romantic relationships

We are never getting back together… like ever! Characteristics of breakups among young adults

Robyn Young, BA (Psyc)

The breakup of a romantic relationship is typically a very distressing and life-changing event. This is more common in young adults, and many of them would say that a breakup is the worst event of this stage in their lives. Breakups can escalate depression, anxiety, substance abuse, as well as suicidality in young adults.

Most research looks at adults’ experiences of divorce – not young people’s breakups. We studied breakups in the past year among over 200 18 – 25 year olds.

·         Many (42%) expected their relationship to last a lifetime, while in reality, the largest
percentage (41%) of relationships only lasted a few months to under one year 

·         Peak times for breakups? The start of a school year (September) or at the start of a new calendar year (January)

·         Over half of participants reported this current breakup to be the most intense, however the longer the relationship, the more intense the breakup

·         Expecting the relationship to last longer à more severe breakup

·         No differences in reports by gender or by sexual orientation

Breakups are stressful for everyone, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, or any other differences. It is an issue that health professionals and even loved ones (friends and family) of young adults continuously report this to be a significant issue for these people. Therefore, keeping the above information in mind, it is important for keeping things in perspective. It will get better!


See: Belu, C. F., Lee, B. H., & O’Sullivan, L. F. (2016). It hurts to let you go: Characteristics of romantic relationships, breakups and the aftermath. Journal of Relationship Research.

The Veiled Truth of Ex-Partner Stalking: Social and Legal Implications

Jeff Forshay

Perceptions of stalking and its realities do not go hand in hand. Ex-partners are much more likely to be guilty of stalking than are stranger, and consequences tend to be more severe.1,2

(James & Farnham, 2003, Rosenfeld & Lewis, 2005, etc.). These findings stand in stark contrast to perceptions of stalking behaviour found by Scott, Lloyd, & Gavin (2010).

Participants in one study were given a vignette in which a girl is being harassed by either a stranger, an acquaintance, or an ex-partner. Participants were asked: “To what extent do you consider the behaviour stalking”, “Do you think police intervention is necessary…” and “To what extent is the victim responsible for encouraging the behaviour”.

·       Compared to stalking by ex-partner & acquaintances, participants were much more likely to label the strangers behaviour as stalking, that police intervention was more necessary, and that the behaviour posed greater risks of harm

·       They also thought that the victim was less responsible for encouraging the stranger’s behaviour

Stalking by ex-partners may be taken less seriously as a whole—even though it’s usually more damaging.

In many western countries anti-stalking laws are quite vague and subjective. They rely heavily on the apparent severity of the situation and assumed intent of the perpetrator

A study of 167 stalking cases in the UK found that almost half (41%) of them were thrown out when the perpetrator was an ex-partner, compared to none when the perpetrator was a stranger.4 (Harris, 2000).

Police officers were also much less likely to even consider bringing up stalking-related charges when ex-partners were involved, labeling them as “domestic issues.”5                

Bottom line:  Ex-partners pose an even greater threat to the well-being of the victim then do strangers, and it is long past time that our societal and judicial attitudes reflect this.


1James, D. V., & Farnham, F. R. (2003). Stalking and serious violence. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 31, 432-439.

2Rosenfeld, B., & Lewis, C. (2005). Assessing violence risk in stalking cases: A regression tree approach. Law and Human Behavior, 29, 343-357.

3Scott, A., Lloyd, R., & Gavin, J. (January 01, 2010). The Influence of Prior Relationship on Perceptions of Stalking in the United Kingdom and Australia. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 37, 11, 1185-1194.

4Harris, J. (2000). An evaluation of the use and effectiveness of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (Home Office Research Study 203). London, UK: Home Office.      

5Pathé, M., Mullen, P. E., & Purcell, R. (2000). Same-gender stalking. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 28, 191-197.

“Does this make me look fat?” How the things partners tell each other about their bodies affects their self confidence

Kaitlyn Goldsmith, B.A. (Hons.), Ph.D. Candidate

Have you complimented your partner’s looks recently? Maybe you had an unfortunate blunder when your partner asked, “Does this make me look fat?” Maybe you haven’t said anything directly, but your tone of voice or gestures were loud and clear?!  (Translation:  “Uhhhh, yeah, sure does.”)

Do these little everyday things that partners say about one another’s bodies actually have an impact? What really happens when your significant other says something negative (or positive) about your body? Could these messages have an impact on your sex life? These were the questions that lead us to ask 35 men and 57 women about the messages they have received from their romantic partners about their bodies and how they feel those messages have affected them.  These men and women wrote about the most memorable messages about their bodies they had received from their partner.

Here’s what we found:

·      The good news is that every single person reported receiving at least one positive message about their body… run-of-the-mill compliments, sexy compliments, comments that challenged negative beliefs about themselves

·      Men and women typically received messages non-verbally, through body language and tone of voice (who knew!?)

·      Most felt these messages had a positive impact on their body image AND their sex life. They felt more sexually confident, empowered, and fulfilled

·      Although fewer men and women reported receiving negative messages (both verbally and non-verbally), these messages were linked to reduced body confidence AND less sexual satisfaction

·      Most striking?  Both men and women reported fairly ordinary, sometimes seemingly neutral, messages having a big impact on their confidence and sex lives

So be careful! 

If you have a partner, why not make an effort to help them feel sexy? Dish out those compliments! Ask if you’ve hurt their feelings with a comment or action! You never know, it may even improve your sex life


For full article:

Goldsmith, K. M., & Byers, E. S. (2016). Perceived impact of body feedback from romantic partners on young adults’ body image and sexual well-being. Body Image, 17, 161-170.

