An Open Letter to the Broken-Hearted
An Open Letter to the Broken-Hearted

An Open Letter to the Broken-Hearted

Dearest readers,

I am writing because you have been on my mind. All of you. You see, I recently uncovered a profound truth about all of us.

We are all walking around with broken hearts. 

That’s right. Everyone, myself included. 

And if you think about it, it can really only be this way. As humans, we are wired to connect. We seek it out, no less fervently (and sometimes more so) than we seek food or water. Our bodies are primed for it. Our hearts yearn for it. Connection is not “icing on the cake,” it is a biological imperative.

Yet, inevitably in our humanness, we fail in our search.

We get spurned by that girl at the coffee shop. 

We get stood up by that guy we had a date with. 

We stoke a flame and then get ghosted. 

We spend a few years with someone before life sets us on separate paths. 

For some of us, we find love and believe our search to be over. We pledge ourselves, we imagine we will grow old with our partners, and, seemingly, they abandon us.

After working with hundreds of people over the years, I had to wonder about this broken-heartedness, this pervasive thing that no one seems to be talking about. I mean actually talking about. 

Why is it that some people experience their loss as transformative while others fall into despair? 

What separates the woman in my office, beaming at the prospect of rediscovering herself, from the one in the hospital, whose loss was so intolerable that she attempted to end her own life? 

I bring this up not to be unnecessarily morbid, but to point out how serious our situation is. Break ups are an established predictor of suicide and are the leading cause of suicide in young people. Countless more experience severe clinical depression. Add children into the mix, and suddenly the way we handle — or mishandle — a separation can have intergenerational implications.

So why do we continue to treat break ups as trivial? What could be a more serious mental health issue?

When I was a young and eager clinician, I believed the answer to be simple: just don’t break up. The idea of staying-together-at-all-costs set me on a path to discover how we can cultivate the best intimate relationships. I read countless books, earned a masters degree in marriage therapy, and began working with couples. Many of them I helped. Others couldn’t be saved. I remember coming out of session the first time a couple reported that they were divorcing. I threw my notepad on the ground and, like a young surgeon who had just seen his first flatline, grievously exclaimed “I lost them.”

It’s a nice thought. “Do x-y-and-z and your relationship is secured.”  But it’s a thought that deludes us from a very different reality. Sometimes resentments build and can’t be overcome. Sometimes we can “love someone but not be in love with them.” And as Judith Viorst poignantly says, “sometimes, no matter how clever we are, we must lose.”

All of us must lose. How we mourn and move through the loss, not our ability to avoid it, is what determines whether we will grow or languish. But where do we learn this precious skill? 

My experience has been that most of us do not. Instead, we become jaded, hardened, calcified, petrified. Lacking in ways to deal with the loss, our outer experience of feeling unloved becomes an inner experience of feeling unlovable. This, I believe, is one of the great tragedies of our time.

Our “relationship with break ups” is broken. Much of my work is about fixing it. My approach is based on my work in numerous clinical settings, from helping individuals in relationships, to couples on the brink of divorce, to patients in need of acute psychiatric care. It is informed by my research in attachment, loss, trauma, neurobiology, and emotional processing.

But mostly, my work is driven by my own experiences of loss and the rebirth thereafter. And like any other birth, the process is always a painful one. Through the wounds of heartbreak, however, I have been able to discover the most beautiful parts of myself. 

I believe this transformation is available to all of us.

My work is not about helping you “get back out there.” I won’t teach you how to meet new people, how to “win” your partner back, or how to “move on.” And while I do hope to offer some immediate relief, I don’t offer a “quick fix.”

What I do hope to offer is an invitation to live more closely to your experience of loss, to view relationships — even the short-lived ones, even (especially?) the ones that “fail” — as a pathway to enlightenment, a vehicle for your own personal growth. I believe this shift in perspective literally has the power to change not just your romantic life, but every aspect of your being.

Perhaps you are, in this moment, reeling from some recent loss. If so, I’m going to spoil the ending for you. 

You will never, ever, ever be the same. You can’t. And I don’t want you to. 

There is no going back to your old Self, your old ways of relating, your old approach to the world. 

Something much more fulfilling awaits.

Together, we can discover it.