As a therapist who works with couples in crisis and many people who are going through divorce, I am often asked some form of the question: Will I ever love again? This can be a couple who has done some damage in their relationship and wants to heal from it and stay together, or this can be an individual who is recovering from a break-up or divorce.
In this moment of change and turmoil, often a time of pain and fear, I know the answer that most folks are hoping to hear: “yes”. Everyone wants the simple answer. So here it is, “yes”. Yes, it is possible to love again after being hurt emotionally. But… as with so many things, it all depends on you and what you choose to do with your experience.
Your ability to love again, truly love again, is linked to several definitions: your definition of self, your definition of your (ex)partner, and your definition of the events that caused harm in your relationship. Depending on your viewpoint; your definition of things; there may be no possibility of love in your future, or every possibility for a greater love than any you have ever known.
This naturally leads to the next question: What will help us open the door to healing and to embracing future love? Several things. First it helps to see yourself in a positive light; to know you are a good person with good qualities. This can be particularly difficult if your partner cheated on you or left you for someone else. This is often a time when we compare ourselves to the other man or woman and criticize ourselves. It is important to understand that it doesn’t matter if your (ex)partner appreciates your qualities. Your (ex)partner does not determine your worth. What one person wants, another doesn’t. What one person loves, another cannot stand. You may not be the perfect fit for one person, but you are exactly what another is looking for! Seeing yourself as a good person allows you to feel worthy of love, to feel lovable and to accept love when it is offered.
Second, it helps to see your (ex)partner objectively and positively. This requires us to admit that both people did good and bad things in your relationship. It is very rare that only one person is “to blame” for all the problems in a relationship. Even in a case where a partner has cheated, which is clearly not ok, this can sometimes be linked to unmet needs in the relationship, and poor communication. It is nearly always a combination of things that makes a couple struggle or even end their relationship. Owning some responsibility for the health and success of your relationship, though not all of it, helps you to feel empowered. You are/were the architect and builder of your relationship. When we view ourselves as responsible for our relationships and we feel empowered, we are able to alter, change, or remake a relationship. We are in the driver’s seat. If we are blaming our partner and we feel like a victim, we feel unable to make changes. It is out of our hands. This keeps us stuck and unable to move on.
Third, it helps to see that neither you or your (ex)partner has been purposely cruel. Many of us lack the necessary skills to help a relationship thrive, but that does not mean we aren’t doing everything we know how to do. Sometimes this isn’t what is needed or it isn’t enough of what is needed and the relationship falters. But, this does not change the intent of you or your partner. When we acknowledge that both people gave their best and did not try to hurt each other, it allows us to forgive our (ex) partner for their part in things, and it allows us to forgive ourselves for not being perfect. This forgiveness allows us to let go of past pain, and to learn from our past. It allows us to evaluate who we are today, what we want and need, and how we can engineer a strong relationship with a good partner in the future. It allows us to believe in ourselves and to believe in love.
When you approach a struggle in your relationship as an opportunity to learn how to be stronger as a couple; when you view a break-up as a learning experience, a step towards a greater relationship; then you are open to healing and embracing love. You are able to move on with a sense of hopefulness and self-worth. It becomes part of your evolution towards better things. Sometimes our vision changes. Our idea of love can look differently over time. Who we are and what we want may change. But… Yes, you can love again, better than ever before.