Dating and Mate Selection — 25 November 2007
Dealing with relationship loss without breaking your heart

It can be very upsetting when a desired relationship fails to start, progress or culminate in a commitment. Most people feel the disappointment, hurt and sadness about this type of a loss and some become so devastated that they negatively impact their own health. Some rejection in romantic love may be inevitable – getting sick about it is preventable.

Being valued and desired by others is a necessary for the individual’s sense of security and self-esteem. Dr. Mark Leary, a Duke University psychologist found that self esteem rises when one feels accepted by even a small gesture such as being asked to join a group for lunch and one’s worthiness plummets with rejection such as: “I like you – as a friend!”

In intimate connection the approval and affirmation of the loved one is second to none, the absence of it can be devastating. Not being chosen by the person whom you have selected is a blow to one’s sense of worth and desirability and shatters dreams of a romantic life-long happiness.

An unrequited love, the theme of plays, poems and epics from time immemorial, falls into the category of a tragedy. One party is ready to love, while the object of this intense affection is not receptive to these tender emotions. The suitor is crushed, pained, grief stricken and may even become suicidal.

While in the past this extreme reaction of depression and even thoughts of self-destruction seemed melodramatic, recent research has begun to understand the scientific connection between emotional grief and heart disease. Chet Rihal, a Mayo Clinic Cardiologist explains that severe and sudden shock, such as a loss of a loved one, can cause symptoms that look like a heart attack. While the heart tissue is undamaged and the arteries are unclogged, the heart’s ability to pump is severely impaired. “We are recognizing broken heart syndrome with greater frequency in the U.S.”, he said.

Though this research does not specifically associate romantic rejection with heart disease, other studies explore the connection between emotions and heart health. Dr. Gregory Miller, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia, found that:” Chronic stress and events with certain emotional themes can kick off an inflammatory process that leads people down the road to both depression and cardiovascular disease.”

So it appears that our figurative expressions such as: ‘My heart is broken’, or ‘I feel like I am dying” in reaction to emotional pain may indeed be associated with damaging physiological findings.

Our nature affects how we deal with rejection, disappointments, and non-responsiveness of others. For example, as early as the 1950’s cardiologists Meyer Friedman and R.H. Rosenham found that Type A personality (quick to anger and fast to explode) is a potential risk for heart disease. They estimated that Type A behavior doubles the risk of coronary heart disease in otherwise healthy individuals. The tendency to be angered by minimal provocation, termed as “trait anger” was found by Harvard researchers to double the risk for strokes and cardiovascular disease, and optimistic and friendly individuals have healthier hearts than pessimistic or shy ones.
Both emotions and temperament contribute to our health. Though some are given, much can be done to alter our behavior for greater wellbeing.

If you are hurt, grief stricken and depressed about a relationship end, please consider:
• Humans are programmed to bond and failure to do so due to the departure of a loved one is one of the most stressful life experiences. It frustrates one desires and renders him/her helpless to get connected.
• See this relationship end as a one-time event –not a first in a pattern. List the gains of this experience.
• Allow yourself to grieve for the loss you have experienced without blaming yourself or feeling less worthy. Your value as a future partner has not been diminished because your loved one did not choose you.
• Seek the love and support of friends and others who cherish and value you.
• Distract yourself by: work, reading, TV, games, sports, movies or other pleasurable activities as well as de-stress through: exercise, massage, meditation or whatever relaxes you.
• Avoid feeling victimized, powerless, angry, or hateful, these emotions are futile and may physically harm you. If you are unable to stop negative thoughts, seek professional help –it may spare your health.
• Become helpful to others – it builds esteem and affirms your uniqueness in preparation for a successful relationship.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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