- The Washington Times - Monday, July 22, 2002

CHARLOTTESVILLE (AP) Breaking up is hard to do, a University of Virginia student researcher discovered as he chronicled the failed relationships of 60 undergraduates.
Dave Sbarra, who is seeking his doctorate in clinical psychology, followed the brokenhearted students to better understand what emotions young adults experience when a relationship fails and how those emotions change over time.
Participants in the study wore pagers so they could be contacted at random times each day to report their moods and feelings in a diary. One of the major findings of the study is that post-breakup heartache comes in waves of love, anger and sadness.
"The image we often have of grief is that it's a long, gradual decline," said Robert Emery, Mr. Sbarra's adviser. In truth, it's much more rocky than that.
Emotions fluctuate so much so that people have a hard time remembering how they felt a few hours before. "They become angry and they forget how sad they just were," Mr. Emery said.
Those roller coaster emotions are more pronounced among those who have been left in a relationship.
"The people who were left are more scattered," Mr. Sbarra said. "The people who leave experience less fluctuation in day-to-day emotions. This is consistent with the larger idea that the leaver has done a lot of planning about this and grieved before the separation occurred."
Mr. Sbarra speculates that people who are able to calm or soothe themselves don't become overwhelmed by heartache, although he noted that further research is needed to substantiate this idea.
"For some people, it works well to be expressive. For other people it works well to put the experience out of their mind and go for a run or eat ice cream or be with friends," Mr. Sbarra said.
The study showed that contact with an ex slows the healing process.
"In some cases people view their partner as their best friend," Mr. Sbarra said. "They want to talk to that person, but every time they make contact with their partner, their sadness is increased."
Mr. Emery said he was impressed with Mr. Sbarra's work, with the only disappointment being the number of men who were willing to participate. Only 13 of the 60 participants were men.
"I think that a lot of guys aren't tuned into their feelings," Mr. Emery said. "Surprise."
He found his subjects "amazingly resilient."
"I was impressed by the way people experienced a tough life event and then dealt with it constructively and got themselves back together. I found myself being more impressed by their stories than distraught by them."

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