How to mend a broken heart

14 January 2011

The end of a relationship is never easy to deal with, especially when everyone else seems to be coupled up. Here are some tips about coping with heartbreak and regaining confidence after a break-up.

For some people, there are obvious signs and signals that a relationship may be coming to end, although for others it can come as a shock. 

Many people don’t really know why they finish a relationship – they just feel it’s no longer working; other people turn off like a tap, going from intense love to indifference or panic within a very short space of time.

According to research by Dr J Gottman from Washington University, four key signs can indicate that a relationship is deteriorating and could be nearing an end. These are: 

1. Increased criticism of a partner’s personality or character

2. Feelings and words of contempt towards a partner

3. Being defensive and never willing to listen to anything a partner says or does

4. Stonewalling and ignoring, avoiding or placing a huge distance between the two of you

The research suggests that people who are aware of experiencing two or more of these behaviours take the opportunity to actively work on the issues or seek outside help, perhaps from a relationship counsellor, to see if the issues can be resolved.

The pain of heartbreak

The pain of a broken heart can be so acute that symptoms can feel physical as well as emotional; while a positive mental attitude might help us recover from an illness or injury, there’s little respite from heartbreak, mainly because it can affect us on so many levels.

Even when emotions like loss and bereavement start to fade, there can still be lasting damage to your confidence, self-esteem and even your stress levels. 

Break-up coping mechanisms

Although it’s initially normal to feel hurt and upset, being stuck in a bubble of resentment doesn’t do you any good. Instead, you need to regain your optimism and the ability to trust and love again.

Here is a possible strategy for coping with a break-up and successfully getting through it. 

1. Put a time-limit on your wallowing. Allow a maximum of a week of the kind of grief that means staying indoors and sobbing over tubs of ice cream, while playing ‘your song’ or being comforted by friends. Then stop watching sad films or listening to sad music.

2. Don’t read his/her Facebook page to get painful updates of their status or dating habits. 

3. Get some exercise. Walk, swim, play with the dog or go to the gym. Exercise is therapy for the mind as well as the body and it can help reduce stress levels. Sitting around can cause sadness to turn into depression, so over-ride those negative inner dialogues that try to tell you to curl up in front of the TV.

4. Boost your morale by eating healthy foods and cutting down on alcohol. 

5. Don’t make sudden, crucial changes to your hairstyle or wardrobe. Think it through carefully, as you could regret it later. 

6. Treat yourself like a winner, rather than a loser. Have a facial or massage to help you relax or take long baths with scented oils and candles. 

7. Be angry, but not with an entire opposite sex. 

8. Leave emotional baggage behind. The sooner you accept that the relationship has ended and start to move on, the better. 

Regaining confidence

A break-up can dent self-esteem and confidence, but regaining it is part of the process of moving on. 

‘Relate’ suggests these tips to help boost your self-esteem.

• Appreciate yourself and make time to relax

• Recognise what you’ve achieved and what you’re good at

• Stop criticising yourself

• Accept compliments

• Remind yourself of the good times, rather than dwelling on the bad

• Set yourself new realistic goals and aims. 

Dealing with your ex

Constantly going back to tell the other person what you feel about them generally serves no purpose for helping either of you move on. 

Instead, try writing it down in the form of a letter. Let rip and put it all on paper then, when it’s finished, take it outside and burn it or tear it up. This is a satisfying way of helping yourself heal.

If you do need to interact with your ex, keep it civilised, especially if children are involved. If the situation is difficult, or your ex is uncooperative, investigate mediation options. Having someone else present at meetings to help with negotiation can prevent things getting worse. If divorce is on the cards, it’s easier for everyone if it’s not acrimonious. 

Useful resource

Relate -