My wife and I just returned from a beautiful trip to Croatia. We visited the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. This museum is filled with objects representing relationships that ended — many of them with much pain and hurt.
One woman donated her wedding dress — her betrothed died accidentally a week before their wedding. A man donated a toaster that he and his girlfriend bought together. It took him years before he could let it go. One man donated a full-length mirror that his girlfriend had bought but left with him when they broke up. Each donation came with a description of a lost love. Some of the stories were mundane, and others were tragic. I was moved by their sad words.
It’s easy to get into a relationship. There’s chemistry, mutual interests and desire for connection. Beginnings are good, sometimes even better than good. But sometimes a rocky middle results in an ugly end. And while it can be easy to fall in love, it’s hard to break up.
We all recall, in vivid detail, when a love relationship ended. I remember when Becky, my girlfriend in college, broke up with me. I was heartbroken. I was going through a hard time and was feeling very needy toward the end of our relationship. Although she never articulated why she wanted to break up with me, I think she was weary of my neediness. She broke up with me at the beginning of our senior year. We were both living in a huge house on campus. One morning, I saw her new boyfriend leave her room. It felt like a kick in the gut.
It took me a year to fully recover and be ready for a new relationship. I met Diane in graduate school, and we’ve been together for the last 46 years. It’s safe to say that we will be together until death do we part. I was truly fortunate to find and keep the love of my life.
So, how do we heal from a broken relationship?
It takes time. Sadly, people often jump into new relationships as a way of coping with loss. It’s a mistake. The hurt and disappointment finds its way into new love and can destroy something that might have flowered. Take time to heal, to be alone, to lick your wounds, and to recover. It takes longer than you want — don’t be in a rush.
Look within. It takes two people to make and break a relationship. When the hurt subsides enough, take a fearless inventory of your contributions, both positive and negative, to the relationship. Don’t wallow in self-blame. Don’t cast yourself as a victim. While love is blind, when it’s over, open your eyes and look at yourself objectively.
Be a student of your own life. Every experience we have, both positive and negative, is a learning opportunity. What did you learn from this relationship? How can use this knowledge with a new loved one?
Focus on the positive. It’s easy to think about the last days, weeks, months or years of a relationship, particularly when they were painful. As these more recent events fade, consider what was good — in you and in the other person.
Let go. At the museum, individuals were set free by donating their mementos of a broken relationship and by sharing their story. Find a way of letting go of your hurt.
Don’t give up. For some of us, finding love that lasts, involves many relationships that don’t. It’s hard for those adults. But I know many men and women who find their intended, later in life, after many false starts, and they are reaping the benefits of their persistence today.
We all deserve to love and to be loved.
Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog.