Our Soul Ties Series: How Do You Heal a Broken Heart?

by | Nov 20, 2019 | Theology of Marriage and Sex | 18 comments

How to Mend a Broken Heart

Can you get over a broken heart? Can you heal from the hurt of past relationships?

This month on Wednesdays we’re talking about the idea of “soul ties“. I started by talking about what that phrase means, and then last week I asked the question, “Does having sex cause soul ties?” (the answer, I believe, is no).

However, that doesn’t mean that we don’t form bonds with people that we are in love with, or that those bonds aren’t hard to get over.

When you love someone, you start to picture the rest of your life with them. Your dreams for the future are wrapped up in them. Not just that, but it’s hard to live in the present without them. So much of what you do out of habit (texting him when something interesting happens; thinking about buying him Christmas gifts; picking up his favourite coffee) is wrapped up in him. So when that relationship ends, it’s natural that it’s difficult. Throw in the hormonal effects of oxytocin (the bonding hormone which is produced

We create emotional bonds with people that we love.

And that means that a relationship that’s ended can still have a large effect on our happiness or our peace of mind. So let’s talk today about how to break that bond and move forward.

To do that, I want to focus on two scenarios: when the wound is fresh; and when the memory of a lost love keeps resurfacing and hurts your marriage today.

How to Mend a Recently Broken Heart

1. Take care of your physical self

Don’t forget to eat. Shower every day. Make small goals that may simply be the minimum that people normally do to feel human–like showering, going to work, eating 3 meals a day. You don’t even need to be able to taste the food. But try to keep your body in a rhythm as much as possible.

And, once you’re over the initial grief, try to get more active. Exercise can help you deal with grief, so get those endorphins working!

2. Get out of the house

Along with that, get out of the house as much as possible. When you’re alone at home, it’s easy to get sad about what you’ve lost, and it’s easy for the tears to come. When you’re out with friends, you can’t let your emotions have free reign. And sometimes that can be a good thing.

We need human contact. So keep seeing other people, or go to places where you’ll naturally meet people. Even if it’s just a matter of going on several walks a day so you’re not sitting alone, do it.

How to mend a broken heart

3. Replace old habits with new ones

It’s fine to say that you should burn old pictures, delete your old flame off your contacts, stop going to a restaurant that reminds you of someone you’ve lost. However, subtracting from your life just leaves an emptier life unless you also add new things to your life. It’s much easier to say good-bye to old patterns if you are also saying hello to new ones.

One of the reasons that emotional bonds are so hard to break is that all of our future dreams were tied up in the person. It’s  hard to picture your future without them. If you continue with your life as if everything is just the same, except that he is missing, then you’ll feel his loss acutely.

If you start new habits that he wasn’t a part of, though, then you won’t notice his loss at those new things. And you can start to picture a future that doesn’t involve him.

So volunteer at something new. Start attending a new church. Maybe even start a new job! Get a different haircut. Whatever it takes.

I knew a young man whose wife left him because she felt they were going in different directions. She was career oriented; he wasn’t. For a few years he languished in his small town where everybody knew the story. Then he decided he needed a fresh start. He moved across the country to a bustling city with lots of amazing churches. Within a few months he had met a wonderful woman, and they now have a pile of adorable children. He’s happy as can be. But he needed to get out of that town where everybody saw him in terms of his past, and to a new town where people were meeting him for the first time. I will always admire him for the courage that must have taken.

Maybe you can’t do something that drastic, or you don’t want to. But you can introduce new things into your life to give yourself a new perspective.

How to Get Over a Broken Heart--6 Steps to Move Forward

How to Let Go of a Lost Love–Whenever that Loss Occurred

Maybe the grief isn’t acute, but you’re still feeling the loss of someone you once loved.

Maybe you reconnect on Facebook; maybe you see each other again after a long period apart; or maybe they start entering your dreams again. If you’re also going through a difficult time in your marriage, it’s easy to dwell on that lost relationship, and think about how that person was so much better for you.

