Can you get over a broken heart? Can you heal from the hurt of past relationships?
This month on Wednesdays we’re talking about the idea of “soul ties“. I started by talking about what that phrase means, and then last week I asked the question, “Does having sex cause soul ties?” (the answer, I believe, is no).
However, that doesn’t mean that we don’t form bonds with people that we are in love with, or that those bonds aren’t hard to get over.
When you love someone, you start to picture the rest of your life with them. Your dreams for the future are wrapped up in them. Not just that, but it’s hard to live in the present without them. So much of what you do out of habit (texting him when something interesting happens; thinking about buying him Christmas gifts; picking up his favourite coffee) is wrapped up in him. So when that relationship ends, it’s natural that it’s difficult. Throw in the hormonal effects of oxytocin (the bonding hormone which is produced
We create emotional bonds with people that we love.
And that means that a relationship that’s ended can still have a large effect on our happiness or our peace of mind. So let’s talk today about how to break that bond and move forward.
To do that, I want to focus on two scenarios: when the wound is fresh; and when the memory of a lost love keeps resurfacing and hurts your marriage today.
How to Mend a Recently Broken Heart
1. Take care of your physical self
Don’t forget to eat. Shower every day. Make small goals that may simply be the minimum that people normally do to feel human–like showering, going to work, eating 3 meals a day. You don’t even need to be able to taste the food. But try to keep your body in a rhythm as much as possible.
And, once you’re over the initial grief, try to get more active. Exercise can help you deal with grief, so get those endorphins working!
2. Get out of the house
Along with that, get out of the house as much as possible. When you’re alone at home, it’s easy to get sad about what you’ve lost, and it’s easy for the tears to come. When you’re out with friends, you can’t let your emotions have free reign. And sometimes that can be a good thing.
We need human contact. So keep seeing other people, or go to places where you’ll naturally meet people. Even if it’s just a matter of going on several walks a day so you’re not sitting alone, do it.
3. Replace old habits with new ones
It’s fine to say that you should burn old pictures, delete your old flame off your contacts, stop going to a restaurant that reminds you of someone you’ve lost. However, subtracting from your life just leaves an emptier life unless you also add new things to your life. It’s much easier to say good-bye to old patterns if you are also saying hello to new ones.
One of the reasons that emotional bonds are so hard to break is that all of our future dreams were tied up in the person. It’s hard to picture your future without them. If you continue with your life as if everything is just the same, except that he is missing, then you’ll feel his loss acutely.
If you start new habits that he wasn’t a part of, though, then you won’t notice his loss at those new things. And you can start to picture a future that doesn’t involve him.
So volunteer at something new. Start attending a new church. Maybe even start a new job! Get a different haircut. Whatever it takes.
I knew a young man whose wife left him because she felt they were going in different directions. She was career oriented; he wasn’t. For a few years he languished in his small town where everybody knew the story. Then he decided he needed a fresh start. He moved across the country to a bustling city with lots of amazing churches. Within a few months he had met a wonderful woman, and they now have a pile of adorable children. He’s happy as can be. But he needed to get out of that town where everybody saw him in terms of his past, and to a new town where people were meeting him for the first time. I will always admire him for the courage that must have taken.
Maybe you can’t do something that drastic, or you don’t want to. But you can introduce new things into your life to give yourself a new perspective.
How to Let Go of a Lost Love–Whenever that Loss Occurred
Maybe the grief isn’t acute, but you’re still feeling the loss of someone you once loved.
Maybe you reconnect on Facebook; maybe you see each other again after a long period apart; or maybe they start entering your dreams again. If you’re also going through a difficult time in your marriage, it’s easy to dwell on that lost relationship, and think about how that person was so much better for you.
How do you let go of the past and focus on the present?
4. Don’t romanticize the relationship; be honest with yourself about why it ended.
When you’re not happy in your marriage, it’s easy to think back to a lost relationship and think, “I would have been so much happier if we had stayed together.”
But is that really true?
The relationship ended for a reason. It’s important not to gloss over that reason.
