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A Broken Heart Is an Open Heart

Light in Heart

“A broken heart is not the same as sadness. Sadness occurs when the heart is stone cold and lifeless. On the contrary, there is an unbelievable amount of vitality in a broken heart.” ~Elizabeth Lesser

“I love you but I’m not in love with you” was the line my first boyfriend used when he broke up with me. I was twenty-two.

We were only together six months but I cried over him for a solid year, thinking a few parallel thoughts: “If I were thinner and prettier he would’ve been in love with me,“ “How could he not be in love with me, I’m HILARIOUS,” and “I’m never doing this love thing again. It hurts way too much.”

Even letting myself fall in love was a big deal. I’d always kept people at a distance—friends and family included—because I didn’t want to be that vulnerable and I didn’t want to feel that much.

Letting people in meant they might see things they didn’t like or see the things about me that I didn’t like. Being that open left way too much up to chance. I much preferred to control the situation.

And so, when I let myself fall in love for the first time, I did it with strong boundaries drawn. I monitored the nice things I did for him to make sure I wasn’t going overboard. I checked in with myself frequently to make sure I wasn’t “losing myself” and was careful not to give him “too many” compliments.

At the time, I thought my approach was very mature. I wasn’t going to be one of those girls who loses her mind and goes gaga for some undeserving dude.

I would let myself love him, just not too much.

Looking back now, I was in full-blown defensive mode driven by a deep need to protect my heart from any harm. I’m a mighty deep feeler and, like most humans, quite a sensitive soul, so loving someone just felt like way too much feeling for my delicate system to handle.

A few years later I met my now ex-husband. He was kind and generous and, as my grandmother said, “He felt like an old shoe.” And so again, I let myself fall in love. A logical, rational, “we make sense together” kind of love.

I was better with the compliments and did my best to love him through the little things. A home cooked meal, a hug and kiss every night when he walked in the door, a risotto tartlet from the farmer’s market to show I was thinking about him.

And yet, I didn’t let him in in. I chose him because he was safe to love. I chose him because he would never ask for my whole heart, for my fullest capacity to love. He had no need to see the deeper, darker parts of me that were desperately seeking light, and I had zero interest in showing him.

At the time, I really thought I loved him as much as I could. And I did, for the time and place we shared together. I loved him more than I had ever loved anyone, which felt enormous and vulnerable.

I’d often have this recurring nightmare where something would happen to him and I’d be left all alone, bereft and broken. I was terrified by the dream, scared out of my mind not by the thought of losing him but by having to feel bereft and broken.

And then one day, he left. And my heart, for the first time in my life, broke open and all I could do was feel.

In the weeks and months following our separation, my heartbreak brought me face to face with more pain and more love than I had ever known.

At times I thought I might break under the strain of their combined weight.

While shedding horizontal tears that ricocheted off my glasses and ran down my face, as I watched my marriage and home crumble before me, I was able to muster more love for myself and for my pain than I ever could have, for either of us, during our marriage.

When he left, the wall around my heart came tumbling down. The ice melted off the inner chambers of my soul. The doors to my ability to love swung open, inviting me to feel into those tender places so long ignored.

It is true. I did not love my ex-husband to my fullest capacity because up until my heart broke open, I could not love myself to such capacity. 

I was too busy protecting myself from my pain, my needs, his pain, his needs that I walked right past the love that is possible between two people when they open their hearts to one another.

Know this: A broken heart is an open heart.

It is in the breaking, when our hearts are peeled back on themselves, that our truths have passage to come in and out.

If we’re lucky, our hearts will break over and over again to reveal new ways of being, of thinking, and of loving.

Each break allows our hearts to heal bigger than the time before.

Yes, there is pain every time we’re cracked open. Immeasurable pain. And with each break, each sting of pain, our hearts are able to expand and strengthen our capacity to love.

Sunset heart image via Shutterstock

About Jamie Greenwood

Jamie Greenwood is the founder of JamieLiving.com, where well-meaning, control-freak women come for shots of strength and lightening bolts of truth. Jamie is also the creator of Just F*cking Eat It, an online program that helps women stop second-guessing food and start trusting their bodies.

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  • Robert

    Beautiful–thanks for sharing. It is incredible how we go through most relationships completely unaware of our blind spots. The other person reflects to us those parts of our self we’re most unaware of, yet there we are, ignorant, avoidant and terrified to deal with them.

    For me, most powerful words in your story were, “I was too busy protecting myself from my pain, my needs, his pain, his needs that I walked right passed the love that is possible between two people when they open their hearts to one another.”

  • Cianna Johnson

    Beautiful post and I am sorry that you’ve gone through the pain of being broken hearted. It sucks and I already have little faith in romantic relationships, I am aromantic and happy with that. Relationships only work if love is love (unconditional) I hope you can find true happiness.

  • Sofia

    What a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing these honest words. Such a beautiful journey towards a more open, full heart.

  • Cindy

    This really resonated with me…my heart recently being broken open. It has been a painful journey and I’m still in the midst of it, but my awareness and my growth continues to expand. Thanks.

  • Jamie Greenwood

    Ah Robert, thank you so much for reading the post. I’m honored it spoke to you.

  • Jamie Greenwood

    Cindy I’m so proud of you for choosing awareness and growth during this tough time. Stay open honey and know I’m cheering you on!

  • Jamie Greenwood

    Thanks Cianna.

  • Jamie Greenwood

    My pleasure Sofia. Thank you for reading.

