Love After Heartbreak
Finding the courage to love again.
Posted Nov 30, 2020
Alicia was heartbroken—and angry with herself—after her latest breakup with a man who took advantage of her in every way, including financially, leaving her credit, her finances, and her life in tatters.
Jason was still consumed with anger and bitterness over his wife’s repeated infidelities and the pain of divorce—eight years after the fact. He said that he was convinced that “most people are jerks and no woman can be trusted.”
Both Alicia and Jason were clients of mine who shared a heartfelt sentiment: “I’m never going to love again. Never again!”
Taking the risk of loving after heartbreak is daunting to be sure. You fear being hurt again. You imagine that there is something about you that makes it impossible for anyone to love you. You’re convinced, like Jason, that the world is full of women who cheat and male friends who betray you. You may fear, like Alicia, that your attraction to certain kinds of men or your own behaviors will doom your love life forever. You may be fearful about trusting another and being vulnerable to hurt. You may feel empty without another in your life and rush out to find a new love—only to be disappointed again.
It is possible to find love after heartbreak, to find joy with another if you give yourself time to reflect on what happened and to resolve your feelings about the past before moving on. What can help?
1. Give yourself time to grieve and reflect. Working through your grief will help you to let go of your former love and free you, in time, to love another. Reflecting on what went wrong—and your own part in the relationship not working—can keep you from making the same mistakes over and over.
2. Forgive the other person and yourself. Forgiving doesn’t mean saying what happened was OK or that you can just forget the pain. Forgiving your ex and yourself frees you to begin to let go so that you can start moving on with your life.
3. Work on rebuilding good feelings about yourself and life on your own. Do things you enjoy. Spend time with friends you might not have seen as much when you were with your ex-love. Re-discover the positives of being on your own. Think about all you have to offer friends, family and, eventually, a new love. Celebrate who you are—perhaps with the help of a therapist who can work with you to explore the ways you can grow toward new possibilities.
4. Avoid assumptions that keep you mired in the wreckage of your past relationships. Just because your ex-love was a liar and a cheat doesn’t mean that the next person you meet will be like that (unless you go looking for someone just like your ex). Jana, a client whose first marriage ended because her husband was unfaithful and whose subsequent relationship crashed and burned due to her constant suspicion and accusations, came to therapy contending that “All men are dogs. They all will cheat given the opportunity. So why should I trust anyone? I HAVE to check a guy’s phone to see who he’s calling and texting. I HAVE to keep tabs on where he is at all times. Otherwise, I’ll get hurt again.” It took some time for Jana to realize that she was allowing her unhappy marital experience to keep the pain going and squeezing the life out of new relationships with her vigilance. In time she was able to let go of those old assumptions and begin to trust a new man in her life.
5. Be aware of old relationship patterns—either of attraction or of your own actions. Have you been hopelessly addicted to bad boys? Or to beautiful women who let you down emotionally? Or to relationships where you rescue or otherwise try to change another?
My friend Ann fell hard for a long string of bad boys and flawed men starting in her teens and extending through middle age. “I finally asked myself ‘Why?’ after all this time,” she told me. “Initially, I dated bad boys mostly as a form of rebellion to shock my parents. But my parents have been gone for a long time. And these guys have caused me so much grief and pain in my life. It’s time to be good to myself—which means enjoying time alone and holding out for a guy who will treat me well.”
When you’re aware of your own pattern of behavior in relationships, you can begin to make positive changes. My client Tessa decided that she could satisfy her need to help others through her work as a nurse—and not try to rescue and change the men in her life.
Sometimes changing even one behavior can make a major difference. Julianna, another client of mine, had a pattern of rushing in to help men who were down and out—and ended up nearly homeless herself as a result. Now she’s mindful of the need for boundaries in her relationships and for finding ways to help that don’t make a lover’s problems her own. “My current relationship is with a guy who had a good job and secure finances—before the pandemic hit,” she told me recently. “Then he lost his job. I didn’t rush in offering money. Instead, I’ve listened to him vent, voicing his frustration about job-hunting. I’ve just supported his efforts to get through these hard times. And he’s doing well, living on his unemployment benefits and savings as he looks for a new job. And our relationship is better than ever.”
6. Be open to someone who is different. This doesn’t mean deliberately seeking out the polar opposite of your ex. It means keeping an open mind in getting to know someone who might be different from the type of partner to whom you’ve been attracted in the past. It might mean putting less emphasis on looks and more on the capacity to share emotionally. It might mean looking past old male or female stereotypes to someone who can be both a friend and a lover. It might mean taking a new look at your values and what really matters to you on the way to finding someone who could be a true partner in your life.
7. Give love time to grow. We’ve all experienced the sad trajectory of rebound relationships that happen too soon after heartbreak. But it’s also important to be mindful of the importance of giving a potentially good relationship time to develop. It’s tempting to give in to the thrill of romance, swept away by the excitement of a new love at last. Taking things a little slower this time around, building a solid friendship with each other, letting trust grow and vulnerability show, enjoying each step along the way can help love to be not just lovelier but also more enduring this time around.