Can you trust a handsome man’s face?

Lucia F. O'Sullivan, Ph.D.

Researchers have found that men with very masculine faces (prominent brow, cheekbone and jaws, face height and inner face breadth) tend to be perceived by women as low quality romantic partners, that is, less trustworthy and committed (compared to those with less masculine faces).  Women generally find high masculine faces to be more attractive (Buckingham et al., 2006) (especially women in a high fertile phase of their menstrual cycle!), although there are occasions when men with low masculine faces are preferred (Swaddle & Reierson, 2003).

But preferences may vary depending on whether women are judging men for a short-term fling or a long-term partnership. And most past research has examined perceived partner value in a very narrow fashion—using only one or two items. Yet value of a relationship partner is complex. For example, women make judgments of a man’s value as a romantic partner based on their view of his romantic past.

Ashley Thompson and Lucia O’Sullivan had 201 pre-menopausal women (18-45 years) complete an online survey assessing preferences of men’s faces.  Photographs of men with the highest facial masculinity ratings and those with the lowest were used.  Women rated each man in terms of their perceptions of his masculinity, attractiveness, trustworthiness, quality as a parent, level of past romantic experience, speed he would fall in love, and preference for each as a short-term or long-term partner.

Men with high facial masculinity were rated as more desirable as both short-term and long-term partners than were those with low facial masculinity. However, they perceived that men with high facial masculinity would take longer to fall in love and would have more previous romantic partners than would men with low facial masculinity. They did not differ in their ratings of the two groups of men in terms of trustworthiness and parental quality.

In essence, men with an extensive dating history may be judged as more desirable as partners because they have been “vetted” as good catches by other women. Another study with Sarah Vannier found that women judging the attractiveness of men rated photos of those who were labeled as ‘in a relationship’ as more attractive than they rated those men labeled as ‘single.’

Alternately, women may desire men with higher facial masculinity (for short- or long-term relationships) simply because they find them more physically attractive—and that might be a primary sort feature for women choosing men. Perhaps not a surprise overall.


Time Out! Teens Taking a Break from Sex or Romance


Lucia F. O'Sullivan, Ph.D.

Researchers have long been concerned about the pressures adolescents experience to become and remain sexually active.  They have explored in great deal how many adolescents abstain from sex, that is, delay the first occasion that they engage in sex.  Usually the focus has been on penile-vaginal intercourse because of concerns about pregnancy and disease, but also because of a bias toward exploring male-female partnered interactions.

We were interested instead in how often young people who had already started a partnered sexual life decided freely to take a break from sex—to stop for a while, for whatever reasons.  We also wanted to know how often this happened for all types of sex and among all types of partnerships.  In addition, we wanted to know whether adolescents also took a break from romance—avoiding relationships and intimate contexts—and why they might do so.

Drs. Sandra Byers, Lucia O’Sullivan, and Lori Brotto surveyed 411 adolescents (16-21 years) about a range of sexual and romantic experiences, but one set of questions asked about breaks from sex or romance. About one-quarter (27%) reported that they had taken a break from sex and almost half (47%) had taken a break from romance.  More female than male adolescents reported taking a break.

Here are the most common reasons for taking a break from sex: 

  • Lack of sexual pleasure or enjoyment from the sex that they were having (“It’s unsatisfying”)
  • Tension in their relationship
  • Negative emotions (such as feeling used)
  • Values (“I wanted to feel like a better person”)
  • Fear of negative outcomes (such as sexually transmitted infections)
  • Other priorities (“Sex is distracting and I really needed to focus on my grades”)

Most common reasons for taking a break from romance:

  • Getting over a difficult breakup (“There were lots of problems; I was exhausted”)
  • Not interested in commitment (“Romance means commitment usually and I wasn’t interested right now”)
  • Wrong timing (“I was going through a lot of stress. It was not a good time to be trying to start a relationship”)
  • Other priorities
  • No one seems good enough(“I’m through with dating people I know I won’t like”)
  • Sexual concerns

This last reason is interesting as some of those reporting a break from romance did so to avoid the pressures of sex.

Do digital technologies compromise intimacy and relationship quality? No! They seem to make relationships better!

Lucia F. O'Sullivan, Ph.D.

In a recent study, Andrea Boyle and Lucia O’Sullivan had 359 young adults (18-24 years) report in detail about their technology use when communicating with friends, families, and dating partners. Our interest was really about the dating partners and whether communicating a little or a lot using digital technologies during the course of the day would replace face-to-face communication or supplement it (that is, make it better). 

Participants rated how much and what type they had disclosed intimate (such as, “You know what really turns me on…?”) vs. non-intimate information (such as, “I’m finished with that book I borrowed if you need it back”) over the prior three days, as well as relationship intimacy and communication quality.  It turns out that any self-disclosure (even the non-intimate type) is good for relationship quality, and as you might guess, positive as compared to negative (complaining, whining, critical of self, partner or others) communications were really important to relationship quality. 

Also important to note:  Those who used a lot of digital technology to communicate with their partners (e.g., texting tons each day) still had as much face-to-face communication as those who didn’t use digital communication all that much.  Use of these technologies to send messages back and forth just added to the communication quotient overall—it wasn’t a way to avoid or escape seeing each other, as many in the media have worried. 

We concluded that digital technologies provide opportunities for partners to stay connected through the day and truly help to improve the overall quality of their intimacy and communication—as long as you keep it positive folks!