  • Cianna Johnson

    You are most welcome ‘hug’ 🙂

  • Michaela

    Beautiful Jamie, thanks for writing this article. I actually feel this is rather timely because I believe my boyfriend at the moment is exactly where you were before having your heart broken. He’s younger than I am and doesn’t seem to truly value a love that is open – he does exactly what you have stated about never giving too much, never fully losing himself in love. It’s sad because I see it for what it really is. But reading your article, I have hope for him – people can change. Thanks again for sharing this, it was beautifully written.

  • Angie

    I feel so grateful to read this article at this moment. I am in the middle of a place called heartbreaking, and I sometimes feel myself so vulnerable to be able to love anybody again, and I just feel relationship is impossible on me. But thank you for sharing these beautiful words, at least I know I am not alone, but there are people out there can turn things into positive ways, and maybe let it go is just the easiest way.

  • “Each break allows our hearts to heal bigger than the time before.” – Love this statement. It’s so true. Thank you!

  • mickey

    Beautiful article!

  • Kate

    Thank you for a deeply meaningful article. At 34 I am in the midst of my marriage ending and my heart feels battered, bruised,and deeply rejected! I’m a girl who Loves to love and be loved. I always choose love and peace. Naturally I know there needs to be more for a marriage to work and for years I have offered my husband forgiveness, commitment, kindness, respect, friendship, loyalty, support….and all my love! He however doesn’t want any of it anymore- his fear of commitment, monogamy and desire to live selfishly has overcome him and I’ve realised he has never truly opened himself up to the full extent of my love. And I know his love for me wasn’t true and pure. I don’t believe he knows what it means to love. I wonder about a lack of self worth and self love. I feel sad for him that he couldn’t accept the beauty i had to give and fear over the years he may come to deeply regret this. For me, I know that someone else will one day accept the gift of my unconditional love. I won’t give up on love. I refuse

  • brad

    Good morning and thank you for your insight Jamie. I love the way you can see the blessings after your tough times! I have been on both sides of this topic. I have learned unconditional pure love for self and others is one of the keys to happiness. Through my own heartache’s, counseling, self-help and spirituality I realized walls are meant for prisons…. not hearts. These are only moments and the moments will pass. Just like they always have. As I write this, I too am broken hearted, but it will pass and I will be better for it. Now comes the hard part of exploring my blind spots and growing from this experience. Be well everyone and many blessings to you as you through this thing we call life.

  • Mike

    Great article Jamie, and great replies. I am over a year past a seriiy relationship breakup and I still love my ex who has moved on and us in another relationship. Letting go is hard for me because I still love her and we ate just friends now. I try to keep in mind that since I love her, that I want what’s best for her even if that doesn’t include being in a relationship with me.
    -Mike.

  • Shanker

    Good Article! Candid and bold expression of thoughts. Thanks Jamie.

  • Angie

    Make keep her happy is the best way to express your love 🙂

  • Jamie Greenwood

    Beautifully put Brad. Thank you.

  • Jamie Greenwood

    My pleasure Carolyn. Thrilled you liked it.

  • Jamie Greenwood

    Angie, I promise you are not alone and we all feel vulnerable about loving again after pain. Heartbreaking is the time to go in and tend to our own raw wounds. Don’t worry about future relationships now. As you connect more deeply with yourself you’ll sense a readiness to be open with others. Take your time, honey. There’s no need to rush your healing. XOXO

  • Jamie Greenwood

    Thank you Michaela and I’m honored you found it helpful. As for your boyfriend, yes people can change AND we cannot expect them to. Your only job is to stay true to your path and if YOU need more open-hearted love, you must be loyal to yourself and go get it. You deserve it, honey!

  • Sara

    Its hard to see the positive of your heart breaking when you are in the middle of gathering up the pieces and trying to make sense of everything that happened to break your heart. My heart is completely broken and I can feel the pain of growth. I try everyday to be stronger … to push my self to be ok but its hard. Its so hard!… and I know Im not the only one who goes through this… we all do.. and thats why its nice to find comfort in the words of strangers… from everywhere who are also awake at random hours during the night feeling how their heart is broken…. trying to let light in.

  • Angie

    XOXO

  • Zdeněk Zeman

    Exactly the same thing happened to me recently. I don’t want to give up on love, but sometimes it’s stronger then me and I feel like it was last time it visited my life… Hope time will heal the wound and I’m now wrong, unable to think clearly.

  • Michelle

    I’m really not sure of the position you are taking here. Maybe your heart has not been truly broken. I myself have been broken. I loved a man whom I still consider ‘The love of my life’. There is no way I could have loved this man more. After 8 yrs together I still considered him the smartest, sexiest man I have ever known. As we were Heading into our 9th year together he told me he was ‘no longer in love with me and did not want us to be together anymore’. I moved away as he asked. It has been over a year and a half and I still have no feelings in my heart for anyone….at this point, not even him. I feel nothing. Is this how it will be from now on? My heart was stompped on and thrown away at 50 yrs old. Now I’m afraid that it will be this way the rest of my life! Help!!

  • Maria

    I have to say that it has taken me three failed relationships to learn that I’m best alone. While many of you might want to search for the “happily ever after” with someone else, learned there is no such thing: there is only a happily ever after with yourself.

  • Heather Moore

    my heart is broken into little pieces .by my husband of 32 years who is cheating on me with a Philippine girl .i am strong ,its a painful journey