When I was 19 years old, I was very in love with a guy 6 years older than me. We dated briefly in my first year of university, and then he went away on missions work for a year, saying that he couldn’t continue the relationship when he’d be gone so long. Now, we didn’t have a big fight to end that relationship. It wasn’t that I thought we weren’t a good fit. When he left, I was devastated and I cried profusely.
But let’s look at that story again. That man left me with no assurances that he really loved me or that he wanted to continue anything. This isn’t meant as a criticism towards him; he never promised anything more, though I made it into more in my mind at the time. A few months after he left I was able to look logically at the situation and realize that I deserved someone who cared about me and couldn’t live without me, not someone who was cavalier about leaving. And I was able to move on (and I even started dating Keith!)
However, it would be easy to romanticize that situation and think, “if only…” After all, we only broke up because he left, right?
Or what about that first love you may have had at 16, who moved away, and you had no way to continue that relationship (especially if it was before the days of the internet)? Then you may think, “if only he hadn’t have moved, we would have married, and we would have been so happy.”
But do you really know that? If he left when you were 16, you didn’t really know who each other would be as adults. Sixteen-year-old you may have loved him, but you don’t know what kind of adult he became. The things that mattered to you at 16 are not the same things that matter to you now.
When you think back on the relationship, then, don’t sugar coat it. Don’t make it into more than it was. Realize that, yes, you did love him. But that doesn’t mean that he would be good for you today. So many people are holding on to a fairytale that never was real life, and they’re letting that fairytale wreck their real life. Be real and honest about the relationship.
5. Take every thought captive and reject those thoughts
A while back I wrote a post on how to stop obsessing over your husband’s past, and I introduced the concept of “taking every thought captive”, something I mention a lot in my book 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage.
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
What does it mean to take every thought captive? When a thought enters you brain, you decide whether or not to entertain it. You consciously decide whether or not to dwell on it or to believe it. Here’s what I said in that post:
What we do with that thought is entirely our choice. And simply praying about “God, please let me let this go!” is not enough. You have to actually decide to let this go. That means that when the thought enters your head, you choose to reject it. You demolish that pretension that is setting itself up against your marriage…
And then you consciously think of some specific way that [your husband] loves you. And you choose to think about that. When you pray, it is not to dwell on [the past]. It is to ask the Lord to bring to your mind all the wonderful things [in your life now]….
There is nothing else to do…There is no magic formula.
I realize that taking thoughts captive is not an easy thing.
I have had such a hard time getting my thoughts to line up with what I know God wants! I’ve had to battle through grief after my son died. I had to battle through break ups. I had to deal through some periods of major anxiety.
But practicing the presence of God and taking every thought captive is a discipline that you simply have to learn. You have to learn not to constantly relive old memories and nurse old loves. You have to learn to put the past behind you. And the only way to learn is through practice!
If you are haunted by dreams of a past love, then when you wake up in the middle of the night thinking about him, start immediately thinking of your favourite memory with your husband, or else start praying for God’s blessing on your husband. When the other person enters your mind, replace him with thoughts of your husband.
Not married yet? Then when those thoughts enter your mind, think of something you’re passionate about, whether it’s ending sex trafficking in Cambodia or supporting a pregnancy care centre. Pray for God’s blessing there. Use the opportunity to pour your attention and your prayers into something that matters. Do this enough, and you honestly will find that thoughts of your past love diminish.
6. If possible, cut off contact with the person
If you’re having difficulty keeping your heart turned towards your husband, and thoughts of someone else keep popping up, then, if possible, it may be a good idea to cut off contact. Delete them from social media. Don’t nurture relationships with common friends or acquaintances in the hopes of hearing news. Let it go and move on.
Emotional bonds and broken hearts are hard to break, but they can be broken.
It takes time. It takes determination to focus on the future, rather than the past. It takes faith that your life is still in God’s hands, and that you’re not just settling for second best. That means that you must change the way you think. I know that’s a tall order, but I can tell you from personal experience that it works.
What do you think? is one of these steps the key to mending a broken heart? Let’s talk in the comments!