How do you let go of the past and focus on the present?

4. Don’t romanticize the relationship; be honest with yourself about why it ended.

When you’re not happy in your marriage, it’s easy to think back to a lost relationship and think, “I would have been so much happier if we had stayed together.”

But is that really true?

The relationship ended for a reason. It’s important not to gloss over that reason. 

When I was 19 years old, I was very in love with a guy 6 years older than me. We dated briefly in my first year of university, and then he went away on missions work for a year, saying that he couldn’t continue the relationship when he’d be gone so long. Now, we didn’t have a big fight to end that relationship. It wasn’t that I thought we weren’t a good fit. When he left, I was devastated and I cried profusely.

But let’s look at that story again. That man left me with no assurances that he really loved me or that he wanted to continue anything. This isn’t meant as a criticism towards him; he never promised anything more, though I made it into more in my mind at the time. A few months after he left I was able to look logically at the situation and realize that I deserved someone who cared about me and couldn’t live without me, not someone who was cavalier about leaving. And I was able to move on (and I even started dating Keith!)

However, it would be easy to romanticize that situation and think, “if only…” After all, we only broke up because he left, right?

Or what about that first love you may have had at 16, who moved away, and you had no way to continue that relationship (especially if it was before the days of the internet)? Then you may think, “if only he hadn’t  have moved, we would have married, and we would have been so happy.”

But do you really know that? If he left when you were 16, you didn’t really know who each other would be as adults. Sixteen-year-old you may have loved him, but you don’t know what kind of adult he became. The things that mattered to you at 16 are not the same things that matter to you now.

When you think back on the relationship, then, don’t sugar coat it. Don’t make it into more than it was. Realize that, yes, you did love him. But that doesn’t mean that he would be good for you today. So many people are holding on to a fairytale that never was real life, and they’re letting that fairytale wreck their real life. Be real and honest about the relationship.

5. Take every thought captive and reject those thoughts

A while back I wrote a post on how to stop obsessing over your husband’s past, and I introduced the concept of “taking every thought captive”, something I mention a lot in my book 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:5


What does it mean to take every thought captive? When a thought enters you brain, you decide whether or not to entertain it. You consciously decide whether or not to dwell on it or to believe it. Here’s what I said in that post:

From How to Stop Obsessing Over Your Husband's Past

What we do with that thought is entirely our choice. And simply praying about “God, please let me let this go!” is not enough. You have to actually decide to let this go. That means that when the thought enters your head, you choose to reject it. You demolish that pretension that is setting itself up against your marriage…

And then you consciously think of some specific way that [your husband] loves you. And you choose to think about that. When you pray, it is not to dwell on [the past]. It is to ask the Lord to bring to your mind all the wonderful things [in your life now]….

There is nothing else to do…There is no magic formula.

I realize that taking thoughts captive is not an easy thing.

I have had such a hard time getting my thoughts to line up with what I know God wants! I’ve had to battle through grief after my son died. I had to battle through break ups. I had to deal through some periods of major anxiety.

But practicing the presence of God and taking every thought captive is a discipline that you simply have to learn. You have to learn not to constantly relive old memories and nurse old loves. You have to learn to put the past behind you. And the only way to learn is through practice!


If you are haunted by dreams of a past love, then when you wake up in the middle of the night thinking about him, start immediately thinking of your favourite memory with your husband, or else start praying for God’s blessing on your husband. When the other person enters your mind, replace him with thoughts of your husband.

Not married yet? Then when those thoughts enter your mind, think of something you’re passionate about, whether it’s ending sex trafficking in Cambodia or supporting a pregnancy care centre. Pray for God’s blessing there. Use the opportunity to pour your attention and your prayers into something that matters. Do this enough, and you honestly will find that thoughts of your past love diminish.

What’s holding you back from a GREAT marriage?

Do you find yourselves taking each other for granted?

Has marriage lost that “spark”?

Learn how to feel connected again–and how changing the way you THINK about marriage can make all the difference.

