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Posted: July 30, 2010 12:00 a.m.

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The truth about the myth of young male insensitivity

The stereotypic portrayal of young men in America is that they are insensitive "players" who are mostly interested in sex, but not romantically motivated or emotionally attached. Young women are frequently depicted as emotionally vulnerable. Turns out, just the opposite is true. It’s the guys who experience more emotional upheaval in a romantic relationship than young women.

This was the finding recently published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior by Robin Simon, a professor of sociology at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Anne Barrett, an associate professor of sociology at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Their study concluded that our common perception of young men as emotionally unfeeling is not accurate. Young men are quite emotionally involved in their romantic relationships. Not only that, but they benefit more from the good parts of the relationship and are harmed more by the bad than women.

The authors investigated 1,611 men and women between he ages of 18 and 23 who were members of a larger mental health study. They looked at a number of mental health measures and compared them to the relationship status of the participants; whether in a relationship or recently broken up. They also looked at how partner strain and support effected the couple.

No a big surprise that their results indicated women experience more depression than men when a relationship ends and benefited more from being part of a couple. But further examination found that men received greater emotional benefit from the positive aspects of the relationship than women. They also were more likely than women to be emotionally harmed by the stress of relationship conflict.

The authors speculated that women often have a broader range of relationships than men, but a romantic relationship may be the sole source of intimacy for the male. Without the broader base of emotional support that women have, the emotional influence of the relationship on the male is likely to be much greater.

Simon also pointed to social factors that may have influenced their results. Simon stated, "The young men in our study came of age at a very different historical time. These kids had working moms and their dads often depended on that salary, so they’re more likely to view marriage as a partnership."

These findings support an emphasis on education for young people on how to establish and maintain healthy romantic relationships. The skills are not difficult to teach and learn, and would have a large impact on the overall mental health of young men and women.

C. Kirven Weekley, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist with offices in Covington and Norcross. He specializes in the evaluation and treatment of adults for depression, anxiety, relationship problems and medical issues. He can be reached at (770) 441-9244.

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