Psychologists have long sought a salve for the symptoms of a broken heart. So far they've pointed to (among other things) being kind to yourself, unfriending your ex on Facebook, and finding a new boo as fast as you can as possible keys to uncoupling. But the latest science suggests that one of the best ways to heal from a breakup may be as simple as talking it out—even if you're alone, in a lab, with a digital recorder.
For the new study, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, lead author Grace Larson recruited 210 recently separated young adults and divided them into two groups. On the first day, both groups completed a survey designed to gauge their sense of self in the wake of the split. (They rated how strongly they agreed with statements such as, “I feel as though I am missing a part of me,” and on the other end of the spectrum, “I have rediscovered who I am.”)
One group didn’t return to the lab until nine weeks later, when they repeated the survey. During that period, the second group met with researchers four times for additional testing and interviews. Each time, they were asked to speak freely in response to the same four prompts on a computer screen:
When did you first realize you and your partner were headed towards breaking up?
What do you remember about the separation itself, the actual time when you and your former partner separated?
How much contact have you had with your former partner? What kind(s) of contact?
How has the breakup affected your thoughts and feelings regarding romantic relationships?
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By the end of the study, the subjects who had answered these questions multiple times showed more signs of emotional recovery than the control group. Reflecting on their experience helped them “build a stronger sense of who they were as single people,” Larson said in a release. And this new sense of self helped them feel less lonely and reduced the occurrence of "break-up related emotional intrusions," according to the paper.
If you really want a technical prescription: the participants in group two spent about 3.5 hours over four weeks thinking about and answering these four questions. So if it's you who's in need of some help to move on, the answer may be to just go ahead and wallow. Sit down with a journal and reflect, find someone to listen, or talk to yourself if you must.
And maybe cut your friend some slack when she's the one obsessing about an ex. Rehashing the past may be just what she needs to move on—and at least now you know exactly which questions to ask to help her through it.