6. If possible, cut off contact with the person

If you’re having difficulty keeping your heart turned towards your husband, and thoughts of someone else keep popping up, then, if possible, it may be a good idea to cut off contact. Delete them from social media. Don’t nurture relationships with common friends or acquaintances in the hopes of hearing news. Let it go and move on.

Emotional bonds and broken hearts are hard to break, but they can be broken.

It takes time. It takes determination to focus on the future, rather than the past. It takes faith that your life is still in God’s hands, and that you’re not just settling for second best. That means that you must change the way you think. I know that’s a tall order, but I can tell you from personal experience that it works.

What do you think? is one of these steps the key to mending a broken heart? Let’s talk in the comments!

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Nathan

    Cutting off contact when appropriate is a good idea.

    A very good friend of mine dated a lot of different women in his younger days, and would nearly always maintain friendships with them after they broke up and he found the next girlfriend.

    When he met his wife (one and only), and it started to get serious, he began to move away from his old girlfriends, and that enabled him to really have a solid relationship for the first time in his life

  2. Not this time

    This is excellent. My son had just faced a breakup of a long term relationship and while they are young it’s still huge (several years and he put a LOT into it and we all welcomed her and supported them).
    It hurts so much to watch him hurt. I will be keeping this post in mind for when he might need it. (That’s why details have been omitted)

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It is really hard. Really hard. I remember. It’s so hard to watch him as his mom, too, I’m sure!

      • Not this time

        That’s the thing. I remember it so clearly from my own youth and apparently I’m an empath (I’d say almost to the max). I have to be careful not to project my own level of pain onto my kids in these kinds of things.
        I remember the punched in the gut feeling like it was yesterday. And my relationship was not nearly as long or as serious. I had not given and sacrificed nearly as much.
        (I also know that life does go on….but immediately after someone has broken up is not the time to point that out)

  3. confused

    My ex and I broke upside a year before I met my wife. It was tough. I had invested way to much of myself in the relationship and she has started to pull away. I was trying to live a life focused on God and she wanted a party life. The differences between us was so big. She went to parties and used seductive clothes and I stayed home and prayed for her. She used to go her parents back to go to parties and I prayed for her to not get hurt. When we broke up my family and church was happy. But it hurt me in some way.
    We both felt that it was time to break up. I had even fasted before and felt that conviction. Still the breakup hurt. I cried for days. She barely cared. She had checked out long before me.

    When I met my wife(then girlfriend) I still wasn’t over her. I was to an extent but I wasn’t all. I don’t know if the best was to enter a relationship with my wife but my wife was really pushing for it. I wasn’t sure about my feelings for her and to be honest I sometimes still wonder if my decision was based on being a people pleaser and not wanting to be lonely. My wife knew my insecurities but she was convinced I was the man that God had sent her. We got married. The feelings of doubt about my feelings for my wife are still there at times. I was never head over heels for my wife. I know how that sounds. I tried breaking up but we kept coming back to each other.

    Anyways my ex has still been a lot on my mind. Not in the way of wanting her back but every time I meet her I get nervous. I get nervous just by seeing her. It wasn’t a good relationship. She took me for granted and we wanted different things but I still feel like I have something to prove to her. My wife notices how I get nervous and I can’t do anything about it. I always have in my mind how I want to impress her. Not to get her back but it’s like I want her to regret the break up. It’s so dumb. It’s been so many years but it still feels like that.
    I do everything I can to not do that. I know that she has been jealous because I’m married and have kids and I have found pleasure in that but I am trying to not do that. I just hate these feelings. I just don’t want to care anymore. I never have romantic thoughts about her but it’s always that feeling of wanting to show her that I am something and not a loser.
    Sorry for long post

  4. Anonymous

    If it’s fresh – I would also say take some time to grieve! These are all good tips but I’ve seen loved ones try to force their way back into a sense of normalcy too quick. Have a cry and use creative outlets to express the pain – write, journal, draw, paint, play music, etc.

