Your palpable grief and your question—how do you heal a broken heart?—are timeless and nearly universal.
Heartbreak is the price Love ultimately requires of us. Even the best relationships end sometime, whether in betrayal, breakup, or bereavement after a mate’s death. And while Love is much more vital to human happiness than money or acclaim, its loss is among the most difficult and common things to endure.
So, in the latest Love Science survey , fully 90% of the Wise Respondents had suffered from a broken heart—often repeatedly (Survey results are summarized beneath my signature.). And memories of the pain sometimes lingered beyond 40 years.
Yet almost all had recovered and Moved On. You can, too. How?
Hold Onto Hope.
A parent’s worst imaginings and scientific investigations confirm that there’s only one unrecoverable loss: the death of a child. Other than that, even when suffering calamities ranging from quadriplegia to HIV, research shows people usually rebound to general society’s and their own former levels of happiness within just one year.
As one man put it, “At 55, with many past heartbreaks and a wonderful wife today, all I can say is there is hope. Don’t give up or go backwards! Put one foot in front of the other, and before you know it you will find someone more worthy of you.”
Hold onto hope. Time does heal, and people are remarkably resilient in the face of even great loss. We can get over almost anything. You’ll recover, too.
Accept Manly Emotions.
Despite a reputation to the contrary, Men In Love are usually *more* emotional than women. Men not only fall in love faster, on average—but once in the relationship, heated discussions are more upsetting and physically overwhelming to them. They’re plunged into greater longing for their mate after the birth of the first child. They’re less likely to end a relationship at any stage of commitment (to wit, most divorces are female-initiated).
And they’re more likely to grieve intensely and protractedly when It’s Over.
For example, older men’s top two responses to their mate’s death are a) finding another mate quickly, or b) dying soon thereafter themselves—from loneliness. Women’s response, in contrast, is usually to grieve while continuing long, single and usually well-adjusted lives sustained by a wealth of friendships.
So understand yourself as a man. A man who is emotional, like other men; a man who may need more than a year to move beyond the loss and betrayal you sustained, like other men. A man who is hurt—but not broken.
Understand Normal Grieving.
DABDA. It’s not something Fred Flintstone would’ve said, but an acronym summarizing the normal stages of grief : Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.
Denial is about protecting the self from realities that are too overwhelming on impact; so initially, you may have denied that your fiance’ cheated on you, even after you caught her. You’ve almost certainly been angry with her and her lover, and perhaps with yourself for not seeing it sooner; it’s common to try to get some control over painful situations by finding fault with ourselves in hopes of preventing a recurrence. Perhaps you’ve bargained with God, yourself, or your ex about whether you’d take her back—when the loneliness is bad enough, it’s easy to understand why. You might be depressed now, since you’re feeling broken after waiting a year for the grief to pass. And there may have been moments when you felt you had accepted the loss and were ready to move on, only to find yourself back at another stage later.
Although there is no “right” way to grieve—and you can go through just some or all these stages in any order—these are well-documented, *normal* responses to serious losses. You’ve had a serious loss, and simply recognizing yourself in these steps can be a healing comfort. I hope so.
Find Love Again.
Clearly, DABDA shows that being immersed in your emotions—all kinds of emotions—is part of the deal.
But it isn’t the entire deal. Research shows that Distraction is a good strategy for lessening pain—physical and emotional. For instance, burn victims’ brain pain centers show much less activity if they are distracted with snowy scenes during treatments. And when young children grieve the death of a parent, it’s commonly advised that adults keep the kids busy to distract them from constant heartache.
Well, adults need Distraction, too, and our Wise Readers know it. The vast majority of them used techniques ranging from keeping busy to dating again to starting new activities to spending time with friends—but their #1 advice to you was to Date New Women.
An 18-year-old man succinctly said, “You need to go out and try to meet new women. It’s amazing how easily a new, smiling face can start to heal a broken heart.”
I agree. Often, the best cure for an old flame is a new flame. Loneliness is literally bad for your psyche and your body and your survival odds—moreso for men than for women at every age. And you sound lonely to me.
It’s less likely that you’d die of loneliness than older men. But you could benefit from the example they—and many Wise Readers of various ages— set when they survive and thrive by finding a new mate to love.
As one Wise Reader in his 50’s said of his recovery from a broken heart decades before, “It’s more like [the heartbreak] got over me…I met another girl who interested me and returned my interest.”
And as a man in his 40’s advised, “Feelings follow actions. Once in love with someone, there will likely be a bit of the heart still in love. However, to move on, one must do the actions of moving on.”
Move on, Samuel. Continue grieving—but Live Your Life. Live it with hope, with compassion for yourself, with understanding about grief…and with someone else.
Find love again. Ultimately, yes, love hurts. But it saves us, too.
