How to Heal a Broken Heart

Nothing is as painful as a broken heart. Many people would say that physical pain is easy to handle compared to the emotional pain of a lost dream, such as a failed marriage or a split-up family. With physical pain, there are clear avenues for relief, but how do you heal a broken heart? The first rule is to feel all the difficult feelings. If you resist the feelings, or “stuff the emotion,” the pain will stay around in the unconscious, hidden from your view, but it will not go away. It will emerge from time to time as anger, cynicism, or depression. Time heals, but only if you face the emotional pain and experience it with your mind and heart wide open.

Finally, it is important to understand the emotional process that occurs when your heart is broken and you've experienced a major loss. Through the pioneering death and dying work of Elizabeth Kubler Ross, the five stages of grief were identified and explored.

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Unwillingness to feel the pain of a broken heart is like nursing a broken bone without medical devices. Of course, bones heal without medical attention, but they may heal in a disjointed manner and cause lifelong disfigurement. Even the toughest athlete will get medical attention for a broken bone, but far too many people still believe they can emotionally heal without assistance.

Here are the five stages of grief, revisited and applied to divorce and remarriage:

  • First comes denial. In this stage, you cannot accept what happened to you and to your marriage, so you deny the truth, hoping that in denial the experience will somehow get better. A related tendency is to deny you had any part in causing the problems in your previous marriage, and then blame all past difficulties on your ex partner.

  • The second stage is bargaining. In bargaining, you try anything to repair the damage. You bargain for resolution, usually to no avail. Whether you bargain with God, yourself, an ex-spouse, or even with a new partner, the hallmark of this stage is “magical thinking.”

  • The third stage is anger. During this time you will be furious at the person who has broken your heart. When one partner in a relationship dies, the other will become angry, decrying how a beloved could have left his partner behind — however illogical this anger may be. It isn't logical, but it is emotionally real. When a marriage dies, it is natural to feel anger about all that you've lost: the effort and dreams, perhaps your money, a house, and other material assets, or the in-tact home you always wanted for your children. Even though you are at least part of the cause of the result, your anger may be directed at everyone but yourself.

  • The fourth stage is despair. When the reality of your loss sets in, depression often takes over. This stage often lasts for some time, and it is important that you tend to your depression lest it grow and become unmanageable. The other pitfall of this stage of grief for the recently divorced is the rush to fall in love, akin to being rescued from a deep moat full of dangerous alligators. Except that the alligators are your own negative feelings, and they must be felt before you are ready for another relationship.

  • The last stage is acceptance. You accept your role in the loss of the marriage, although you may still be exploring your own negative behaviors and how you can change them in the future. The key is to see them. In this stage you also accept your ex's part in it, and as much as possible, forgive her.

Each stage in the grieving process is easier to deal with when you understand what is happening and how it fits into the overall process of healing from loss. Only after going through all five stages of grief is your healing complete. Only when you have let the pain out of your heart are you ready for something or something new.

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