    Also, if it’s fresh, please don’t rush into a new relationship, rebound, or use someone for the affection you’re missing. It really isn’t ok to hurt people while you’re hurting, and it’s also much easier to get taken advantage of yourself when you’re in a state of grief.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, that’s a great one about don’t rebound! So true. And, yes, take time to grieve. We all need that.

  5. Jane Eyre

    Oh, I have a lot of thoughts on this!

    I think it’s important to have interests, hobbies, and activities before you get into a relationship. From what I saw, the young people who tended to get into the most all-consuming dating relationships were ones who didn’t have much in their lives besides school. That’s not healthy.

    The right person will like that you spend your free time volunteering for pregnancy centres or volunteering at your church.

    And as Sheila points out, if the relationship doesn’t work, you then have something else valuable and fun in your life.

    The other big thing is to find people who are good at giving dating advice. This is a remarkably rare skill, and most people will look at your current beau/ladyfriend through the prism of their own baggage (sorry for the mixed metaphor). I got a lot of really terrible advice, and was told that toxic and abusive behaviours were normal. That made my life really, really hard, and unnecessarily hard.

    Eventually, I figured out that one or two people consistently offered rational advice and good perspective on the situations. It gave me the confidence to not get into relationships with people who weren’t right for me, and helped me to be clear-eyed about whomever I was dating.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s wonderful! Good mentors are really important.

  6. Meagan Lawry

    I have found that when we live with open hands before the Lord, it is a blessed life (albiet sometimes very scary to be so vulnerable). We have to be willing to let those people, gifts, securities go with open hands– that is the only way to receive the blessings God has in store after the grief. If we keep our fingers clenched tightly, we will miss those gifts! I think God tests us to teach us to live with our hands out, faces towards him in a continual posture of expectancy.

  7. K

    I’ve spent most of my 44 years being emotionally abandoned by the men in my life–first my father and now my husband. Neither has done this maliciously, but because of their own dysfunction. But it took me a long time to realize that. About four years into my marriage (which wasn’t going at all like I had thought it would) I developed a very strong emotional connection with a friend at work. He was the only other man I’d met (besides my husband) who I could imagine myself being happy with in a long term relationship. I was so lonely and hungry for an emotional connection that I just gave up, let my guard down, and got much closer to him than I had any right to. Fortunately, my husband and I moved across the country a year later. I didn’t want to go. I was so afraid to let go of the closest emotional connection with a man that I had ever known. But I also knew it was wrong and was convicted that I needed to try to work on my marriage. So that’s what I did. I’m really good at stuffing my feelings, so after a year of grieving this lost love, I started feeling like I needed to be truly present in my marriage and I cut off all contact with my friend. That was 15 years ago now. For a while I did fairly well and didn’t think about him much. But I find that whenever I really struggle in my marriage, I start thinking about what a comfort it was to just sit and talk to him. How he knew me without me saying much, and let me know him in return. How much I loved (love?) him. I miss that. With my husband, there’s lots of love, but the knowing each other is so much work that it’s exhausting. There are also the affairs on both sides and his pornography addiction that complicate things. I know the right answers here, and I’m not trying to justify things or make excuses. I just get tired of everything being so hard sometimes. I appreciate you writing about this issue and acknowledging that sometimes we just need to grieve what wasn’t meant to be. And I personally need God’s help to let that grief out and stop thinking about what could have been and focus on what is. I love your column, Sheila. It’s helped and guided me through some really tough times in my marriage. What you do matters and makes such a difference. Thank you.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thanks for the kind words, K! And thank you for being so honest. It sounds like you are making some really good decisions. I’m so sorry about what your husband has put you through, too. I hope that he’s getting a lot of help and accountability for his own journey. Over time, hopefully it won’t be so hard!

