Why science suggests Huma Abedin will emerge stronger from the breakup than Anthony Weiner

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In what may be the least surprising news ever, Huma Abedin has decided to pull the plug on her marriage to ex-congressman / lover of his own penis Anthony Weiner after yet another sexting scandal made headlines over the weekend.


The announcement came a day after the New York Post published risqué photos that Weiner allegedly sent to an unidentified woman. We don't know if Abedin, who is Hillary Clinton's longtime top aide, is breaking up with Weiner because of the crotch shots, but it seems likely that had something to do with it. That said, Abedin may have simply had enough of her husband's behavior (see: all of 2011), or there could be 2,567 other things that contributed to the breakup. We just don't know.

On the bright side, there's a good chance Abedin will emerge from the split stronger and better than ever—as will other women who face similar circumstances—at least according to social scientists.


Back in April, Melanie Beaussart, an independent psychology researcher, and Craig Morris, a biocultural anthropologist and evolutionist, co-authored a paper in The Oxford Handbook of Women and Competition that seems especially relevant now. In it, they argue that women who are cheated on may suffer short-term consequences—you know, like devastating heartache, grief, and depression—but may be better off in the long run because they'll learn from the experience and find a better mate down the road.

Before I get into the paper, however, let me stress that some people don't consider sexting cheating, and we don't know what, exactly, Weiner has or has not done in his private life. But for the purposes of how Abedin and other women who've split from categorically unfaithful partners might recover, it's interesting to refer to Beaussart and Morris's infidelity model for insight.

In the paper, the authors posit that negative emotions following a breakup, especially when infidelity is involved, may serve an evolutionary advantage in the long run because they provide the scorned woman "fertile ground" for self-reflection, which in turn can improve her self-confidence and influence her future decisions when it comes to finding a mate. The authors write:

While the concept of rumination is often associated with negative aspects of low mood states, it may also provide a period of intense self-analysis in which a woman can better examine and evaluate what went wrong in her lost relationship and make plans for avoiding these same issues in future relationships.


It may seem counterintuitive to argue that devastation can be a good thing. Especially since research has shown that when a heterosexual couple breaks up because of "another woman," the split can feel catastrophic and lead to low self-esteem, demoralization, jealousy, and anger—more so than a breakup caused by physical distance or other factors.

However, as the authors explain, evidence suggests that people in depressed states are actually better at solving social dilemmas and can process situations more clearly. Thus, following a breakup, the depression and grief a woman feels can lead to more productive introspection and a clearer understanding of what went wrong.


Not only that, after experiencing those hardships, the cheated-on woman has an incentive to avoid those hurt feelings in the future. Which means she's more likely to be especially discerning when choosing a mate. The authors explain:

There is an important real-life feature of the game—the game changes in very significant ways when repeated, or if the players interact with each other in the future. That is, a person who fails to win the first time will likely not use the same strategy again.


The point is not that a man's infidelity is a women's fault, or that her mate selection skills are poor. The authors simply argue that, in future dating situations, women who've been cheated on will develop particularly astute strategies when it comes to finding a mate who suits them. But does this mean they're are better off? Or are they simply surviving post heartbreak?

Morris' previous research has suggested that men and women handle breakups differently. For example, in one study, women were twice as likely to report a drop in self-esteem after a split as men were. However, women were also more likely than men to report a "silver lining" after a breakup, which included increased personal awareness and personal growth. This personal growth is key, as it suggests women do come out the other side better off than they were before.


As Beaussart and Morris explain in their paper:

While this process is not without pain and grief, the knowledge gained could potentially help a woman rise above the failed relationship and move on as a stronger and more competitive woman in search of a better mate.


Of course, all of this is just an evolutionary theory about how women may have adapted to handle breakups and infidelity. Which is why I want to turn to a different study conducted by Morris, in which he surveyed 5,705 men and women from 96 countries about their breakups and how they recovered.

Following a split, women reported more emotional and physical pain than men did, as well as more depression, fear, and anxiety. So in the short term, they were worse off. However, in the long term, the women were able to emotionally heal from the breakup more so than the men who tended to "recover" by finding another mate. Kind of like a bandaid on a bullet hole. (Again, that was the trend—the finding obviously doesn't mean no men recover from breakups.)


Similar to this finding, a 2015 study published in the Journal of Family Psychology found that arguably the worst breakup of all—divorce—can actually provide a happiness boost for some women. Specifically, the researchers found that women in low-quality marriages were happier post-divorce than women in comparable relationships who chose to stay married.

In other words, even though breaking up is miserable and can lead to bouts of depression, anxiety, and grief, staying in a bad relationship can be more miserable in the long run.


So while Abedin might have a hard couple months ahead of her, there's a good chance she'll come out of this morass stronger than before.

"Mate loss via [another woman] can result in significant psychological distress and decreased life satisfaction in the short term while also providing the 'loser' with opportunities for long-term personal growth," explain Beaussart and Morris in their paper.


As for Weiner, however, it's not looking so good.

"Women seem to recover from breakups faster than men and report an overall 'silver lining' of increased self-awareness and 'relationship intelligence that men do not," write Beaussart and Morris.


In layman's terms? The Weiner may not take all.

Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.

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