attachment to the ex, so it will make you feel better in the long run, she says.
The findings are particularly relevant in the age of social media, when photos of exes, and the resulting pangs of love, may come up frequently. “All three strategies may make it easier for people to deal with encounters and reminders of the ex-partner in real-life and on social media,” Langeslag says.
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First of all, consult someone who’s messed it up horribly at least a couple of times. They will offer some mature and very wise counsel, not at all tinged with bitterness and regret. They won’t simply spout generic “good advice” about kindness, understanding and listening; they’ve lived.
They will know that, in certain instances, it’s better just to get out and not think about the other person’s feelings; it’s thinking about their damn, stupid feelings the whole time that’s landed you in this decade-long misery-fest. If this is your case, just pack your stuff and do your thinking later. In the end you will both be glad. (See? Very sophisticated.)
If, however, it’s you that’s the scoundrel – you’re having an affair or have just “gone off” someone nice who seems to love you – try not to be too much of a twit about it. It can be really shameful to be on the wrong side of this one, and shame can push you either to be dishonest or to try to redistribute the blame.
Don’t attempt to convince yourself, and especially not your mutual friends, that the other person isn’t exactly a paragon of partnerhood either. Of course they aren’t, nobody is, but that doesn’t mean you have to highlight their flaws in order to make yourself feel better. Then again, there’s no need to make a massive show of self-flagellation. A touch of stoicism will do just fine. Take them out to dinner, take their feelings seriously, and let them shout at you a bit if they want to.
It’s awful to leave someone who doesn’t want to be left, but it can also be awful to stay with them. If you let them go, you will at least be giving them a chance to find someone else who is actually capable of loving them. And when you hear, 20 years later, that they are living in Brooklyn with their partner and child, you will almost cry with happiness.
(At the same time as wondering, self-indulgently, whether their romantic good fortune has made it possible for them to forgive you at least a little bit. Wow, Anouchka, you really can’t let go of the idea of being a “good person”!)
Come to think of it, kindness, understanding and listening might have been quite a good idea, at least if you’re the scoundrel. There’s nothing more stupid than acting out rather than trying to articulate yourself.
It’s got to be kinder to say you’re unhappy than to sleep with some passer-by (whom you then marry). The problem is that, when you start to talk and listen, you often find you can’t help liking, even loving, the other person – and that makes it very difficult to abandon them.
The one advantage of dumb acting out is that it can at least give the abandonee an opportunity to hate you. If you’re absolutely sure that leaving is essential then why spend loads of time trying to make it possible for them to continue to think well of you? This could even be considered a little vain. Attempting to do something horrible to someone in a polite way is inherently problematic. (Just look at the government.)
While there might be a free-floating cultural ideal that tells us to try to be on good terms with everyone at all times, sometimes this just isn’t possible. Of course there’s no need to be nasty for the sake of it, but neurotically trying to be perfect can be time-consuming and messy. Some breakups take years.
There are people who can, apparently, bring about the ideal disunion, but if everyone expects to do the same they might find themselves having a lot of very long, sad and frustrating conversations when they could have been out enjoying the sunshine. But, then again, sunshine gives you cancer and serious dialogue can make you more humane and insightful.
It’s hard to feel good about ending a long-term relationship, even when it’s ultimately for the best. Not only are you choosing to throw yourself into the void, but you are also chucking someone else in involuntarily. Whether they are an angel, a devil, or even just an ordinary human being, you might feel dreadful about what you’re about to do to them. That’s not a sign that you’re making a bad choice, it’s just a register of the fact that you do still care about them. So that’s nice.
On a more practical note, if you’re married to someone who does properly terrible things, consider divorcing on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour rather than waiting two years and calling it irretrievable breakdown. (But do bear in mind that it’s probably unwise to be too idealistic about divorce courts; #freetiniowens.)
It’s so common for these things to be lost to history; the perp wants to go about their life as usual, find another hostage ASAP, and pretend none of it ever happened. Or if it did, it was just as much your fault as theirs. This sort of whitewashing can leave you with a disconcerting feeling of unreality. Possessing a legal document that acknowledges what actually went on might help.
Having said that, if you’ve stayed in a long-term relationship with someone who’s demonstrably bad news you’ve probably lost your mental coordinates enough to find it difficult to fight for justice or recognition. If so, re-read the first paragraph, pack, and don’t forget to throw cress seeds on their sofa on the way out (or seek other good revenge advice on Mumsnet). It’s more important to be out than to be “right”.
As you can see, this is all very considered and impartial. Sometimes it’s them, sometimes it’s you (but don’t ever actually say: “It’s not you, it’s me”, obvs). And now I think it’s time for me to finally get round to doing that thinking.
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