As a Betrayal Recovery Expert who works with women who’ve been betrayed by their intimate partner and are ready to let go of the grief, pain, and heartbreak so they can claim what’s possible for them on the other side of betrayal, one thing I hear often is, “Will I ever be able to love again?”
Whether that means loving the partner who cheated on you again, or opening yourself up to loving a new partner, the concern underneath the question is, “If I open myself up to love, am I going to get hurt?”
Here are some things to consider about loving again and protecting your heart after you have been hurt.
Love and Healing are Choices
Contrary to what you might think, healing and loving are both choices that only you can make. Whether the hurt you experienced was major or minor, there is no requirement to heal. There is no timetable for recovery, and healing will not happen unless you decide you want to heal.
You might be wondering why anyone would decide not to heal. The answer lies partially in the concept of secondary gain.
Betrayal, Victimhood, & Secondary Gain
Secondary Gain is an advantage attained by something negative. For example, someone who is sick (a negative) might enjoy staying home and watching TV throughout the day (a positive). If the benefit of the secondary gain is strong enough, it might encourage us to unconsciously stay sick longer so we can keep receiving the benefits we enjoy.
Being hurt can provide us with so much secondary gain that we unconsciously delay our own healing. Yes, we hate the pain, but we also enjoy the extra attention we receive, being treated to dinner out, or the righteous indignation of others who are suddenly “on our side.”
Even though loving and being loved is more important than the secondary gain we receive, we can still unconsciously choose to stay “broken” so we can enjoy the benefits.
How to Heal Your Heart so You Can Love Again
Healing your heart requires being brave enough to go deep and heal yourself from the inside out.
When a physical wound is too deep, it is stuffed with gauze and intentionally kept open. That’s because wounds need to heal from the inside out. When the outside, surface level of the wound closes too fast, it can lead to infection and delay healing.
Broken hearts must also be mended from the inside out.
Healing from the inside out means being aware of all that is broken, oozing, and unhealed deep within you and not just treating the surface-level injury. Addressing the deep internal wounding you may have carried with you your entire life is what brings peace.
Attend to Your Own Trauma First
Childhood trauma and pain, mother/father issues, addiction and abuse. Whatever is inside of you, likely glossed over and covered up for years, is where to start. That’s where true, lasting, and authentic healing begins. Not with the most recent injustice, betrayal, or fight. Not with the other person and with what they did to you, but with you. Inside.
- Taking time to be alone. In silence and stillness. Until you can be comfortable.
- Journaling, crying, thinking, and attending to your own needs. Until you feel well-loved and cherished by you.
- Getting curious enough to break out of the stories, beliefs, or expectations that you have carried with you and getting to the root of you. Until you are at peace being alone, silent, and still without defense, distraction, or the need to numb out.
When you can do all this, then you are ready to love again.
How to Love After Being Hurt
To love is to risk being hurt. There is nothing anyone can do to make loving safe or guaranteed. Choosing to open your heart means you are willing to:
Choose to accept a certain amount of risk.
Life, not just love, is risky. Whether it’s a virus our immune systems cannot handle, a natural disaster, or playing the stock market, life is risky. We get into trouble when we believe (incorrectly) that we are in control.
While there are things we can do to minimize risk, none of us can guarantee what is (or is not) going to happen. Accepting risk is okay! So is educating yourself and minimizing that risk.
Declare yourself as someone who loves.
Loving and receiving love are two very different things. You can love ice cream, pasta, puppies, or Jason Momoa, but they (probably) don’t love you back. And that’s okay! Loving feels good and brings joy all on its own. While it’s nice to be loved, love is not a tit-for-tat type of thing.
When you declare yourself as someone who loves you set yourself free to do just that. To love! If someone loves you back, it’s a bonus, but it’s not necessary to who you are and what you choose!
Separating loving and being loved in your mind can really help.
Know that you’ve got your own back, can take care of yourself, and know how to make yourself feel better no matter what anybody else does, or does not do.
Having your own back means having the tools necessary to make yourself feel better no matter what happens to you. It means caring how you feel enough to do what’s necessary to feel better, choose healing, and to keep choosing love by declaring yourself as someone who loves, despite the risk.
Falling (back) in Love With The Person Who Broke Your Heart
Ironically, learning to love the person who hurt you can be easier than loving someone new. Why? Because you already know the person who hurt you. For good or bad, right or wrong, when two people go through a hurtful experience together, and when both of them are committed to learning, growing, and loving through that experience, the love that can develop between them can be even more significant, deep, and powerful.
Because you know each other’s shadows and each other’s light.
The strongest relationships and the best kind of love is where both partners have accepted the risk, declared themselves as someone who loves – without needing something in return – have their own backs, and are responsible for their own happiness and wellbeing.
Which may sound contrary to pop-culture and romance novels, but makes complete and powerful sense!