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Can You Mend a Broken Heart?

Dr. Pepper Schwartz answers your questions about healing heartache.

Here is the transcript from the Nov. 22 online chat with AARP's sex and relationship ambassador, Dr. Pepper Schwartz.


Question from Mel: My wife died 5 years ago from breast cancer. I cannot move on, I know I should and she wanted me to but I feel like I'm cheating on her. How/when will I get over this? I'm lonely and sad and miss her so much.

PS: Mel, I totally understand how you feel. When you love someone and you lose them, especially to a brutal disease like breast cancer. There are not only feelings of loss, but feelings of "why am I the one to survive?" "How could I be happy when she had to suffer so much?" But we are meant to survive and go on with our lives. It would be a terrible waste of this gift of life that you have to let it whither and be unfulfilled forever.

I think that precisely because you did love your wife, you have love to give again. Opening your heart will not be disloyal, it will be the product of what you have learned and given in your marriage. So, you need to think about finding someone new as an affirmation of the gift of life we've been given, rather than as an act of disloyalty to your wife. If you have tried to do this and failed, then I would go to see a counselor and have that counselor help you understand that you have the right to live and love. And that, in fact, anything else would be untrue to the self, which is such a precious thing that it should not be locked up and wasted. There are many women out there who are good people, who would understand your loss, and indeed might have a loss of your own. And the two of you can honor your past lives and still create something beautiful together.

Question from Jenny: Hi, Pepper. After 12 years, I still love the same man who has long since married someone else. I'm happy, even though I'm still single, never married, but have never found anyone who makes me feel the way he did. How do I get over him once and for all?

PS: Jenny, think of it this way: Sometimes there are people that we love that we were never meant to be with forever. Loving someone is not always rational, it is what it is. But we can be rational about the way we live our lives. Because you loved him, you know what love is. But if you are attached beyond what's good for you, then you might think about what this attachment does for you that is unhealthy and, in fact, perhaps an escape from reattaching to someone else. You're probably in a hormonal loop, where, literally you are addicted to the feelings of love you get when you think about him. But, at this point, it's totally a fantasy, and it's not in your best interest. Think about it like quitting smoking, stopping using a narcotic, or if you were very heavy and couldn't stop eating. It's a bad attachment at this point and you need to break it. There's nothing good about it now, no matter how good it was in the past.

George: Pepper, much like Susan I am in a verbally abusive relationship I can't seem to leave. She is miserable and wants me to be too, but I love her and want to help her so we can be happy again. Then again, her behavior for months now has been hateful and cruel. I think she's with someone else, plus she has four kids and a dead-end job. But when I pull away she texts and calls repeatedly so I get sucked back in to do it all over again. Help?

PS: Hey, George. You know what's going on here, and only you can put a stop to it. You have to give her some boundaries and then stick to them. She can only do this because you fold when she comes back at you with "Oh, sweetie, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean it, I'll be better." That's a fine apology if it hasn't happened 20 times before, followed by brutal language and perhaps even disloyal conduct. You have to make some rules that are final. So, for example, if she yells at you, you leave the room. If she is nasty to you, you start packing. You have to figure out a hard line and not be manipulated into the same old cycle.

You should also think about why do you love this woman if she's continually nasty to you? If you love her because she has many good points, then you should insist on those being the qualities that you get to experience and not abusive behavior. Someone said once, and wisely, you teach people how to treat you. Think about the education you've been giving your wife. It's not a good one. And you have to change it.

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