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Mending a Broken Heart

Healing a broken heart isn't impossible. Follow these tips for fixing your broken heart and moving on with life.

By Carol Sorgen
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Michael Smith

Whether you're the "dump-er" or the "dump-ee," chances are a broken relationship is going to leave you with a broken heart as well. You may not believe it at the time, but there are ways to put the pieces back together.

The first step is to accept the fact that a breakup is indeed a real loss -- whether you were involved for six weeks, six months, six years, or a lifetime. "Give yourself permission to go through all the stages of grief," says North Carolina therapist Alan Konell, MSW, author of Partnership Tools: Transforming the Way We Live Together. "Denial, hurt, anger, acceptance ... the challenge is to get through every one of those stages."

As depressed as you may be when your loved one walks out the door, says Konell, try to focus on the present. "Feel your feelings, but don't believe them," he advises. "Feeling bad is fine, but predicting the rest of your life when you're feeling this bad is not." In other words, despite how you feel and what you're saying to yourself -- and everyone else who will listen -- it's unlikely that you're never going to fall in love again and that you're destined to spend every Valentine's Day forever after by yourself.

"Falling in love is about you," says Konell. "It's not about the other person. You will still have the ability to fall in love. Nobody can take that away from you."

There are generally two responses to a broken heart, Konell says. The first is, "Oh, I'll never go through that again." The second is, "I survived that so I can relax ... I know I can survive it again."

"I suggest the second response," says Konell.

In a report to the American Psychological Association, Harvard University psychology professor Daniel M. Wegner, PhD, offered his own take on getting over the loss of a loved one. Don't try to stop thinking about the other person; contrary to popular thought, that will only keep the embers burning.

In studies of 70 young men and women, Wegner found that if you suppress those painful thoughts of your dear departed one, you'll keep yourself from getting used to the idea that he (or she) is really gone. Then each time the thought re-enters your mind, your body will react to the distress as if it were the first time -- with all the pain that came along with it that first time, too. So if you can't get your ex out of your mind, Wegner suggests, just give in to it.

That doesn't mean lying around all day with your tears dripping into a pint of Cherry Garcia. There are other things you can do too, say relationship experts.

L. Joan Allen, MA, co-author of Celebrating Single and Getting Love Right, suggests the following:

  • Do something for someone else. Volunteer in a soup kitchen, a hospital, a nursing home, or for any other organization that you support. "Giving your time to help someone else helps take your mind off your troubles and makes you feel really good at the end of the day," says Allen.
  • Pamper yourself with a massage, manicure, fresh flowers, or a weekend getaway to a place you've never explored. (This is not the time to trip down memory lane and stay in that charming B&B you and your ex-beloved once visited!)
  • Adopt a pet. "Pets give you an unlimited amount of attention and love," says Allen. If you live in an apartment and can't own a pet, then pet sit for friends or volunteer at a local SPCA.
  • Keep a journal and write down what you learned from the relationship, what your role in the breakup was (even if you're convinced you were blameless, chances are, you weren't -- at least not completely). Write down what you'll avoid in your next relationship. "This should give you a good idea of what your non-negotiables are," Allen says.
  • Spend time with friends and family who will nurture you and keep you from feeling lonely.
  • Learn something new. Take a class. Start a hobby.
  • Think of this time as a new chapter in your life, says Allen. "Explore your passions and make a plan to accomplish a goal ... start a business, go back to school, write a book."

Marriage therapist and syndicated sex/relationship columnist Isadora Alman says another technique that works well is to keep a mental balance scale. For every single thought of "how sweet s/he was when s/he did X," onto the other side of the scale goes a "how unlovely s/he was when s/he did Y."

"It's important to remember, at this time more than ever, the bad with the good," says Alman.

Karla Erovick, dating expert and author of Love to Date, Date to Love: Unlocking the Secrets of Dating, has more tips:

  • Move on. Make a clean break. "Don't continue to call your ex," says Erovick.
  • Exchange goods. If you have each other's belongings, arrange one time to exchange them, and pick a neutral location.
  • Change your routine. Don't give yourself too much time to mope. "It's important to establish new activities and schedules so that you don't have so many associations with your ex," says Erovick.
  • Change your look. Get a new hairstyle or color, buy some new clothes.
  • Start an exercise program so you'll be ready for beach season.
  • Learn a foreign language and plan a vacation.
  • Write down three things you are thankful for every day. Don't repeat yourself either. "You can think of three new things every day," Erovick assures.
  • Visit a therapist to help you put things in perspective.
  • Accept every invitation that comes your way.
  • Attend a religious service.
  • Find an outlet for your anger, whether it's meditation, sports, or using your pillow as a punching bag (then again, this may be a good time to start taking boxing lessons!).

There is nothing you can do to change the nature of the loss, says Tina Tessina, PhD, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist in Southern California and author of 11 books, including How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free. Grief, anger, and frustration are normal reactions to the circumstances. "It's normal to feel that this might happen again, rage that it happened at all, a need for prayer and comfort, and bouts of being overwhelmed and thinking you can't go on," says Tessina. "But you will reach the point that you accept and understand that this loss is a part of the risky life we humans all live."

Finally, remember that "everyone who's ever gotten over a loss at some point thought she or he wouldn't," says Alan Konell. "But you will. And you'll find that you still have that ability to open your heart and love."

Published Feb. 5, 2003.




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