All material copyrighted by Duana C. Welch, Ph.D. and Love Science Media, 2010
Survey RESULTS for “Folk Wisdom: How Do You Heal A Broken Heart?”
—with sincere thanks to the 28 Wise Readers who contributed their answers and insights
The ages ranged from 18-61, with an average of 44 and a mean and median of 42.
34% were male and 64% were female.
RESPONDENT ANSWERS: HAVE YOU EVER BEEN HEARTBROKEN?
9 out of 10 of our Wise Reader respondents had been heartbroken.
(Note: It’s possible that the Readers who’d never been heartbroken weren’t inspired to answer the survey, or that those who had totally gotten over their past hurt didn’t participate.)
Their memories were from as recently as yesterday and as long ago as 40+ years. Most had multiple heartbreaks. Many said they still felt some level of pain when recalling their breakup, even if it happened many years ago.
—58-year-old man: “In college, my first steady girlfriend ended our relationship after a couple of years. I recall that the next day, as I sat in a class we both took, she never looked more radiantly beautiful and wonderful than she did that morning.”
—55-year-old man: “My first true love ended our relationship after 3 years of dating because her parents did not believe I could support their daughter.”
—33-year-old woman: “Too many times to recount in this tiny little box.”
RESPONDENT ANSWERS: IF YOU HAVE EVER BEEN HEARTBROKEN, HOW DID YOU GET OVER IT?
People’s responses to heartbreak varied widely, and most people used several methods—not just one—to help them heal:
Almost everyone used Distraction to overcome heartbreak. Specifically, keeping busy/starting new activities/improving themselves (36%), dating others (32%), and relying on good friends and family (29%) for support were the most common ways people dealt with their own heartache.
The passage of Time was the #1 thing most Wise Readers shared in common in overcoming loss (43%).
Less-common techniques included avoiding contact with the old flame (12%); taking medications or seeking therapy (8%); falling apart or being suicidal (4%); exercising (4%); or taking care of other people (4%).
—58-year-old man: “It’s more like it got over me… I met another girl who interested me and returned my interest.”
—24-year-old woman: “I moved to a new town, started a new school, made new friends, got a counselor, read books about transitions….waited it out for a year and a half…., went on a lot of first dates (but no seconds), and then finally started dating someone else.”
—39-year-old man: “I became the person I would find attractive myself.”
RESPONDENT ANSWERS: IF SAMUEL WERE YOUR FRIEND, HOW WOULD YOU ADVISE HIM TO GRIEVE AND MOVE ON?
In line with how people got over their own pain, Wise Readers usually recommended several ways to heal, and the most common single response was to embrace the passage of time as the great healer (43%). As one woman noted, “Time heals a wound and wounds a heel.”
Almost everyone recommended some form of Distraction. Specifically, 32% thought Samuel should start dating again.
Beyond that, no one answer was strongly supported. 12% thought Samuel should talk to his former friends; 12% advised counseling or journaling or medication; 12% extolled turning to good friends. 9% (all male) said avoiding the former lover was a good idea; another 9% advised doing new things, traveling, or making new friends; and another 9% indicated exercise. 4% advised helping others or focusing on a bright future or becoming angry or finding fault with the former lover or reviewing what had been wrong (red flags) from the start so as to avoid future pain.
Finally, 9% said there is no right way to grieve—that Samuel should do whatever occurs to him as the right thing.
—24-year-old woman: “Remember the Sex & the City wisdom that says that getting over someone takes half the time as you were in the relationship (e.g., if it’s a year-long relationship, expect six months). (Did I really just quote Sex & the City for Love Science? I guess this *is* folk wisdom time!!)”
—18-year-old man: “You need to go out and try to meet new women. It’s amazing how easily a new, smiling face can start to heal old wounds.”
—34-year-old woman: “Everyone has things that they have put on hold while in a relationship. Go do…the things that you couldn’t do because of the relationship….Keep yourself busy so you don’t think of her and eventually you won’t. Try and have a relationship with someone else, not necessarily a serious one, just one that will keep you in the company of someone else and not sitting home alone on a Friday night.”
—46-year-old woman: “Going on with your life, seeking out new experiences, and new people to replace the one he had to leave behind will help, but he’ll probably always have a little twinge when he remembers that experience. I think that’s normal.”
Related Love Science articles:
The author wishes to acknowledge the following scientists and sources:
John C. Cavanaugh: Dr. Cavanaugh’s textbooks on psychological aging provide excellent summaries of data about men, women, and grief across the lifespan.
David G. Myers: Dr. Myers’ textbooks about general psychology and social psychology are treasured resources for information about human resilience, happiness and its sources, and the adaptation level phenomenon that explains how we readily adjust to events good and bad.