How to Fix a Broken Heart

Breaking up is never easy, but there are ways to make it more bearable.

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
From the WebMD Archives

Lovelorn columnists hear all the reasons couples break up.

Maybe the meeting with the parents didn't go as planned. Maybe one person has expectations the other just can't fill.

Or, perhaps one party is beginning to feel anxious about where the relationship is going – or the other person expects it to go.

Reasons Hearts May Break

There are so many reasons people get together, sighs Elayne Savage, PhD, a relationship coach and author of Breathing Room-Creating Space to Be a Couple. "They may need to fill a need in their life. Whether or not the person fills that need, half of the couple may continue to see the world through rosy glasses. Thus the couple may stay together longer than they should," she says.

Having unrealistic expectations also can doom a relationship, Savage says. "Some people will want certain things, not find them in a person, and sort of make the person a 'fixer-upper' and try to create those qualities in the person. Pretty soon, the person resents it as does the person doing the fixing."

Savage also says some people confuse nurturing with intimacy. Cuddling or a backrub, she says, may be caregiving more than intimacy.

Who suffers more, men or women?

"More men commit suicide over a lost relationship than women do," Jean Cirillo, PhD, a psychotherapist and consultant to TV reality shows in Long Island, N.Y., tells WebMD. "It's harder for them, when they have formed an attachment, to leave on terms other than their own."

"Women take a breakup easier," syndicated columnist and psychologist Joyce Brothers, PhD, tells WebMD. "Women are more tuned to their feelings and know it's coming. It doesn't hit them like a ton of bricks.

"Also," Brothers notes, "women have more people to talk to, their hairdresser, aunt, even a taxi driver. "Women get over a breakup -- but never get over comparing themselves to the woman the guy ends up with."

"It's harder being the dumpee," Sandra Reishus, MHS, a clinical sexologist and relationship coach and author of Oh NO! I've Become My Mother, tells WebMD. "If you are the dumpee, your self-worth comes into play."

Cirillo says she agrees, but adds that if the reason for the breakup is that the person is physically or emotionally abusive, you should be the dumper for sure. "Mutual agreement is best," she says. "Each person should feel he or she got something from the relationship." But, she adds, "The dumpee can usually negotiate more and get more from the breakup."

Savage says that your past history and age can be a gauge of how much a breakup hurts and how long the recovery period will be. "Hurts stockpile over the years," she says. "You feel victimized if you are the dumpee," she adds. "It hurts more if you are the victim."

But, "Just because two people can't get along, Cirillo says, "doesn't mean there is anything wrong with either of them."

How to Cope

"When a relationship ends, it is a death of sorts," Reishus reminds us. "You need to be gentle with yourself. Gather all the insights you can: What would you do differently next time?"

Brothers thinks the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) do come into play but that these can be switched around or some stages skipped.

"These stages don't cut in so slickly," Savage concurs. "Some people stay in anger for years."

After all, you cannot bring a deceased person back to life, but you do have the option of finding another "body" right away after a breakup. "Men replace, women grieve," sums up Cirillo, although she does not recommend this jump-back-in-the-pool approach.

"Don't jump on the Internet the next day," sighs Savage. "Let it be for awhile. "You have to be able to put it in some context, say good-bye and move on."

Some approaches:

  • Music. Aids thinking. "Your song" as a couple is not recommended.
  • Writing or journaling. Savage says for some this might sound like an assignment, for others a release. Some people even take to poetry.
  • Sharing with others. "Hearing yourself say the words out loud can be a help." Savage says. "If you are suffering all the old hurts all over again, you must not have taken care of them at the time." As for the advice of friends, you need to let them know what comments are helpful and what are not. "If a friend says, 'He didn't deserve you' or 'I always thought she was a witch,' it means they weren't honest at the time. No one knows what goes on between two people. Such comments are usually not helpful. You can say, 'That isn't helping.'" Cirillo also says each half of the couple has to accept half the blame when talking about the breakup.
  • Get out. Call someone and go to a movie, Savage advises.
  • Touch. Replace sex with massages.

"There is a whole lot of empty space to fill after a breakup," Savage says. "This is space that used to be filled with possibilities, excitement, and expectations."

"The key," Brothers says, "is to go on to something. But time has to go by. If you don't need time, maybe you didn't care that much."

WebMD Feature


Star Lawrence is a medical journalist based in the Phoenix area.

Published July 26, 2006.

SOURCES: Elayne Savage, PhD, relationship coach; and author, Breathing Room-Creating Space to Be a Couple. Jean Cirillo, PhD, psychotherapist and consultant to TV reality shows, Huntington, N.Y. Joyce Brothers, PhD, syndicated columnist; and psychologist. Sandra Reishus, MHS, clinical sexologist, relationship coach; and author, Oh NO! I've Become My Mother.

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