  8. Scout

    Sheila, thank you for writing these posts to singles (& married) in your blog! -I don’t expect you to reply to the rest of this post- I just have to write this.
    I’ve never been one to go out on dates, mostly due to not finding men attractive. I’m not “picky”, I just don’t see the attractiveness. It’s rare for me. However, I’m a romantic at heart and always thought I’d fall in love with a great friend. Friends and family preferred to parrot, “It happens when you least expect it!”
    Well, they were partially right. I took on a part-time job 2 1/2 years ago and my then boss showed interest in me immediately. He was around my age, had the same likes/dislikes, my height, similar work ethic, etc. Several people around us mentioned how we were cut from the same cloth, and we were. I shocked myself by being very much attracted to him (physically, emotionally, mentally)!!! I never experienced chemistry before and w-o-w, we had it!
    We never dated and we never physically acted on our feelings but when I left that job, he gave me the most beautiful good-bye gifts. I, for real, cried in the car.
    Actually, I cried for a whole year afterwards. Not gonna lie, I really loved him. Still do, though I’m not crying any more (I think!).
    We never got together because of our spiritual compatibility. Jesus is my savior but not his. I could never be with someone who doesn’t love Jesus with their whole life. They weren’t kidding in Song of Solomon about not stirring up love before its time! (Not that you can control who you love- because you can’t). But, it’s a humble reminder that God loves His lost and unsaved people, no matter what.
    I suppose the only question I have is, when will I meet the one for me? All these beautiful testimonies of sisters in Christ who keep saying”Wait on the Lord, because He gives you better than you ever imagined!”I definitely experienced someone who was better than I ever could have imagined. Now, I’m just… waiting. It’s like being born color-blind then God suddenly dropped the color-blind glasses on my face without my permission! Now I know I live in black & white. The Lord gives and takes away but I wonder, will He give again?

  9. Tammy

    Thank you Sheila for writing this post and all the other posts. It has been helping me tremendously and giving me much comfort that I need in my life right now.

    When I was dating my husband during our first year together, we had a lot of problems in our relationship, as was to a large extent dependent on me financially. And he was very fickle about his future and I was feeling very insecure about our future. Then around that time I met a guy who was very sweet on me. I think he liked me but he never said anything. As he was not a Christian, I did not pursue him and had to be content just being friends. He found out about my relationship with my husband and seemed detached after that. Her did not attend my wedding.

    But I have thought about him a lot both before and after my marriage. I felt really guilty having him in my thoughts and my prayer life suffered because I always felt like I was sinning constantly. I could not understand why he was in my thoughts when I was newly married. Now I know why. My husband has never really loved me and married me for financial support. He was so detached even the first two years of marriage and was always trying to find ways to argue with me. He stopped working two years after we got married and never worked since then and it has been 22 years already.

    I suppose I was grieving for what I could have had. I console myself that it is better to be married to an emotionally abusive Christian than a unbeliever. It sounds so sick I know but this seems to be my lot in life. I have got over him with the help of prayers.

  10. Smart Cookie

    My case is a bit different…I’m married to a man who still has a soul tie to an ex-girlfriend from 32 years ago.
    I once had an emotional tie to an ex-boyfriend, but I broke free from it (thank the Lord!) and I focus all my love on my husband (as it should be).

    In my husband’s case, he has not seen or spoken to this woman in a long time…but he is still in love with her.
    She ended their relationship when they graduated high school in 1988. I’ve tried to be sensitive about it, but I am now feeling hurt and frustrated. I’m tired of waiting for him to overcome the pain of this girl dumping him, so that we can finally have a normal life as a husband and wife should.
    I feel like we can’t move forward until HE does.

    By that I mean we have been married almost 13 years and he changed his mind about kids, buying a home, etc…all the things that married people at least TALK about.
    He won’t talk about it because the memories of this old girlfriend are still deeply rooted within him.
    I’m starting to feel like there’s a part of him that hopes she will call him up one day. She’s been married to her husband for many years and has two kids…I doubt that she’ll ever come back.
    But I think it’s what he wants.

    He said he needs “closure” after all this time. I believe there’s more to it than that.
    As I told him, he shouldn’t have married me if he still loved somebody else.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, that’s awful! I’m so sorry, Smart Cookie. It sounds like you really need to see a counselor together and he needs to decide what he wants. It’s awful that he changed his mind unilaterally about those things. That was wrong, and you do not have to just accept that. You can insist on counseling or insist that he commit to the marriage.

      • Smart Cookie

        Thanks so much, Sheila…I feel encouraged by your kindness. I just feel lost and hurt.
        I literally don’t know what to do. He is almost the ideal husband in every way, but now I feel like he has become more distant. He will have times where he won’t look at me or talk to me, it’s like I’m not even there.
        While I’m sure he hasn’t seen this woman in years, I’m almost positive that she is on his mind again.
        And if it’s not her, then it’s somebody else.

        Counseling is most likely off the table because he acts like nothing is wrong. But I can feel it.
        This person still has a hold on him after 33 years. I just can’t understand it.
        This makes me feel like this is why none of his other relationships lasted…because deep down, he couldn’t shake the memory of this woman.
        People don’t want to compete with a ghost! His other girlfriends all got tired of no commitment, no hope of a future, and they walked away. I would if I didn’t love him, but I’m in too deep because he married me…and I’m unable to start over independently, especially due to COVID and an unsupportive family.

        I love him with all my heart. I wanted a family with him. And I feel like this has been a “bait and switch” on his part since day one.
        He never wanted children (but made me think otherwise). He put a ring on my finger, which he never did with anybody else, but I’m a wife in name only it seems.
        I feel like just another girlfriend who has been lied to…but there is no talk of children or anything that a real committed husband will discuss in terms of future plans.
        I’m at the point where I want more. And check THIS out, even his MOTHER told me that he still wasn’t over the high school girlfriend dumping him!
        That blew my mind.

        I feel like I’ve wasted years of my life with somebody who has treated me well for the most part, but it’s all been an act and he is still emotionally tied to this person from his past.
        It explains why he doesn’t want kids anymore…why he made excuses for years…why he hides me on social media and insists that I do the same with him.
        Maybe he wants to seem available to her still, although she’s been married for years?

        *My real name is Melinda, by the way…”Smart Cookie” is another handle I use sometimes!

  11. Smart Cookie

    Also, Sheila…I agree with your statement about how for some people, it’s because their dreams and hopes were once tied up with a specific person, thus it still hurts them.
    My husband definitely fits that! I was looking at his high school yearbook one day and I noticed where a classmate had written “good luck at (blank) university”.
    It was the school his ex-girlfriend went to, and he had planned to follow her there. But she broke up with him after high school, when everyone was deciding where to attend college (if at all for some people).

    This also made me think that on some level, he is still that hurt 18-year-old boy who dreamed of a life beyond high school with her, but she didn’t want him anymore.
    He even hinted that it still feels like yesterday. While I do empathize, having been hurt by an old boyfriend myself, I feel that at some point a person has to want to heal…and I’m not sure he wants to.

    Whether it involves prayer or some type of therapy, there needs to be an effort to work on the unhealed trauma, especially if decades have passed with no resolution.
    I’ve told him that closure won’t come from people who hurt you. She won’t call you up to apologize for dumping you, and she won’t ever be a part of your life again.
    So he has to decide that healing starts with him. I will be supportive, but I do expect him to work on it so we can leave her in the past where she belongs.

    I’ve also tried to put things into perspective with him about it. “I know you loved her, but she had different plans for her future. You could have married her and still ended up divorced anyway”.
    I wasn’t being cruel, but more realistic. Sometimes people are focused only on what could have been without seeing that things probably weren’t so wonderful in the relationship.
    They also fail to see what the experience can teach them, and that it’s not the end of the world.
    Closure comes through acceptance that the relationship is over and that we deserve healing…not to remain wounded by rejection from a first love for all of eternity.
    It’s also unfair to anyone who wants to love somebody like this, but they have put up a wall because of being dumped at 18 years old (and they are now 51).
    Not conducive to a truly healthy relationship.


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